Boundless learning: the continuum of web literacy

There are a lot of people who think that our educational system is broken. I tend to think of it as problematic rather than broken—because it still works for some people, just not everyone. Wouldn’t it be great to have a system that works for more people in new ways?

A look back to look forward 
Here’s how we may have arrived in this confusing spot regarding education, a spot that is overripe for reimagining. The web.

The web is limitless. And its limitlessness has revealed to us the profound limits bound into earlier systems of knowledge measurement. Let’s use an example. Books were a previous primary yardstick. And we thought that all of them gathered together in the form of libraries constituted a window onto the edge of knowledge.

The lure of the past
But with the rise of the web in the last few years, we’ve realized that that was a false limitation. Libraries, even spectacularly large ones, that previously seemed like they contained all the information in the world are competing against an ever-growing, easily accessible accumulation of knowledge from around the world. The last Encyclopedia Brittanica—for years considered the gold standard for reference to be found in a printed set of thirty-two bound volumes at the cost of $1395—is now dwarfed by a free site on the web. That free site? Wikipedia. Over four million articles can be found on Wikipedia; it contains over twenty-nine million pages. That’s just one site on the web. And interestingly enough, it’s a site to which many editors contribute but that no one person “owns.”

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“The web has allowed us to see that the world is significantly more complex and interesting than we thought it was.” (2012, Weinberger) Indeed, the web mirrors much of our world in that it:

  1. contains massive amounts of information,
  2. has a distributed ownership model, and
  3. a large part of the information found on it is entirely free.

A new model for learning
Thanks to a lot of people who recognized the value of the web (and who like teaching and tinkering and sharing) learning can now happen and is now happening anywhere and everywhere. So, how can we break free from the limited thinking that chains us to book learning and formal academic levels? Can there be alternative methods of information dissemination?

The learning continuum
Let’s agree on this: learning is a process. There is no endpoint.  But what does this mean for education? That there is no cap to the amount of knowledge we can accumulate. And now because there is no endpoint, we need to rethink how people might find their way through this glut of information. We need something to fill in the space of what was there previously—or at the very least to find a way to acknowledge the new learning spaces that we’re beginning to see.

The last printed Encyclopedia Brittanica was published in 2010. It’s now 2013. The world has not stopped amassing information in that interim. So, we must become comfortable with the idea that there are volumes of knowledge that we’ll never know. It’s simply not possible to do that anymore; it’s not possible to put edges or boundaries on learning opportunities. This is where badges can provide their greatest value: as guideposts in an increasingly complex knowledge universe. Badges can be issued on an atomic level. We can start to acknowledge the primary elements  that constitute a basic level of knowledge.

I’m hesitant to even use the word level here. Due to its requirement for contextual definition, the idea of educational levels often leads straight to a bizarro world where levels are spoken about as if they’re universal, but their implementation reveals that they are most distinctly not universal in application.

Let’s just say that there are continua of knowledge and as a whole we are on them. To quote my colleague, Doug Belshaw, from our in-progress web literacies* white paper, “Literacy is a condition to be obtained not a threshold to cross.” The key to that statement centers on the idea of conditions: we are continually moving through and across boundaries of knowledge. This is one of the beauties of the web—and of life. In general, the boundaries we experience have been created and defined by us in the development of our society. Badges let us reimagine what those boundaries are and where they might appear. Thus, we can move ever closer to aligning our ability to acknowledge all of the learning now possible with the web’s vast capacity for increased knowledge acquisition.

Learning pathways 
Right now we’re focusing on what a web literacy standard might look like and how it might be implemented. A significant portion of this thinking will include developing potential learning pathways. Along those lines, we will be thinking through the framework’s ‘Beginner’ and ‘Intermediate’ levels before considering ‘Pre-Beginner’ and ‘Advanced’. Taking this approach will allow us to produce multiple touchpoints and signposts along the way to web literacy. We’ll use those touchpoints and signposts to develop a web literacy badge system that accommodates various learning pathways, builds upon the web literacy framework, encourages continued community badge creation and aligns with Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure.

The honor of your presence is requested
There are many ways that you can participate. Here are just a few:

  1. Join our weekly web literacy standard community call on Thursdays 8am PST / 11am EST / 4pm GMT. Here’s a canonical etherpad agenda that includes dial in information.
  2. Visit our continually updated wiki.
  3. Continue to read and respond to these posts.
  4. Share your ideas about what might be useful indications of learning.
  5. Begin to imagine a world where web literacy is an easily understood literacy with badges that communicate where someone might be on that arc.

We’re gathering together with you at the forefront of our understanding of what web literacy is and we’re aiming to map out a workable future. We’re pretty excited and we’re really glad you’re here.

* It’s worth noting that we’re distinguishing between our earlier work with web literacies and our new efforts for a web literacy learning standard.

Flickr image CC by mikeedesign

Much more soon.
carla [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

Co-constructing a framework of web literacy and badges

Two weeks ago on Thursday we held our first web literacy framework / standard conversation. We, along with interested and influential folks, are thinking through what a web literacy standard might look like and how it might be implemented.

You can read more about our first gathering on this etherpad and check out our recorded interaction here—but before you fall too much in love with that pad or deck, take a gander at this etherpad, too. Because we held another web literacy online gathering just yesterday. (By the way, if you haven’t introduced yourself in the web literacy group of the webmaker list, please do.)

Participants at both of these public interactions began to think through and converse about some of the many complex questions surrounding this effort. Things like, what do we mean by the term “standard,” and what about people who are educationally or socially underserved, or those folks who are not even on the internet? While we don’t have answers to all of these questions, we do anticipate that this communication opportunity will spur a number of lively conversations and perhaps some complex philosophical and sociological inquiries, as well. Of course we want to talk, but more importantly, we want to listen, too.

Questions we’re asking
In essence, we’re asking a number questions and we’d like your thinking on them. Here are a few that we’ve been obsessed with lately.

  • What are the basic, intermediate and advanced skills that are essential to becoming a productive participant of the web?
  • How many are necessary to produce useful competencies?
  • What are the related outcomes associated with those skills and competencies? In other words, what might those skills and competencies get you in an applied setting?
  • Can we build assessments that support and acknowledge those skills and competencies?
  • Can we build APIs that allow you to begin to use these skill and competency assessments right on your own site?
  • How can badges be designed that accurately represent those skills and competencies?
  • What sorts of badges make sense in a distributed system like this?

And another question that’s close to my heart:

  • What goes into a badge framework that will encourage other individuals, organizations, educational institutions, etc. to build upon our web literacy badges efforts so that together we construct a viable, meaningful, and valuable network of activities, assessments and badges?

Definition of terms
A lot of this work is contingent upon us reaching some universal agreement about what we mean when we talk about web literacy.* In order for us to make any headway with the development of a standard, at the very least we’ll need to be aligned in our understanding and use of this term. Also, you may hear us talk about a standard and a framework somewhat interchangeably: we’re focused on building a framework from which a standard will emerge. Our approach for the web literacy badges works similarly: we aim to construct a conceptual framework that encourages other organizations and individuals to form their own badge system nodes in this network. While we’re still figuring out how all this gels, we’re forging ahead with designing a web literacy badge system that derives its excellence from a variety of  committed, web-literacy-standards-aligned issuers contributing to it. I’ll explore this idea in detail in future posts.

