Monthly Archives: April 2012

Badge System Design: learning from Caine

Before we return to our regularly scheduled program tracking the protean components of badge system design, just a quick post about the simple beauty and unexpected delight found in a child’s approach to games and reward systems. Recently an email went round Mozilla about http://diy.org. The site is fascinating from a variety of standpoints, e.g.,  it’s nicely designed; their privacy policy is clearly written and straightforward; their login process appears to be COPPA-compliant; they celebrate a certain type of maker culture, etc. Check it out, it’s worth a look.

However, I’m writing this post because of the gem found in an email about the diy.org site that came through from the lovely and talented Jess Klein (she of the Open Badges website design, amongst other things). The excerpt she provided below:

According to this article: http://www.betabeat.com/2012/04/27/zach-klein-new-startup-diy-diy-org-app-kids-who-make-04272012/

DIY lets kids create portfolios of the stuff they make through a public web page. Friends and family members can encourage their work through stickers and parents can monitor their activity from a dashboard. “We’ve all seen how kids can be like little MacGyvers,” the company writes in an introductory blogpost. “They’re able to take anything apart, recycle what you’ve thrown away – or if they’re Caine, build their own cardboard arcade. This is play, but it’s also creativity and it’s a valuable skill.

The part that caught my eye was about Caine: you’ll find a video in the last link in the paragraph above. You should watch it. I spent 10 minutes of my time on it and I admit it made me happy I did so. (And let’s face it 10 minutes is a loooong time on the Internet.)

Caine is an inventive 9 year old who made himself an arcade. An arcade made out of taped together cardboard boxes. A functioning arcade with tokens, tickets, and prizes for winners (he reuses his old toys). Well, functioning in that he devised ways to make things work with a little help from him, as opposed to purely mechanical means. But the real beauty of his work is found in his systems thinking. Caine wanted someone to play at his arcade; he even went so far as to develop a cost structure. Very MBA of him. But seriously? Smarter.

Here’s the cost breakdown: $1 for 4 turns. Or for $2 you can get a Fun Pass. How many turns do you get with a Fun Pass? 500. That’s right $2 gets you 500 turns. Now that is a good pricing strategy, and it’s a pretty stellar participation strategy, too. Oh, and he’s also figured out a way to reduce gaming of his Fun Pass system by using old calculators and the square roots of pin numbers. Amazing. It’s mostly all sunk costs for Caine—who by the way, is using primarily found materials—but money is not the motivating factor for Caine. He just wants you in the game.

What if we approached badging like that? What if we asked ourselves, what’s the real goal we’re aiming for here? How can we transmit the magic we feel to others? How can we create a system that works to keep people in the game? And what are ways we can do it so that our participants feel rewarded in both mind and spirit?

Caine accomplished this—most likely without being fully cognizant of it. Sure, on some level it’s silly. But so what? Because on another level, it’s lovely and transcendent. Caine revealed to us what’s possible when you forge ahead to create something out of joy and then work to share it with the world. For that I admire and respect him.

Caine's Arcade

I share this small but inspirational story with you because I dream (and I think it’s a big dream) that Mozilla Open Badges may prove to be someone’s arcade. The tool that allows them to beam out to the public the excitement and joy they feel when they share what they’ve created. I’m hoping Open Badges helps more people get in the game.

More soon.

Badge System Design: standardization, formalization & uniqueness

This post continues the conversation about Open Badges, the Open Badge Infrastructure and badge system design. It’s one post in a series of thoughts-in-process that will culminate in a white paper about badge system design. Your thoughts and comments are welcomed: not only do they help mould the conversation but they help to shape its arc as well. Jump in!

“How do I create a badge system?”
I’ve felt some conflict about codifying badge system design due to the oft repeated desire I hear for a simple formula. A formula sounds like it ought to be the most appropriate approach. Yet this seemingly rational desire is precisely the point where most design systems go wrong.

Standardization & formalization
A formula seems to point toward having a complete understanding that the parts of the system are standard and that the variables are unchanging. This is not the case with digital badges or really anything involving human assessment. (Keep in mind Donella Meadow’s paradigm about paradigms.) Therefore as we progress through some basics precepts of badge system design, note that these comments are suggestions, pointers, and recommendations. They do not represent the sole badge system design methodology nor do they indicate a complete taxonomy. There are many pathways on the journey, many Yogi Berra-esque forks in the road to designing a useful or valuable or successful badge system. (And yes, I think it might be important to distinguish between usefulness, value and success—but that’s for another post.)

