Fundamentals (wk.2) #OpenBadgesMOOC

Badges - New Currency for Professional CredentialsHere we are, week two and challenge two. While we don’t have to keep to any timetable on the challenges, I decided I will – it’ll be a neater blogging experience this way.

MOOC: Badges – New currency for Professional credentials

You can read all my posts from this MOOC on the OpenBadgesMOOC tag, when I’ve written them!

Week 2 – Fundamentals
The context and concept for badges is being discussed and documented by those at Mozilla – Open Badges for Lifelong Learning – and those who, like me, see them as a tangible benefit for showing skills that are not assessed.

The paper by Antin and Churchill (2011) explores the gamification of social activity, through the rise and popularity of system like FourSquare, and more recently, although not covered in the paper, Get Glue (film & TV) and Lemon Tree (library game). This interaction with content and achievement has “popularized badges as a way of engaging and motivating users”, so why not as part of their learning? Why not indeed? Badges that are used as part of social media settings such as goal settings, instruction, reputation, status or affirmation, and identification, could greatly increase an individuals’ reputation. Whilst badges are not always appreciated or understood, and they are not universally accepted as a motivational force, it is the implementation that has as much bearing on their success as the actual badges themselves.

Taking myself out of the UK HEI ‘sphere’ and looking at badges for adult learning (yes, we have mature students, but this is still at degree level instruction, whereas ‘adult learners’ can apply to all levels of instruction: from training courses to GSCE history to professional development courses). The paper by Hickey (2012) quantifies badges a a response to the changes in online learning and certification for adult learners, and that badges “offer new ways to recognize and support learning.” Badges, Hickey notes, are also a pull mechanism, aiding the marketing of any particular course and have the ability for students will want share their badges as evidence of learning and accomplishment. Again the question is raised on what the badge is exactly representing: is it learning, is it an achievement, is it an assessment, or is it a skill. This is a personal decision and will be different for each badge issuer and for each different badge and, in the case of the work by McQuigge (2012) is complex at best.

The work of McQuigge (2012) is a good  one to hold up as good practice as the badges, and learning, are not limited to an Institution, therefore they need to  truly represent achievements outside a classroom environment.

Again I was not able to join the live session due to the time it is scheduled for (7PM in the UK) and I am still trying to find time to finish the recording, but I am impressed by knowledge and breadth of experience of the session leaders and Cathy Davidson (guest). If, like me, you missed the session then be sure to follow Open Badges blog on Tumblr, they are writing up each week’s session.

Challenge 2 – Define the Currency of an Ecosystem
The addition of badges to the four ‘stakeholders’ in the ecosystem (providers, assessors, job seekers, employers) splits the ecosystem and divides the effective use of badges away from assessment – and I’m all for this. Most courses have some form of assessment and certification already attached to it (after all, it’s probably why the students are doing the course, for the qualification or certificate they get at the end).

By targeting badges at competencies, achievement, and skills the assessors can assess something that is not related to the core course subject: group work, reflection, etc. These are often part and parcel of the course assessment, but not assessed and credited in their own right. A badge on its own may or may not have the credential or ‘power’ to be enough of a showcase, but a series or collection of badges will.

  • Imagine a job candidate who can demonstrate their transferable skills from their under graduate degree and extra-curricular activities they participated in (student union, sport club management, voluntary or charity work, etc.) – would that be powerful? Anyone who say ‘no’ is missing the point – it’s not that the job seeker is displaying the skills (anyone can write this stuff on their CV) it’s that the charity or sport club have credited them with the skill or achievement according to their own criteria. It is the quality of the issuing body that is as important as the actual badge or the badge earner.
  • Imagine badges used by an employer to indicate an employee’s achievement – these could be length of service (I know, quite lame, but why not?), internal training, project work. This could be valuable to the individual who earned the badges but also valuable the employer to demonstrate the skills set of its staff when bidding for projects or funding.