Systems thinking
One of my favorite posts that I’ve written on badge system design is Building Trust Networks, Creating Value. If you have questions about how we see this all coming together, you’ll find a number of answers there. In short, that post reviews the ways in which trust networks may evolve in the Open Badges ecosystem. It also purports that a system will function at its best if trust grows right along with it: trust that is both internal to the system as well as external to the system. A slightly different way of saying that is that a system will become more resilient if trust becomes and integral aspect of its network effect. The hallmarks of a successful system include resilience and flexibility: we’re working to build those into our web literacy badge system.

How we’re getting there from here
We’ve been considering what web literacies might look like. We’ve released a preliminary set of badges based on low level achievements that can be accomplished using one of our tools. We have a killer team assembled to begin tackling incremental assessment, creating activities that are both informative and inspirational, designing badges that act as guideposts to the standard they represent, and devising possible pathways for people to get from one skill or competency to another.** We’re analyzing the best ways to make this an open standard; imagining ways that an API might be able to be useful for things like those incremental assessments.

An invitation
Over the next few days we’ll be roughing out a lightweight roadmap; there you’ll find specific dates and goals. And exciting next step will be to hold regular weekly calls to publicly investigate, evaluate, and scrutinize this work—this most definitely will be a group effort. You’re invited! Please make a point of joining us for our inaugural weekly meeting on Thursday, Feb 28 at 08:00 PST / 11:00 EST / 16:00 GMT. I’ll post more specific dial-in details when they’re finalized. Dial-in info can be found on the Web Literacy Standard Community etherpad.

We’re excited to have you join us on this journey. Together we will co-create a new web literacy standard, develop badges that reflect that standard and begin to define pathways that lead to rewarding educational, social and personal experiences.

* A quick and appreciative nod to individuals who have been ruminating on digital literacy, digital divides, and technological literacy for years.
** A foundational badge pathways post is coming within a few days. This is a lynchpin concept.


More soon.

The badge pathways posts are coming!

The badge pathways posts are coming, people! More badge system design posts are on their way! Actually, a series of posts about Web Literacy Badges and badge pathways are coming. Stay tuned. Here’s a preview.

badgepathways

This is going to be fun!

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More soon.

Web literacies: something serious, something funny and something fun.

We ran our first online gathering last week during which we sought to begin the process of co-creating a web literacy standard. You can read more about that on Erin Knight’s blog here and Doug Belshaw’s blog here. And while I want to delve into that effort in detail, right now I just want to share some thoughts about ideas related to web literacy.

Something serious
Directly related to those ideas, I’d like to suggest that if you haven’t yet visited the Webmaker google group, please do. There are some extremely interesting conversations and intimations happening there about things like Internet accessibility, worldviews and what those sorts of things might mean for web literacy. These big questions are right up my alley. As a firm believer in context driven language, communication and interaction, I’m convinced that these are excellent areas of inquiry. What does it mean—in practice—to develop a standard that may or may not pertain to several billion people? And how can we ensure that our co-defined thinking allows room for growth, modification, interpretation but remains strong enough to withstand rigorous assessment and investigation? We are going to be discussing some of this again next Thursday at 9am EST. Please join us.

Something funny
We’re asking, can you help us build this from a close-in standpoint while recognizing a need for a top level view as well? In a recent online back and forth with Brian Brennan, gentleman coder and the original and chief software architect of Open Badges, he made a coding joke. A joke that I did not get—because despite what I know, I do not know many of the nuances of coding. In total, it was this, “I’d tell you a UDP joke but you might not get it.” This was succeeded by the following comment, “!!!NERD JOKE ALERT!!!” Once explained (see Something fun), these few sentences are actually pretty funny.

Why are we talking about this, aside from how it nicely illustrates what a funny and informative (and badass) programmer Brian is? It serves to show that it’s possible to be on the spectrum of web literacy—even to be quite advanced on that spectrum—and yet still have plenty of things to learn. Web literacy in short: many levels, not all required for success. Now let’s contrast this degree of literacy with the literacy level of people who are only peripherally on the web because they don’t have things like a solid internet connection, or they live in a place where there isn’t a dependable communication infrastructure, or maybe their lives are full enough or complicated enough without the web.

How does this tie into badges? In a very interesting way. First let’s acknowledge the new folks that we’re excited to have join our team to help answer that question. They include Jess Klein, Atul Varma and Chloe Varelidi. Together we’ll be building some exciting new activities and incremental assessments, the outcome of which will result in web literacy badges and their associated pathways. That’s right: this all leads back to my old friend, badge system design.

Something fun
So, someday soon, knowing things like the difference between UDP and TCP and how that manifests itself on the web may prove to be one aspect of a web literacy pathway. And because we’ve gotten this far without yet learning the difference between them here’s Brian’s verbatim explanation of UDP and TCP. Please note that he communicated this through an informal online exchange so it’s a less standard explanation than Brian might otherwise deliver—but it sure does get the point across.

“UDP doesn’t guarantee order of packet delivery, or delivery at all. TCP ensures order and integrity, but incurs overhead because every packet has to be acknowledged. So UDP is suitable in an environment where it’s acceptable for things to come out of order and where the client can ensure integrity. BitTorrent is a great example of this. I associate it with shoveling data out a window while saying ‘yo I don’t give a FUCk’.”

If you’ve ever heard of or used Pirate Bay or torrents, you’ve actually come into contact with UDP. And since you’re reading this right now and it’s all arrived on your computer in one intelligible piece, you’ve also come into direct contact with TCP.

Congrats, you’re on your way to becoming even more web literate! Now we just need to develop a distributed badge system that indicates that knowledge so you can share that with other people. And friends, I’m here to say that we’re on it.

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Much more soon.
carla at mozillafoundation [dot] org

Friday badges wrap-up: Jan 20 – Feb 1, 2013

Happy Groundhog Day, all! Punxsutawney Phil has spoken: here’s to an early spring!

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Things that happened with Open and Webmaker badges: week of 1/20

Two weeks ago (Jan 24-25) the Open Badges team attended the final face to face meeting for the Digital Media and Learning (DML) competition’s funded winners. What a fantastic event: thanks to UCHRI for hosting and all of HASTAC for helping to make it happen. The funded winners presented to one of three expert panels, and if they chose to, each other. The panels were comprised of a learning content expert, a design expert and a marketing and communications expert. We coordinated this combination so that the grantees would have an opportunity to think through their badge systems in new ways since the last face to face meeting at Duke. Charles Perry from MentorMob (a DML funded winner working with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago) has written up a terrific recap of the event. And our own Jess Klein, who acted as a design expert on one of the panels wrote up a list of her top 5 feedback points for badge design. They are both definitely worth reading.