How badges relate to badge system design
Badges exist as visual representations—distillations if you will—of meaning. They’re a sort of shorthand for content. They can act as formalized recognitions of associations, achievements, skills and competencies, endeavors, values, etc. And on the other hand they can act as fun, playful reminders of past experiences, in-jokes, and community membership. An organization’s values help to determine its badge system goals—goals that can be inherent to the organization, can arise from its instantiation, or that can be co-created with it—occasionally with all of these things occurring at once. Consequently, badge system design can branch off in many directions. So, where to start?

A system of turtles
Your early choices will help to define the evolution of your badge system. Start at any point—a single badge, a group of twenty-one, or right at the system level—but recognize that starting at the badge level may affect your ability to grow your system categorically. Regardless of where you start, it’s more than likely you’ll end up somewhere other than your intended destination. That’s okay. Systems are living things, and your badge system by needs must be flexible. You must embrace a bit of chaos in its design.

That chaos stems from its genesis: an Open Badge system is more than a series of simple documents indicating learning. Instead it’s a rich and varied representation of journeys, experiences and learned processes. It’s a series of verbs encased in an active noun. The badges that constitute your system are living things, too. In the best sense, it’s turtles all the way down.

This sense of dynamic infinite regression resident within an Open Badge system provides many varied opportunities for representation, not the least of which is uniqueness. Let me counterbalance that assertion by noting that perception of uniqueness depends at the very least upon comparativity, and distance from the perceived object plays no small part. In other words, the roots of context are based in perception. Charles and Ray Eames‘ short film, “Powers of Ten,” places context, well, in context. If you’re unfamiliar with its message take a minute or two to watch it. This should help to orient you to the potential inherent in context. Distance is one type of context, time another, ideology yet another: in other words, more turtles standing on other turtles. Aside from these few, there are many more contextual variables. If you have a moment, start a list. No doubt you’ll find quite a few not listed here. There are hundreds, possibly thousands. All of them feed into context and so into perception.

When context disappears
Surprisingly enough, we also become inured to noticing when things actually are unique. If we are exposed repeatedly to something within a certain context our ability to distinguish it as unusual diminishes. So, we’re blind to some of the complexities of our own surroundings.

Anthropologists call this the naturalization of categories or objects. The more at home you are in a community of practice, the more you forget the strange and contingent nature of its categories seen from the outside (Bowker & Star, 1999, pp. 294-295).

So, as they say, there’s that. So much to consider and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

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I’ll stop here for now. Much more soon.

references:
Bowker, G., & Star, S. (1999). Sorting things out: classification and its consequences. Boston, MA: MIT Press.
Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: places to intervene in a system. World, 91(7), 21. POINT. Retrieved from http://www.sustainer.org/pubs/Leverage_Points.pdf 

Mozilla Open Badges Legal & Privacy Considerations

Quick update: Last week I designed a graphic for this post that underscores the relative insignificance of the legal considerations of COPPA and FERPA when compared to the lifelong learning impact that we’ve designed Open Badges to accommodate. I forgot to put it into the original post but now here it is! 

Lifelong learning contrasted with COPPA and FERPA considerations

The Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) is based on a simple concept: make it easy for people to issue, earn and display digital badges across the open web. Sometimes the things that sound simple prove to be fairly complicated in implementation. Open Badges is no exception.

Consider that personal privacy stands as one of the primary tenets of the OBI: the individual earner resides at the center of the Open Badge ecosystem. Earners consciously choose which badges they want to earn from a variety of issuers, and they can also choose which badges they’d like to share whether through their own website or through a variety of displayers. Earners are the central axis point of the system; they are the essential social hub. We think that that delicate social hub—the badge earner—needs someone to watch out for their privacy. Consequently, we’re working to ensure that a minimum standard of identity protection is built into the Open Badge Infrastructure.

