Tag Archives: learning

Open Badges, wicked problems, and that thing called hope

"feather bad weather" by Erik bij de Vaate

“feather bad weather” ©2008 Erik bij de Vaate, used under CC-BY-SA

Open badges: they are so tantalizing to so many people, so full of possibility. They appear to offer so many solutions to so many different problems. They encourage us to look at old problems with new eyes. And precisely because of their dynamism, their precious novelty, we occasionally find ourselves overwhelmed with the hope that they’ll solve all of the problems. Everything.

This, my friends, this is precisely what’s at issue with introducing badges to our current social structure: recognizing that there are problems with existing acknowledgement and recognition systems. Problems that have not been adequately addressed. We need to crack that nut wide open as we begin to figure out how badges might change the game. We need to figure out what works and what’s worth saving in this new badge world. We need to look hard at the wicked problems that they might at least influence.

The issues most often raised about badges—accessibility, injustice, value, meaning, and rigor—are not necessarily about badges themselves but instead are rooted in wicked problems, the larger systemic social, political, and economic issues that surround learning and recognition. When viewed from this perspective, it’s obvious that badges are not a panacea. So, let’s be realistic in our discussions about the ability of badges to solve all issues of access, fairness, and equity: nothing so far has solved those issues and badges alone won’t do it, either. This is a known known; let’s not waste time arguing this point. Instead, let’s wrestle mightily with the all-too-familiar feeling of impotence when discussing any possible inroad to wicked problems. Because discuss them we must.

On the plus side of this discussion, here’s a tiny sample of what badges can do. They can provide markers of social and professional possibilities, they can acknowledge varying degrees of expertise in social skills, they can indicate job skills compatibility, they can evidence a variety of important learning experiences including capturing prior learning, they can demonstrate continued professional engagement, they can represent vastly different company and brand values, and perhaps most importantly, they can provide important and meaningful personal insight.

So for now, while we’re building this ecosystem together, let’s hold tight to that thing with feathers—our sense of hope, our sense of possibility—for when seeking change, particularly systemic change, odd though it may feel and sound to outsiders, optimism is a feature not a bug.

 

If you’re reading this and nodding your head, you might also appreciate this related post from Badge Alliance Executive Director, Erin Knight: More Beefs

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

 

Chicago Summer of Learning: thoughts on badge design

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 10.27.37 PMIn my initial post about the Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL) badge system, I quickly sketched out the rough outline of it. In this post we’ll talk through the components of CSOL badge design and the rationale that led to our decisions about them. First, a quick two sentence recap of what CSOL is and what it seeks to accomplish. The Chicago Summer of Learning is the first citywide implementation of an open badge system. It includes in-school badge-issuing programs as well as out-of-school and governmental badge-issuing programs—all of them focused on combatting the summer learning drop off.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts and as I noted during this week’s Open Badges Community call, there are a number of considerations associated with design and badge design in particular. While it can be argued that content defines a good deal of the social value of a badge, visual appearance also plays a significant role.* Visual processing accounts for half of the human brain’s operational capacity so it follows that how something looks can alter how it’s perceived. With that in mind, as I imagined the visual badge system that would arise from a panoply of organizations issuing disparate badges, my years of experience in design consulting told me that a strong shape with a required set of elements would bring conceptual cohesion, reduce visual confusion, and provide a much needed sense of family, a unifying principle if you will, to the group.

A template to the rescue
With these desires in mind, we created a badge design template that was hexagonal in shape with a banner draped across it that included 2 blue stripes and 4 red stars.

badgetemplate

The banner design referenced the iconic elements found on the City of Chicago’s flag. This template served a variety of purposes:

  1. it identified each of these badges as Chicago Summer of Learning badges;
  2. it created a cohesive and easily understood family of badges despite being assembled from very different organizations;
  3. it provided the city with an easy way to find, reference, and display badges as a full set not only during the experience but afterwards as well;
  4. it branded the badges as Chicago specific; and
  5. it provided a way for issuing organizations to indicate to the public and to future funders that they had participated in the groundbreaking experience of CSOL.