That week also saw most of the team participating in a Future of Badges meeting with a variety of advisors, thinkers, and luminaries during which we talked about our hopes and plans for Badges. A primary point of interest and discussion was Erin Knight‘s presentation of her thinking and writing on where Open Badges is headed with validation. (Hang tight, we’re still working on this document but will share as soon as it’s ready. It’s safe to say that we want to reimagine validation in a way similar to the way Open Badges reimagines the possibilities inherent in learning.)

Two folks of note who were invited to this meeting were Ann Pendleton-Julian and John Seely Brown. Ms. Pendleton-Julian was unfamiliar with the scope and breadth of our Open Badges plan but found herself convinced during our discussion of Endorsement. Having them share their thoughts was both rewarding and helpful in orienting where our talking points are effective and where they still need some work. But, onto endorsement. I have written about endorsement on my blog quite some time ago, but never fully dived into what it is and how it will work. I have long felt that endorsement is a key aspect of a fully functioning Open Badge ecosystem and therefore it deserves its own post—and I will write that post soon—but suffice it to say that endorsement will begin to knit together the trust networks that I wrote about in previous posts. Endorsement will begin to answer the long-asked question, how can we guarantee that a badge represents the learning, experiences, accomplishments that it’s said to do.

That week also saw the launch of some projects (and badges!) that we’ve been working on and coordinating for a large and dynamic foundation. There will be a more comprehensive announcement about this in the coming weeks.

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Things that happened with Open and Webmaker badges: week of 1/27

Last week was a heavy work week filled with progress on a relatively new effort but one that stems from our validation thinking: developing a web literacy standard. My colleague, Doug Belshaw, has already written about some of this on his blog. That said, we’re interested in co-creating with the public a web literacy standard that will support the framework for Open Badges as well as our work on Webmaker Badges (one of my current areas of focus). We will be running an online gathering to kick off this thinking on February 7th 11am EST. You can sign up (or simply attend) here on Lanyrd or here on EventBrite. And if you are interested join our mailing list / google group!

In addition to this work, I’ve also been writing up a Badge System Design etherpad that is chock full of (almost) everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how to design a badge system (as well as a single badge). It’s not finished and I’m coming around to the realization that most likely, it will never be complete, just as most systems are incomplete and continue to evolve. Nevertheless, in a few short days it will begin to transform into a few variations, e.g., a brief bulleted list, a white paper, the long and comprehensive list, and worked examples. I’m super excited about this and am looking forward to getting your feedback in the next few months.

I have another blog post in the offing based on some of what I’ll be discussing at Educause ELI where I’m pleased to be presenting and talking about Open and Webmaker badges Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. In a thrilling development, the conference will be issuing badges. No doubt, you’ll hear more about that in a future post.

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Let me know your thoughts. More soon.
carla at mozillafoundation (dot) org

Webmaker, games, and learning

Chloe Varelidi has been playing around with a small team thinking through how to make games hackable, free and open source. This work makes me happy. Somewhat relatedly, Greg Wilson has just written a terrific blog post about web literacy and why we need to provide pathways and tools that provide for creativity. What ties these two things together and loops in where we’re headed with Webmaker Badges is their open ended, non-deterministic approach to learning. I believe that games and game design should be deeply integrated with Webmaker.org. Why? For a number of reasons I’ll discuss here but perhaps most importantly it’s because games are typically fun. True, they’re not always fun but when they are, they can act like mental catnip.

Games present a number of opportunities for learning and tie in really beautifully with a variety of potential learning objectives, as well as outcomes.

There are a few books that point to games being effective teaching and learning tools—surprisingly tools that can have quite a positive impact upon personal perception and well-being (see Reality is Broken). And there are a number of research studies that are being focused on games. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that what makes games great is the way that they provide immediate feedback, thereby diminishing the negative charge that usually rides shotgun with failure. We’re taught to avoid failure and still, failure is a quotidian occurrence. We might more commonly refer to failure as making a mistake. Yet, learning to develop resilience in response to failure (an ability that tends to make people feel happier and helps them thrive) can be quite helpful. Games can help us to do just that.

It may seem obvious that games and learning go hand in hand but here are a few reasons why I see them as intertwined. Games generally do not hit you over the head with what they’re teaching you. Nor do they often tell you why they’re teaching you something. Heck, they don’t even tell you that they’re teaching you anything at all. They don’t always provide instructions; this means that a player must discern how to play them. As Mario Herger said at the CalTech Entrepreneurs Forum: Venturing in Serious Games for Simulation, Education, and the Enterprise, “They don’t come with a 200 page manual telling you how to use them.” Players must use their own judgment about what’s important and what comes next. This also means that a player typically makes a lot of mistakes about those things—and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s expected that the player will make mistakes. Mistakes are built in to the process. Intentionally. How many other activities have the user’s mistakes planned for and built into the process?

Perhaps what games teach more than anything is the value of persistence. If failure is anticipated, so is persistence. Extra lives anyone? I’d also argue that games teach the value of a community as well. What’s the use of playing a game if you can’t share it with someone else? Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement because there are games meant to be played entirely by yourself. Solitaire is one of them. But even within solitaire you play until you absolutely can’t play anymore. And then you start again. Resilience.

Do we learn in games? Most certainly indirectly and directly as well. As mentioned earlier, we can come to understand persistence, social and moral values, community, the concept of multiple possibilities, how to assess options, the importance of planning, soft skills, hard skills—this list could go on and on and we could examine each property endlessly. But for now, let’s just consider the ways in which games provide multiple pathways to achievements despite numerous and difficult obstacles: we like a challenge.

So, what does all of this mean for Webmaker.org? A lot. There’s a huge opportunity for us to leap into the gaming boat; to set up a few challenges of our own. To ask people to not only play games, but to code games, to design and test them. Because developing a game for someone else puts you inside the mind of that someone else and encourages you to anticipate that person’s next move. And the move beyond that. And this is the nexus of playing and learning. How can you make something fun and compelling and difficult enough to excite people but easy enough for folks to win every once in a while. This is precisely what we’re aiming to do with Webmaker.

How might Webmaker Badges fit into all of this great potential? I’m guessing that some of this may appear obvious to you and I’d love to engage on that point. My next post will address how we might best integrate these two protean elements but in the interim, if you have ideas, send them my way.

Reference
McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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Much more soon.

Friday badges wrap up

A quick post to keep folks up to date on what’s been going on with Webmaker Badges + a few other things—starting with a quick catch-up post from the previous week. (And yes, I know it’s not Friday. :) )

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Things that happened with Webmaker badges: week of 1/6

Our post-holiday work has us starting to focus on where we’re headed with the future of badges. And we’re also considering where we’re headed with web literacies as a standard. This may seem simple and rather obvious, but we have been continually learning about what we thought would make sense and what other people think make sense. We’re iterating in the classic Mozilla sense but that iteration does not come without significant work plus significant reflection on that work. The act of reflection can be difficult to implement particularly when you’re moving so quickly in so many different areas, but it’s essential. We recommend that everyone who’s interested in successful badge system design find the time to make this happen: your work will benefit from it.