What about HEIs then, what about badges in Universities? There is already a growing voice in support of them, but it is still quite a new and untested field. Purdue University, Indiana, have already implemented an institution wide badge initiative.

Kyle Bowen, Director of Informatics, says that badges have “become a way to recognize learning in all of its forms” which is having a profound effect on instructors and their teaching styles. “Many instructors are moving to new models of instruction, and Passport [badge issuing App] is a technology that supports many of those new models.”

What needs to happen for something like badges to be considered for adoption? Obviously a trial is needed with willing participants and evaluation – I am trailing badges with a small cohort of senior academics (see Challenge 1) on a short (three week) online course for online discussions (creating, moderating, and assessing). Badges have been created around the learning activities (and a final one for the completion of the course itself) which supports Bill Watson’s (Purdue University Department of Curriculum) assertion that “badges help instructors encourage students to demonstrate how they have met very specific learning objectives through actual performance.”

Whether badges can pass the initial inspection from committees is not something many of us have control over: there are many variables to the adoption of a new ‘tool’ like this, not least the interest of academic and administrative staff, results from evaluation and trials, list of other initiatives that need consideration at the same time, etc. I believe, as others do, that badges have a place in higher education, when (and if) they are implemented correctly and in an appropriate area.

When asked about learning ‘providers’ and ‘assessors’ what would you say? Would you differentiate between the learning outcome and the academic involved, or are the two intertwined? Surely you need the academic to be involved, after all it is they who know their materials and learning outcomes best, and are therefore in the best position to assign the criteria for the badge?

In the case of this course I’m facilitating there was no certification for attendance or accomplishment, therefore the badges are offering something the work, time, and effort these senior academics are dedicating to it. They are also seeing, from a student’s perspective, what badges are and how they work, and are able to evaluate the effectiveness of badges for motivation and, hopefully, will look into implementing badges in their own learning.

As an example, here is the criteria for the third badge, representing the third and final week of the course, and the associated description and criteria for issuing it:

  • eModerator BadgeDescription: Successful completion of week 3 activities: 3(a) Student-Led Facilitation , and 3(b) Creating Criteria and Rubrics for Online Discussions.
  • Criteria: By completing the third week’s activities the badge owner has (a) critically examined the benefits and/or limitations of employing student-led facilitation, and (b) reviewed and created assessment criteria and an accompanying rubric for an online discussion activity.

Key to the acceptance of Open Badges in Higher Education is that these are not ‘digital’ badges, per se, but electronic files that have metadata ‘baked’ into them that quantifies the issuer, description, criteria, and who it has been issued to – this is what makes the badge a valuable asset to an individual seeking progression, a job, or credit for skills and achievements.

Anatomy of an Open BadgeImage source: Kyle Bowen

This stops the badge being hijacked and displayed in the Mozilla Backpack of someone who did not earn it: an important consideration if any institution is going to investigate implementing Open Badges and wants to be sure of originality and security of the achievement being rewarded.

These are only first draft badges, with the activities and badges to be evaluated and reviewed at the completion of the course.

Challenge 2 – Feedback
“It would be great to see personas and user stories added to your submissions, David.”

Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials - ParticipationSo, by the middle of week two I’ve earned a badge from this MOOC already! Issued for ‘participation’  the badge “indicates that the earner has joined a group and posted their thoughts and responses within that …” and that’s all it says!

However, had I not been looking around the course and stumbled on the achievements section I wouldn’t have known about it: I don’t think I missed any communication on it, but it’s possible.

Antin, J. and Churchill, E. F., Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective. CHI, May 2011. Vancouver. Available online: [Accessed September 17, 2013]

Hickey, D. Recognizing, Supporting, and Attracting Adult Learners with Digital Badges. Evolllution (blog). Available online: [Accessed September 17, 2013]

McQuigge, A., Motivating the Twenty-First Century Teacher in a Digital Badge Ecosystem. The Open Univere(ity) (blog), April 18, 2012. Available online:  [Accessed September 17, 2013]