Our goal with the template was to provide a Chicago flavor to the badges and indicate a family feel while allowing enough room for organizations to customize badges to suit their needs. So, how did this fly? This template arrived in a way that may have seemed like an edict to some and yet it was perceived as a gift by others. Nevertheless, with the imposition of such a strong requirement to participate in the system—and it was an absolute requirement for all entry level badges—there were additional issues for the team to work through together. Some organizations already had pre-existing badges that didn’t fit the new template; some organizations had no access to designers; and some organizations had no strong design style or branding to implement.

A badge design tool for all
Since one of our goals for the template was to ease folks’ fear of design in general—particularly those who were organizationally or financially challenged—we also developed a badge design tool. The beauty of this tool, Badge Studio, developed by Atul Varma & Jess Klein, was its adaptability. If an organization had little to no design expertise, using it one could pull together a respectable looking badge that had all of the required elements. On the other hand if an organization had experienced design staff or access to professional designers, the template could be manipulated quite easily to accommodate unusual visual elements or objects that extended beyond the hexagonal shape.

For the organizations who already had existing badges, we suggested resizing them and dropping them into the hexagonal portion of the template—or we provided them with an Illustrator template. Since all of the organizations with pre-existing badges had design staff or access to professional designers, this option worked out quite well.

Issues of branding
Since Mozilla was tasked with addressing the first two badge levels of the CSOL experience, entry level badges and city level STEAM badges, we focused solely on a family appearance. To that end, we did not develop standards for color use or typography—two important mainstays of a branding system. However, we did provide some recommendations regarding type use. That suggestion was to avoid using type unless it remained readable & legible at highly reduced sizes. We also suggested avoiding type as the sole indicator of different badge levels, e.g., beginner, intermediate, advanced.

Indeed, we shared with the badge issuing organizations that badge design is akin to logotype or mark design in that it has similar constraints. Badges need to read at both small sizes (50 x 50 pixels) and larger sizes (600 x 600 pixels). Happily, most organizations succeeded in making their own branding work comfortably with the new badge template wrapper.

As for the city level STEAM badges, they hewed to the hexagonal structure and incorporated the word Chicago in them. Using her previously designed entry level badge template as a starting point, Mozilla’s Jess Klein designed three sets of beautiful S-T-E-A-M badges. After a comprehensive review and discussion, the larger team selected the style that hearkened back to the Chicago Summer of Learning identity program.

CSOL city-level STEAM badges

See the lovely results above for yourself. Each badge visually references the subject area that it represents; take a moment or two to admire the layered meaning embedded in each one of these badges. They’re wonderful examples of badge designs that function as well as a group as they do independently.

As to the top level badges of the CSOL experience—the city-wide challenge learning experiences badged by Hive Chicago and the Digital Youth Network—they function in a somewhat separate aesthetic because the use of the badge design template was not a requirement for their development. Subsequently, the shapes and colors of the challenge badges issued by these organizations may appear significantly different than the entry level or city-level badges. They do not all retain the Chicago flag banner and they may be shapes other than hexagonal.

Retraining the focus
After all of this discussion of the visual design of the badges, it’s important to consider why this badge system came into being. The learning is what’s important here: the badges act as various representations of that learning. We are really pleased to see the beautiful, mixed bouquet of badges that resulted from working with a simple standard template combined with the challenge badge accents. This summer provides a test bed for not only open badges but also summer programs and the nascent tie between in school and out of school learning. We could not be more excited.

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As always, I welcome your thoughts. In the next few blog posts we’ll cover the badge system hierarchy including the type of badge system CSOL represents, thoughts on assessment, team requirements, plus an examination of additional tools built for this endeavor.

So yes, much more soon.
carla [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

notes & references
*It’s worth noting that while I strongly suggest that design play a role from the beginning of the process, obsessive concerns about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the visual appearance of a badge can stunt or entirely inhibit development. Still, content + design = a whole that is unmatched by its individual parts.