For a while now I’ve been chatting with folks about Open Badges, listening to them mentally tackle the idea of a difficult concept—one that challenges a lot of assumptions and established social concepts. While we’ve made a good deal of headway with sharing the idea of open badges and have been basking in the glow of successes, there are still a number of folks who are befuddled about badges. In addition, other people are stymied about why we would want to challenge the existing systems. So that brings us to the question of where are badges headed?

Webmaker badges are headed toward integration with the larger maker world. That and interconnectivity with the larger badging world. I find myself repeating this quite a bit: Webmaker badges are part of a larger world and we aim to be a node within it. This is linked directly to our approach with Open Badges; in particular with the standards alignment tag option that we’re proposing be added to the badge metadata (more on this in the coming weeks).

So web literacies: what about those? We’ve been keeping a holding pattern on them for a bit. As we move forward with standards and other efforts, we will review these in closer detail. No doubt, as more folks get involved with this thinking, we’ll end up revising some of our content. We work in the open but we don’t always have a large enough pulpit for us to get enough feedback—or we have to wait until we get enough cumulative feedback for it to be resonant for our work. We’re beginning to get enough traction to know what our next steps might be.

Right now, it’s easy for us to forget how big our mental ask is of the public; we’re attempting to shift some established and entrenched paradigms here. We’re so far in and such strong believers that we don’t see how far we have to go. Nothing seems impossible. (Yay, New Year exuberance!)

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Things that happened with Webmaker badges: week of 1/13

First a quick note of thanks to Doris Yee of GOOD Magazine and Tara Brown of LA Makerspace for hosting a badge design event on Sunday, January 13th. A number of kids and adults showed up with laptops and ideas and many new badges were designed. I was pleased to be in attendance to talk about Open Badges at such a fun event.

This week also saw the launch of some of the work we’ve been doing with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Working in conjunction with many other organizations on the Born Brave Bus Tour, we’ve shepherded the development of their nascent badge system and helped to create some Webmaker activities where you can earn Webmaker Badges.

Additionally, earlier in the month, we began working on a vast, city-wide badge system design (we’ll let you know which one soon), helping to focus and coordinate approaches and efforts. This is a huge undertaking and we’re pretty thrilled to be working on it. This endeavor will provide us with the opportunity to test some of our theories about badges, their uses, and audiences. Thrilling!

We’ve also been coordinating and attending public calls run by our amazing community members, one of which focused on Open Badges in learning and another that addressed recent COPPA changes and related considerations.

We’re also closing in on the final Digital Media and Learning Competition face to face meeting in Irvine next week. HASTAC has been our indefatigable partner during all of the DML work and we’re happy to be working with them to guarantee that our next get-together is both rewarding and fun. During the upcoming F2F, we’ve invited a number of content experts to review the teams’ approaches to design, marketing & PR, learning content and tech. Should be great!

And of course, we’re continuing to forge new pathways with our web literacies thinking as well as begin to flesh out the next iteration of Webmaker Badges. I will write more about this as we progress.

I welcome your thoughts on any of what’s written here but most certainly on the last two items, so please share where you’d like to see us head next. It’s an exciting time to be thinking about and working on badges.

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More soon.

Open Badges & Webmaker Badges in 2013: an ongoing conversation

2013: the conversation continues
Happy New Year, triskaidekaphiles! I’m starting off the year with a series of blog posts about where 2012 took us and where we will be headed in 2013. This year will see the implementation of a variety of Open Badges systems, along with Displayers, Backpack Providers, as well as some Open Badges platforms—many of which will be emanating from the 2012 DML Competition, Badges for Lifelong Learning, and many of which were inspired by that competition. We are excited about all of them. It’s always fun to see many different theories tested by actual application. Rubber, road, and all that.

In this new annum we will begin to see a dramatic increase in the number of badges being issued, although it’s fair to say that we’re doing pretty well so far. Last count (Jan 2013) saw a total of 40,000+ Open Badges already issued. We like that number a lot! But still, we’re shooting for much higher. As we have been saying for a while now, learning happens everywhere—it’s happening somewhere right now and a number like 40K badges doesn’t begin to capture all of that learning.

Among other great things like interoperability and transportability, the Open Badges initiative can help to ensure that the massive amounts of unacknowledged learning that happen all the time have a shot at finally being acknowledged. That’s where we’re headed with Webmaker Badges: capturing the learning that envelopes webmaking. We propose to expand our Webmaker efforts over the next year by expanding our offerings, developing new partnerships, and developing a more refined conceptual framework for the Webmaker Badges universe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take minute to recap how we arrived at this spot today. And that involves examining the fascinating intersection of Webmaker and Open Badges.

Webmaker and Open Badges: a brief history
2012 saw us begin to develop our Webmaker effort. Our aim: shifting people from being mere consumers of the web—or as Mitchell Baker more eloquently described it, pushing people beyond “elegant consumption” to creative making and imaginative exploration. Our Summer Code Party initiated the experience; it began with a fun Weekend of Code and continued with a variety of events throughout the summer months. MozFest revealed to us some of the fruits of this labor.

To kick off Webmaker, we started out by creating a series of exercises that were simple but compelling. We sought to test levels of public interest as well as our ability to carry this effort off. Turns out Webmaker was a hit: the public at large was thrilled to learn code in simple, free, and open ways. They were also interested in teaching each other code. Our endeavors were richly rewarded with interest and participation beyond our expectations. Webmaker proved to be deeply informative and continues to prove to be so: we learned about different coding efforts, developed new partnerships, discovered people interested in creating and coding their own projects. We had hit upon a direction worth pursuing.

And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that before Webmaker we had been forging the Open Badges ecosystem: standardizing and universalizing digital badges so that the content contained within them (yes, within the badge) was interoperable and useful across a variety of uses. I have to opine a bit about the delights of Open Badges. Open Badges allow individuals, groups, organizations, etc. to develop and create digital badges that capture learning wherever and however it occurs. As I noted above, the beauty of an Open Badge is its portability and its flexibility. Indeed, Open Badges represent a movement toward democratization, a shift in the educational landscape, an opening of the closed doors of academia, an opportunity to reimagine and recreate assessment, and the possibility to reconsider formal accreditation. (I’m a believer.)

Keeping our own counsel to let a thousand flowers bloom
Before we even introduced Open Badges to the world, Mozilla shied away from creating our own set of badges. While this may have seemed strange, this was a canny act in that it let others create taxonomies and develop systems that were unusual, new and dynamic. Our act—or really, non-act—encouraged folks to build from scratch, to seize the opportunities inherent in a brand new system and begin to acknowledge things that had not been possible to acknowledge previously. The newness of the Open Badges system permitted bottom-up forms of recognition, in addition to top-down forms. Heck, it even nicely accommodated inside out forms of recognition. Its protean dynamism allowed deeply different representations of learning that were not constrained by federal or state mandates. Indeed, Open Badges help organizations to create their own pure standards that are far and above current closed, formal standards. In other words, Open Badges presented a possible sea change in representations of learning.