We’ve spent about the last 1.5 years working on the Open Badge Infrastructure and the last 6 months focusing on the legal and privacy questions this new project has surfaced. We’ve had some great advisors helping us to get this right: many thanks to Mozilla’s Data and Product Counsel, Jishnu Menon, as well as Karen Neuman and Ari Moskowitz of St. Ledger-Roty Neuman & Olson, LLP. You can read some of their fine work addressing legal and privacy questions on our Legal FAQs page.  You can find other aspects illustrated in the Mozilla Badge Backpack’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. They’re all worth a read. We’re proud that they’re written in Plain English and not legalese. We want earners, issuers and displayers to understand their rights and understand how Mozilla approaches those rights.

Because our goals for Open Badges include global deployment, the future will find the Open Badges team considering EU legal and privacy laws as well as UK concerns. And as the OBI ecosystem begins to populate across the world, individual earner’s privacy considerations will continue to motivate our work.

For those of you who are not entirely familiar with some of the major issues we’ve been wrangling, read on below to learn a bit more about two of the heavy hitters, COPPA and FERPA.

COPPA
What is COPPA? COPPA is the acronym for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and it’s a US federal law designed to govern and protect children’s online privacy and safety. The Federal Trade Commission administers this regulation addressing data collection and marketing to children under the age of 13. You can read more about it directly from the source: http://www.coppa.org/coppa.htm. COPPA complicates most efforts aimed at children under 13, but there are COPPA-compliant organizations whose primary communications successfully address that audience.

Current predictions seem to point toward COPPA becoming even more restrictive rather than less. Depending on an earner’s personal sharing decisions, the Mozilla Badge Backpack can be a potentially broadly public space. Consequently, at this time, the Mozilla OBI does not permit children under 13 to push their badges into the Mozilla-hosted Badge Backpack. However, it is possible to create and host a siloed Badge Backpack.

Worth noting: we have significant hopes for some external Mozilla efforts along the lines of streamlined identity protection and will keep you abreast of any new developments.

FERPA
FERPA, also an acronym and also a US federal law, stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It’s aimed at providing parents with the right to protect the privacy of children’s education records. Those rights transfer to the student at the age of 18 or whenever they attend a school beyond the high school level. You can read more about it at the government’s website: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html. FERPA can introduce a level of complexity for badges emanating from academic institutions. You’ll find some potential best practices about FERPA on our site in the legal FAQs.

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Now you know a bit more about how we designed the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure with built in identity and privacy considerations. As always, we welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and assistance in our ongoing endeavor.

More soon.

Open Badges & Badge System Design

Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Open Badges and badge system design. During that time I’ve found myself weighing the idea of the Open Badges Infrastructure against the idea of Open Badges. I’ve come around to this thinking: one is a subset of the other. Open Badges is an umbrella concept about perception, achievement, learning, representation, assessment, and value that has produced the tool that is the OBI. Perhaps the OBI is an epiphenomenon of the conceptual work of Open Badges. OBI is to tool as Open Badges is to process. It’s a bit chicken/egg but as we progress the temporal distinction seems to matter less and less.

OBI the tool is designed to be agnostic, but Open Badges the concept presents opportunities for transmission of deeply held beliefs, strong opinions and decisive values about learning, education, agency, creativity, dynamism, change, and evolution. I’m racing through these important and defining ideas right now because I want to start sharing some initial thoughts about badge system design. But I’m happy to have this discussion in greater detail with you on this blog, on twitter, through emails, during calls, and if we’re lucky, in person. You have helped us and continue to help us build this amazing tool; now let’s talk about what we can do with it as well as what we want to do with it.

Serendipitously today after I had already written the few intro-type paragraphs below, I saw a tweet that lead me to download and read a highly influential systems design paper Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. As I read this inspirational document by Donella Meadows I grew increasingly excited: on my own I had arrived at similar realizations and had used nearly the exact terminology as she had in her paper. Those clues indicate to me that I’m on the right track. To that end, I’m dispensing with the many revisions I usually go through for a blog post and instead dropping in my initial rough draft to share it with you while the ideas are still messy and fresh. I don’t want to overthink them—at least not right now. Let’s begin our conversation now before the ideological badge cement has hardened.

Open Badges offers thousands of possibilities to those who choose to participate. I want to help you see what those amazing opportunities might be. Here’s my humble request: be my reader and my co-author on this journey.