Once the sea change was well underway—thousands of badges were being issued and many different badge systems were being developed—we felt comfortable that if we developed a system, it would slot in easily without overwhelming the nascent ecosystem. It wouldn’t become the assumed de facto badge system. We could enter the ecosystem without fear of becoming the apex organism that squelched alternative types of badge system design creativity. And so we launched a series of mini-badges based on our web literacies (much more on this in a later post) in late 2012 at MozFest.

Webmaker-Badges

There’s obviously  much more to say about our initial offering of badges and I’ll do so in following posts but let me leave it at this: we’re already underway developing Mozilla’s constellation of Webmaker Badges—large and small—and we hope that you will help us to build a complete webmaker galaxy. There’s room enough for all of us. Opportunities abound. Pathways have yet to be forged. It’s an exciting time to be a webmaker and I hope you join us on this mission.

Thanks. More soon.
carla at mozillafoundation . org

Mozilla Open Badges: building trust networks, creating value

“…the value of a unit of currency is not the measure of the value of an object, but the measure of one’s trust in other human beings.” (Graeber, 2011)

In the last few posts we have discussed ways in which badge systems can be segmented, considered, or categorized within existing social structures. And I have hinted at the sociocultural infrastructure necessary for badges to become useful and effective, social, professional, and personal currencies. This concept of currency stems from the notion of badges as elements of trust networks. They may be trust networks that exist presently but in this post, I suggest that badges may help to engender the creation of dynamic new trust networks.

These dynamic new trust networks will most certainly arise from constituent parts of existing trust systems—it’s worth noting that we’re building on top of those already with the idea of badges themselves. Open Badges are built to recognize and acknowledge different forms of learning, associations, achievements, affiliations, skills, competencies, and type of expertise from such diverse areas including academic, informal, professional, social, personal, etc. With Open Badges providing such a wide net for recognition and acknowledgement, it behooves us to rethink exactly how much value we place in current, culturally-steeped interpretations of such a protean system. In other words, what else can we imagine coming into being that does not exist right now?

In earlier posts about badge system design, we focused on the some of the better ways to begin thinking about how to create a badge system where little to nothing existed previously. Recognizing that a badge system is situated and will interact with a wide variety of other systems, each badge system is interwoven with, complements, and depends upon other systems to exist. Let’s consider a badge system that acknowledges prior learning. In order for it to function effectively, that system would need to take into account existing social, professional, and cultural memetics. It would benefit from being based on current understandings of educational value; existing professional environments that might find value in such badges; investigation into personally derived meaning and value. At the risk of stating the obvious, the key word in all of those phrases is value.

And from whence does value arise? It’s a complex, socially and personally derived concept. A concept rooted in cultural semiotics and one that, I would suggest, at its base contains one very necessary aspect of all true communication: trust.

Badge systems, as well as their constituent badges, if they are to take firm root and drink deeply from the vast underground sea of social semiotics must not only engender trust, but actively work to build it. How might this occur? I discussed some of how this might happen in a previous post, “Badge System Design: what we talk about when we talk about validity.” Here I’ve created some visuals to help us think through a plan of how we get there from here.

A bit of background first, though. Thanks to the many interesting conversations we’ve had with folks involved in traditional academia, we’ve been very much influenced by the notions of trust that seem to be intertwined with traditional academe. Over the years, formal academia has developed a virtually crystalline structure* of trust based on: reliability, replicability, credibility, validation, certification, accreditation, verification, and authentication.

First up: what are the items that come together in a strong badge system that allow for it to move out into a broader social economy? What are the items that are both necessary and sufficient for this to happen?  (btw, when clicked on, the graphics below will enlarge for improved readability.)

Open Badges: suggested components for trust to develop

While I’ve listed a variety of elements in that graphic—elements that have overlap with one another—note that the question of which elements are necessary and sufficient to coalesce into a trust network is entirely open. And even within that question, which of these are necessary and sufficient, how much of each of these are necessary and sufficient? Trust is a delicate alchemical reaction based on complex and varying degrees of components, environment, perceptions, etc.

If we begin to intermix these varying badge systems together, some of which contain all of the elements of trust, some of which contain very few of them, we begin to find similarities, natural alliances or links between them. The items with grey backgrounds are systems that have managed to produce types of trust. Those with just a thin grey circle encompassing them have yet to develop a sense of trust about them. This does not mean that these badge systems are any less meaningful or useful to the ecosystem, simply that they have not yet developed the sort of trust that carries social value.

Open Badges: permutations of trust

These smaller trust system permutations may cluster naturally by themselves, finding opportunities for collaboration, or building or scaffolding upon each other’s badge systems. Or it may be that third parties may find that there are social, monetary, political, or cultural benefits to connect them together. The evolution and development of different sorts of trust networks appears below.

Open Badges: the evolution of trust networks

As we begin to imagine the future of badge systems with varying degrees of trust building upon and aligning with other badge systems with varying degrees of trust, we can see how new forms of value might arise from such a dynamic system. It may happen that complete, robust trust networks form and coalesce in addition to continuously forming incipient trust networks. In the Open Badges ecosystem, we anticipate immense initial growth of badge systems followed by issuer alliances, the development of endorsing systems, related third parties entering the scene, and employers beginning to “consume” badges. In short, a system with emergent properties.

And if we look out even further than that, we may find that our perception of the future entails new forms of social, professional, personal, political, and cultural currency—or, as the anthropologist David Graeber notes, trust.

*Note that a crystalline structure is brittle; the system design underpinning Open Badges endeavors to encourage structures that are strong and resilient, firm but flexible.

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More soon.  carla at mozillafoundation . org

references
Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: the first 5000 years. Brooklyn, NY : Melville House Publishing.

Mozilla Open Badges: another take on the shape of the ecosystem

After reviewing the work from the last post, it seemed that multiple graphics that provided different lenses with which to view our efforts was the way to go. Also, we received some pushback on our view of the ecosystem from the folks at Digital On-Ramps. That’s exactly the sort of community interaction that extends and builds the conversation and we deeply appreciate it, thanks!

Now, given that excellent effort, I ask you to consider and share your perceptions of the Open Badges ecosystem, not only as we imagine it right now but as you see it in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, etc. Aaaaand, can you imagine additional alternative credentialing occurring and what’s the state of the workforce development movement?

Okay, with that mental exercise assigned, let’s get to more visuals. First up, a slightly revised graphic showing the traditional/non-traditional vs. accredited/non-accredited landscape.

You’ll note that the confusion introduced by matching traditional/non-traditional with formal/informal is now gone. Also, there are more organizations included in this version. Thanks to those of you who provided me with information about where they saw themselves fitting, along with areas that were previously not considered, for example the entire Maker movement. While there is some clustering happening already, I anticipate that eventually we’ll need the ability to enlarge this view dramatically because there are many groups and organizations that will be heavily clustered in some areas. That said, it’s worth noting that there are some data deserts in this graphic, too—particularly in the northeast quadrant. Perhaps this is due in part to accreditation being a pretty binary achievement (more on this in another post later).

The next graphic addresses the formal/informal environment vs. standard/experimental pedagogies. It’s new and again, a rough version of where things seem to be aligning. Here I’m contrasting a somewhat old world approach to teaching including formal requirements associated with physical placement (like seat time) with the new world order linked to the anytime, anywhere learning being engendered by the rapidly proliferating self & peer based learning sites that can be found on the Web.

There are some interesting overlaps occurring particularly in the southwest and northeast quadrants, especially as we consider the influence of the Maker movement. I would love to hear feedback on whether this graphic lens makes sense of this space, as well as if splitting traditional/non-traditional from formal/informal resonates with the community. For me, these are two different approaches that have been traditionally tightly interlaced but one that the web now compels us to recognize as potentially separate actors in the system.

By the way, if you click on these graphics, they’ll open in a new window in a larger format so you can view them more readily.

As I mentioned earlier in this post and last week’s post, I will be following up these thoughts with visuals that explain the direction that a trust network may take once Open Badges hits them. Until then, please provide your thoughts on these interpretations or directions you’d like to see expressed in a more graphic fashion.

And  lastly, thanks for all of your feedback on the graphics and ideas in the last post. I mention this frequently, but since it underpins everything we’re doing with Open Badges—and really, Mozilla in general—I’ll mention it again: you, the Open Badges community, are an essential part of building this ecosystem. All of your questions, notes, comments, RTs, likes, concerns, etc. inform the process. So, thank you and please continue to send them our way.

Much more soon.

Mozilla Open Badges: the ecosystem begins to take shape

08/01/12: Updated, see bottom of post.

A lot has been happening in the Open Badges world: we’ve been attending and speaking at conferences (ePIC, Gamification Summit, OSCON, ISTE); developing new outreach efforts; having fantastic conversations with significant potential partners; facilitating discussions about the future of alternative credentialing at CGI America; thinking through web literacies, skills and competencies; and working on developing Mozilla webmaker badges based on those web literacies. (And we’re also working on developing an “OBI compliant” tag for use on partner sites. Fun!)

As I’ve been traveling around and thinking through these issues, rationalizing different versions of assessment criteria, hacking through what folks mean when they mention 21st Century skills, I’ve felt the need to put a few things into a more visual representation. The first is how I see the development of Open Badges understanding happening. It’s fairly anecdotal and yet useful to begin talking about where the level of public understanding resides and where opportunities still exist. (Speaking of understanding Open Badges, if you’re not following us on Twitter at @OpenBadges, now is the time to start. And if you’re not joining our weekly Open Badges community calls (you missed a great one last week on validation), now is the time to start.

Impression of public understanding of Mozilla Open Badges

This graphic presents a pretty DML / Mozilla -centric view but it’s one I believe accurately represents how much we’ve accomplished in bringing the public up to speed in a relatively short time period. That said, I will also note that we have quite a way to go until the term “Open Badges” (and not just digital badges) can be used and understood in common speech.

A prime differentiator, and one that tends to get lost in cursory understandings of digital badges, is the idea that an Open Badge carries with it its own credentials: it’s evidence based documentation. Additionally, an Open Badge is a sort of diplomat that can freely cross disciplinary & institutional boundaries. From a systems standpoint, no Open Badge lives alone: each one resides in a larger badge ecosystem. As the ecosystem gains breadth, questions arise about the depth and rigor of each badge—as compared to the current understanding of social, professional, and academic currencies. Many, if not all of the questions of validity will be addressed through not only the methods by which each Open Badge is created but also by the community that develops around it. Endorsers will play a significant role in linking an ecosystem together as will Issuers & Displayers, but then so will “consuming” organizations like employers, academic institutions, community groups, etc.

But, in the interest of making this a briefer post with other pretty graphics about the concept of validation and trust networks I just referenced to come later (I promise—they’re already done), here’s an initial take on dividing up the academic world into traditional vs. non-traditional, accredited vs. non-accredited as it currently stands.

Traditional vs. non-traditional, accredited vs. non-accredited

Obviously, this is an abbreviated, highly selective version of that world but I would love to hear your responses to not only where you see you/your organization appearing on this graph, but also your thoughts on the validity of it. It would also be great if you felt the desire to talk about the future of this system and whether or not this approach will retain its validity or if we’ll need an entirely new one after Open Badges enters common parlance. Additionally, if this is an omniscient take or if there are different visions for each of the three primary players: earners, issuers and displayers.

And of course, I would love it still more if you would let me know your thoughts on where we’ve been, where we’re headed and what we have left to do. Thanks!

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More soon.

UPDATE 08/01/12: After discussing this on the Open Badges community call, I’m even more torn by the dichotomy imposed by combining traditional & formal and non-traditional & informal (not to mention the extreme mental shorthand with which I’ve written this post). It’s possible to have traditional pedagogical techniques performed in informal settings. Consequently, I’m reworking this second graphic to include the subtleties that are lost when traditional & formal and non-traditional & informal are so unceremoniously combined.

As I mentioned in a few emails to those of you who wrote responses to this post, there will most definitely need to be a series of these graphics to articulate what we’re saying when we talk about Open Badges and its ecosystem. Lenses, layers, and conceptual frameworks are all still very much in process: I’m working on graphically representing all of these and I appreciate all the community participation I can get. Thanks!

Badge System Design: what we talk about when we talk about validity

Every day we conduct conversations with folks new to the idea of Open Badges. Each of these conversations is steeped in inquisitiveness. Questions abound. Curiosity spills out. Thought waves feel palpable. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to share the moment when the light goes on. That time feels magical, full of promise. That moment illuminates the room with the thousand-watt possibilities of the Open Badge initiative. The “what if” moment is something that should be experienced by everyone.

In some ways, the Open Badges team is continually explaining what we do—and not only what we do but why we do the things the way we do them. This constant questioning could affect us in a few ways: we could hunker down and stick to our prepared statements, we could challenge the folks who question our work, or we could listen closely to these queries and try to parse the spaces between the words, the silent places where no content yet exists. These interregnums help us to interrogate our own understanding of Open Badges. It’s probably fair to say that we do all of these, yet we try to keep focused on the last of these techniques because they provide the greatest opportunity for growth—not only for us but for our conversationalists as well.

The question of validity is posed fairly commonly.* It goes something like this, “How can we ensure that the badges have a sense of validity?” or “Who will vet them?” or “How will we know that they’re worthwhile badges issued from reputable sources?”

There is a good deal of subtext embedded in these seemingly simple questions. And bound into that subtext is an unwitting/unacknowledged acceptance of the sociocultural status quo. That tacit acceptance should be unpacked and considered. How does any organization achieve validity? How do standards become standards? When the landscape is unknown, how do you learn to trust anything?

Validity
Validity addresses the question of representational accuracy: does something perfectly represent the thing it’s allegedly designed to represent? In the case of Open Badges, the question of validity quickly becomes multifaceted. Questions that have arisen include the following:

  • Does a particular badge represent appropriate learning?
  • To whom is the badge meaningful?
  • Does the issuer have the authority to issue a particular badge?
  • Does the earning of a badge indicate that the learner has learned?
  • Does the earning of a badge indicate that the earner has been accurately assessed?