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Badge system design presents a variety of exciting challenges and opportunities. In some ways, it’s similar to designing the perfect society, one in which important things are recognized, feedback is welcomed and used, individuality is respected, people are encouraged to express themselves freely and creatively, expand their potential, attempt difficult but rewarding experiences, interact with and aid others, seek and find opportunities, learn, experience, make, scaffold, share and grow. Perhaps a little thinking is in order, huh?

Humility plays a key role in the design of any system, including badge system design. Your badge system design, no matter how brilliant, most likely will not end global hunger, solve the debt crisis, or fix a broken educational system. However, if created with intelligence, finesse and empathy, it may have the capacity to change someone’s life. Indeed, it may possibly help to alleviate some of those other, larger concerns.

Currently, the entire ecosystem remains an unknown quantity: how many badges will flicker on in the badge system galaxy? What will happen as it knits together? It’s quite possible that your simple designs may take on a far more complex role than you can imagine. So a few suggestions, notes, and recommendations are in order.

History is littered with lessons and examples of great ideas that went bad or never got off the ground. The human equation always introduces an element of chance. While that tendency certainly presents a massive complicating variable, ultimately that’s where the ground might be most fertile. Be fearless, investigate it.

And yet note that it might be best to start with a simple idea and let organic evolutionary properties run their natural course. Because unexpected emergent properties will occur even if you think you’ve planned for everything. Eventually Taleb’s black swan will fly overhead. Perhaps its shadow will pass by, perhaps it will skim the waters for a while and move on, or perhaps it will land and begin swimming in your happy little pre-planned badge ecosystem. Who knows?

Okay. Taking a somewhat more clinical view, some psychological research indicates that resilience contributes greatly to long term happiness. Resilience is important to a robust system. How can you build in resilience? What do we mean by resilience? Your badge system design will play some role in an earner’s sense of self. And so, like the person earning the badges you’re designing, if it’s to have a long and happy life, your badge system must have its own source of resilience. Whether that arises from the community, the planners, or the larger ecosystem does not matter.

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Those are some initial thoughts. Much, much, much more to come.

Open Badge Infrastructure Public Beta!

Today we launched the public beta of the Open Badge Infrastructure. This proclamation represents a huge accomplishment and is one that we are exceedingly pleased to announce. A few months ago, the OBI was a bit more concept than reality. No longer. Now you can visit http://openbadges.org and earn your first badge. Now you can push that badge to your Mozilla Badge Backpack. Now you can go to Open Badges on github to see our code. Now you can see our technical wiki. Now you can read our documentation.

There are many questions yet to be answered, many opportunities yet to be seized. But for right now we’ll stop to celebrate this momentous achievement today. A respectful and heartfelt thank you to the MacArthur Foundation for their fierce and courageous commitment to supporting learning wherever it occurs. Connie, An-Me, and Jen, we hope our efforts do you proud.

Many thanks to the indefatigable Open Badges group, too. Specifically, I’d like to acknowledge the fundamental work of the early Open Badges team: Erin Knight and Brian Brennan. Their profound efforts constitute the core of the Open Badge Infrastructure. Kudos and deep bows in their general directions. Additional thanks go to Chris McAvoy, Sunny Lee, and Mike Larsson who have continually strived to produce a quality experience and superior product. And while  Jess Klein and Atul Varma are not formal members of the team, they have worked alongside us to help us get to where we are today. And so we award them the honorific title Valued Friends of Open Badges. This brings me to the not insignificant effort put into the OBI by our community. Through a variety of different venues, you’ve built and shared widgets, declared your thoughts, begun thinking about the beginnings of a Wikipedia article, expressed feedback on weekly calls and just generally impressed the hell out of us. Our small team has worked hand-in-hand with you, our terrific volunteer open source community, to achieve something quite extraordinary in not very much time. Many thanks and congratulations go out to you, as well.

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we begin our journey toward release 1.0. Yes, we continue on with our work—fully cognizant that there has been and will continue to be a good deal of discussion around the idea of Open Badges. To this we say, “Bully!” You may have guessed that we’re excited by the prospect of digital badges and we expect to remain so. Our heart is in the work.

In the coming days I’ll be following up this post with some history of how we got here, some decisions we made along the way, as well as some considerations for our future. Of course, you’re all invited.

Thanks for everything so far. More to come.