To bring a different perspective to these questions, let’s replace the word badge with the word class. This should provide some insight into how much our unquestioning acceptance of the status quo affects our acceptance of learning validity.

  • Does the taking of a particular class represent appropriate learning?
  • To whom is the completion of a class meaningful?
  • Does anyone have the authority to teach a particular class?
  • Does the completion of a class indicate that the learner has learned what they were supposed to?
  • Does the completion of a class indicate that the learner has been accurately assessed?

This simple exercise exposes our somewhat complicated relationship with understandings of validity with regards to existing institutions. Taking this a step further, imagine if the rules in an educational system were entirely reconsidered, to wit:

To demonstrate the power of rules, I like to ask my students to imagine different ones for a college. Suppose the students graded the teachers, or each other. Suppose there were no degrees: you come to college when you want to learn something, and you leave when you have learned it. Suppose tenure were awarded to professors according to their ability to solve real-world problems, rather than publishing academic papers. Suppose a class was graded as a group, instead of as individuals. (Meadows, 1999, p. 14)

Did those questions shift your perspective? I know that they resonated deeply within my consciousness. They’re the equivalent of “what if everything you knew about education were turned on its head?” questions. They’re disorienting in the best possible way. And they lead me to humbly suggest that in place of questions about validity—or at least hand in hand with these sorts of questions—we might consider asking questions about credibility and reliability, too. These areas seem to be more readily delineated and a tad more easily unpacked.

Credibility 
Credibility inspires belief and is derived from perceptions of trustworthiness and expertise. These things can be assessed through personal means but quite often are accepted tacitly. How so? Through the cultural shorthand of pre-existing standards. We countenance many sociocultural values with little to no deep consideration, i.e., everyone was doing it, I just followed the crowd, etc. Let’s consider some ways that we might be able to classify what we mean when we talk about credibility.

Expanding the idea into a taxonomy, B.J. Fogg proposes the following four types of of credibility: presumed, surface, reputed, and earned (Fogg, 2003). Presumed credibility arises from “general assumptions in the mind of the perceiver,” Surface credibility from “simple inspection or initial firsthand experience,” Reputed credibility occurs through “third-party endorsements, reports or referrals,” and Earned credibility, perhaps the most important in a new system, stems from “firsthand experience that extends over time” (Fogg, 2003, p. 131).

While we can negotiate the definitions, this basic structure brings order to the chaos of credibility, and it helps to elucidate our complicated understanding of validity. This categorization also allows us to interrogate the credibility of existing systems, and in particular, the formal system of education currently found within the United States. Here’s where Open Badges provides us an opportunity to intervene in a significant system.

Reliability
Reliability might be considered the replicability quotient of an event, idea, performance, etc. Something that can be consistently measured is considered reliable. The Open Badge Infrastructure is most certainly a reliable tool: it will produce badges that hew to its standards. However, the badge systems that are produced with that tool or housed in that tool may prove to be reliable, but then again, they may not. And yet, this dichotomy is true of any tool. In the right hands, bad tools can produce good results and in the wrong hands good tools can produce bad results. Skill is necessary and happily, it can be learned. From a systems standpoint, the US education system is also just such a tool, producing “products” of varying completeness and quality. This perceptual double standard should inform our questioning of new systems, especially one as reconstructive as Open Badges might prove to be.

The known and the unknown
There are many questions that the Open Badges initiative seeks to answer and many more that its implementation raises. Right now, we’re completely comfortable operating in the liminal space between the known and the yet-to-be-discovered, the present and the future, the understood and the ambiguous. The design of the Open Badge Infrastructure offers solutions to a number of questions regarding validity. For other questions we should ask ourselves, what is the purpose of this query? Am I expecting an answer that will only serve to reinforce a complicated and difficult but familiar system? We do ourselves a disfavor if we accept the current state of affairs without asking ourselves the following: “What exists here now?”, “What is worth keeping?”, and “What can be improved?” Those are precisely the questions that Open Badges Issuers, Earners and Displayers seek to answer themselves.

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More soon.

references
Fogg, B. J. (2003). Persuasive technology. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Meadows, D. (2008). Thinking in systems. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing

For now let’s skip the reasons as to why this question arises from some audiences more than it does others. Although I’m happy to discuss it if you would like—you simply have to ask and away we’ll go.

Badge System Design: seven ways of looking at a badge system

Badge system design can be considered in a variety of ways. I tried to come up with thirteen ways to discuss them  so I could write a poem riffing on one of my favorite poems, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Badge System) but I’ve had to settle for seven eight (see addendum below).

Below you’ll find the seven different possible categorizations listed with a few representations of each type of thinking. This is not an exhaustive list by any means: it’s simply an opportunity to unpack our influences and perceptions as we begin the process of designing badge systems.

The methods outlined below include philosophical, conceptual, pedagogical, visual (aesthetic), technical, categorical, and ownership. The last one, ownership, feels a bit odd because it’s not quite parallel to the rest of the bunch. I like a system that has a nice balance and this one has a slight imbalance. Happily, this slightly odd fit serves to emphasize the importance of allowing for an outlier. The outlier will cause you to reconsider your system every time—and that’s a good thing. The outlier is the thing that keeps your badge system honest, keeps it moving and evolving. Because if you’re designing a system so as to keep everyone within a certain range, you’re trying too hard. And you’re deep in the midst of a lush forest.

In any case, I’m curious to hear your reaction to these potential sorting efforts. No doubt these groupings can intermixed and most certainly they can be layered, possibly interleaved with one another.

philosophical

  • representation: understood vs. hidden
  • social acceptance vs. formal acceptance
  • intellectual property vs. copyright free
  • cognitive surplus vs. waste of time
  • extrinsic vs. intrinsic
  • carrot vs. stick
  • top down vs. bottom up

conceptual

  • possession
  • systems design vs. emergence
  • corporate vs. academic
  • amateur vs. professional
  • rhythmic vs. erratic

pedagogical

  • education vs. learning
  • assessment
  • teaching vs. perceiving/absorbing/
  • injection vs. osmosis
  • project based vs standards based
  • expert-taught vs. peer learned & assessed

visual/aesthetic

  • representational vs. abstract
  • categorical vs. individual

technical

  • siloed vs. shared
  • open vs. proprietary
  • system vs. single

categorical

  • formalized vs. free for all
  • few categories vs. many

ownership

  • organizational vs. personal
  • owned vs. shared

Are there additional ways to consider the design of badge systems? Do any of these seem innate? Far-fetched? What do we gain by sorting through systems in this way? I continue working on questions like these and look for your feedback (which, according to Donella Meadows, is a good way to ensure that your system is running smoothly).

Still, I have to try it.
With apologies to Wallace Stevens

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the Open Badge is involved
In what I know.

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More soon.

May 23, 2012 addendum: Recent thinking points to the fact that these categories exclude content. So now there are 8 ways to sort through badge system design. Some possible representations of that categorization include: language choice; content-driven vs. context-driven; formal vs. informal; system vs. one-off; single language vs. multiple languages; alliterative vs. rhyming vs. allusion-based, etc. 

Badge System Design: beyond a binary approval system

For those who labor long and hard to craft good and just standards, as well as those who have suffered from their absence. On the one hand, the fight against the tyranny of structurelessness. On the other, the fallacy of one size fits all  (Lampland & Starr, 2009).

This book dedication found in Standards and Their Stories captures the inherent paradox of badge system design. By seeking to standardize the process we risk the introduction of systemic rigidity. And yet by developing badges without a plan we risk the possibility of ideological entropy. In my writing about this topic I’m attempting to walk the middle path: somewhere in between fanatical dictums and a mad free-for-all. I wish I could say that it was easier than this, but then I’d be lying.

The status quo
Even while we’re in the midst of talking about a potentially reconstructive idea like Mozilla Open Badges, I still rather rotely refer to my own typically conventional educational route with “my undergrad degree this” or “my grad degree that.” Perhaps this is to be expected. It certainly hearkens to one of the issues that the open badges in the wild will have to confront: the seeming intractability of the status quo. In the Open Badges world this desire for stability echoes within the repeated request for a standard method of validation; it’s mated to a deep concern about badge quality. In unfamiliar situations such as these we tend to rely on current cultural understandings and touchstones. In this case, degrees and certificates, accreditation systems and educational rankings.

The status quo of our formal academic system has transmogrified into a sort of binary approval system. You pass or you fail. You go to a respected school or you go to a second-tier school. You graduate or you don’t. It all seems pretty inexorable. We gravitate toward that which is customary. The familiar often appears to be less threatening than the entirely unknown. Indeed, there is a robust academic research field that studies this tendency, especially with regards to our proclivities toward risk and reward: behavioral economics. (For a deep and delightful dive on this read Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational.)

Resonance
I’m hoping that some day people will refer to not only their formal schooling but their non-traditional learned experiences as well (hopefully badged in the open way) without speaking of one of them as second-rate or less than the other. That noted, I’ll return to my rather classical undergraduate education to make a point. I double-majored in graphic design and writing. The classes I took in design inform a significant amount of the way that I think. This is not to say that every design class I took made sense or built on every preceding design class so that one day I had taken enough of them to—ta-dah!—be called a designer. On the contrary, I gleaned information from a variety of sources. My deep learning occurred in many different venues, a bit of it very much outside the realm of what typically would be called design. Nevertheless, some aspects of design that I learned in those college classes continue to reverberate within me.

One of the most resonant aspects of those years pertains to users and audiences and owners and consumers and interested parties and even uninterested parties. The idea of multiple audiences pulses within me at the root. Akin to that concept, another: juxtaposition. What is there versus what is not there; what has been asked versus what has not been asked; the solid versus the void. Good designers are problem solvers, not stylists or skinners. They interrogate situations and ask why? They poke around in seemingly unrelated categories. They consider the complicating factors of temporality and fickle end users while acknowledging that a problem owner requires resolutions. They know that solutions can have many audiences and that things that seem simple and straightforward can be damn complex. (Massimo Vignelli has spoken eloquently on this subject in Massimo Vignelli on Rational Design.” Actually, read all the interviews on Steven Heller’s Design Dialogues site.)

Hard questions
Why do I mention all of this? Because as you begin the process of badge system design, you, too, will be delving into these areas. You, too, will be learning to act as a designer. You’ll be gathering information from many sources—no doubt a few of them entirely unexpected. And most likely you’ll find yourself asking deep and sometimes existential questions. I encourage you to remain open to the idea that periodically, like the question, the answer will prove to be both complex and difficult and very much not binary. Sometimes you will have to try something to know if it works because there will be no answer until you do. Accept this. Your badge system will benefit from this sideways approach. That is, believe it or not, the middle path.

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Much more soon.

references
Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Lampland, M. & Starr, S. L. (2009). Standards and their stories. (p. dedication). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Vignelli, M. (1998). Massimo Vignelli on Rational Design. In Heller, S. (Ed.), Design dialogues (pp. 3-8). New York, NY: Allworth Press.

Learning, coding, systems of power, and Mozilla

Starting this summer, we’re aiming to help create a group of webmakers. Building on Mozilla’s Manifesto—to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the web—we’re rationalizing a set of core skills, developing learning objectives and outcomes associated with those skills and offering opportunities to try them out. This effort aligns extremely well with the development and promotion of #5 in our mission list: “Individuals must have the ability to shape their own experiences on the Internet.”

What’s a webmaker?
What do we mean by webmaker? Someone who contributes to the web but also someone who understands the web and its inherent power. Our focus is on moving people toward doing rather than perceiving but both are required. Experimentation is where we’re headed. Guiding people toward understanding the software that constitutes the web so that they can make more informed and educated decisions about not only how they interact with the web, but how they interact with the systems that lead to the power of the web. Yes, systems as we’ve been discussing in previous posts. (Avoiding the complex discussion of Foucault’s systems of power for now, thanks.)

Code is political
Code is political. While that may seem to be a polemical statement, it’s one that serves to inform the currently omnipresent drive to teach people to code. Code is enveloped in systems of power—systems of power that will increasingly play large roles in people’s lives. Understanding that you can create as well as consume seems a fair balance. More people having a literacy is something to be desired, not shunned or disdained. (More info here: Lawrence Lessig’s Code is Law)

What do we mean by literacy?
Traditional literacy lifts people out of poverty, modifies their worldviews, opens up new vistas and provides new opportunities for further enrichment, whether they be social, political, professional, or ideological. If you want your own proof, just search with this combination of terms “literacy and poverty.” Who’s to say that digital literacy won’t accomplish similar things? In the vein of the scientific method, why not test it out?

Literacy itself is a complex term that encompasses a broad spectrum. In our case, literacy is a basic communication skill, akin to numeracy or traditional language literacy. We’re not aiming to make everyone into Joycean code experimenters pushing the boundaries of language and comprehension, nor are we aiming to move everyone toward Hemingway-esque brevity and conciseness, but if some of you decide those pathways are for you, all the better. At least you’ll be moving forward with a broader understanding of what’s possible. And you will be making the decision for yourself, not having it handed to you by some faceless mega-corporation.

Our initial take on web literacy skills is bouncing along as an ongoing experiment (sounds familiar, right?). In the same vein as iterate often, we’re out there trying things on, seeing what feels right. Working with other organizations to leverage their understandings of web literacy and expand upon our own.

What we’re interested in doing with webmaking is shining a light into a place you may not have considered looking before. Showing you that that place is not full of monsters, is not incomprehensible, but is instead simply the exact same world you’ve been experiencing all along just translated into another language. Learning to code is a deciphering of sorts—a decoding of symbols. It offers a different lens through which to view the world.

Opportunity
This new knowledge lens may significantly alter the way you perceive the world; it’s hard to say how it will affect you. Perhaps that unknown quantity is precisely why Mozilla believes learning to code is something everyone should be afforded the opportunity to learn how to do. The operative word in that sentence is opportunity.

Knock, knock, knock.