During the July 10, 2013 Open Badges community call, I paraphrased a quote by Massimo Vignelli (1998), designer of the iconic NYC subway map and wayfinding, that I found in an intriguing book of interviews, Design Dialogues. You can find that quote below.

There are two kinds of graphic designers: One is rooted in history and semiotics and problem-solving. The other is more rooted in the liberal arts—painting, figurative arts, advertising, trends and fashion. These are really two different avenues. The first kind is more interested in looking to the nature of the problem and organizing information. That’s our kind of graphic design. To me, graphic design is the organization of information. The other kind is interested in the look and wants to change things all the time. It wants to be up-to-date, beautiful, trendy.
(M. Vignelli, 1998)

Chicago Summer of Learning 2013: thoughts on developing a citywide badge system

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 10.27.37 PMFor the last few months we, the Mozilla Open Badges team, have been working together with a number of other groups and the City of Chicago to launch an amazing and exciting learning campaign: the Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL). Here’s the Mozilla Blog post introducing CSOL and Erin Knight’s comprehensive discussion of it. CSOL represents the first intrepid step by a city to implement an open badge ecosystem across an entire city. That bears repeating. The third most populous city in the United States issuing open badges.

Thanks to our partners
CSOL was—and is—an incredibly exciting project with many different aspects and we were extremely pleased and honored to work on it with various fantastic people from the following organizations: the City of Chicago; the MacArthur Foundation, Digital Youth Network; Hive Chicago; Ci3 at the University of Chicago and The Creativity Labs at Indiana University.

A badge system design of this size and of this effort provides immense fodder for discussion, so this first post will be a brief recap painted with broad brushstrokes of some of our experience thus far. And suffice it to say that we have learned a lot—and we still have much to learn. Over the next two weeks I’ll follow up this post with additional posts that delve into more exacting detail on the system, its development and the rationale behind it.

But first a peek into the larger world that contains this badge system. Our design process included and addressed: issuing organizations, funding organizations, legal conditions, multiple audience needs, political considerations, academic concerns, standards alignment, distribution requirements, access capabilities, motivational discussions, socioeconomic problems, visual representation issues, employment possibilities, and varying levels of technical expertise. Certainly, not every badge system needs to or should address this many dependencies but it’s to be expected that as the size of the badge system increases, so does its propensity to surface increasing numbers of issues.

Learning: the primary motivation
Summer learning drop off is a problem that has plagued schools & students for years. The Chicago Summer of Learning was aimed squarely at this issue. Working closely with numerous issuing organizations (~100), we developed methodologies to ensure that the many disparate badges worked together as a system—both from a content standpoint as well as a visual standpoint.

The city chose STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) as the badge system framework. This relatively strict taxonomy helped to guide the architecture of the system by providing useful parameters for the smaller, more operationally challenged organizations new to badges while also presenting potential touch points for the larger, more established organizations offering comprehensive learning opportunities.

Beginning at the beginning
With such a large initiative, a significant amount of recruiting for participation preceded some of the badge system design. As previously noted, each participating organization had its own motivations and goals for their programs and subsequently for their badges as well. This made perfect sense since the composition of the system was both intentionally diverse and also serendipitously alike. Seeking to maintain this essentially organic badge ecosystem, we did not require any specific criteria in the creation of the badges. Instead we encouraged organizations to consider their basic values in relationship to STEAM and then badge along those lines.

To get everyone onto the same conceptual page, we, in conjunction with our partners, held several in-person sessions to talk through open badges: what they were, why the city was initiating the program, how they worked, what was expected of them, etc. After these face to face facilitated sessions Mozilla created a personalized google spreadsheet for each organization to fill in with their specific badge content (more on this in an upcoming post).

Even in very large badge systems individual badges deserve close reading and attention and that is precisely what we provided. Poring over each spreadsheet cell by cell, we reviewed each badge, asking questions, clarifying content and requesting revisions where we felt some alteration might improve the final badge. We followed up by email with every organization to ensure that all of the badges met organizational requirements as well as the content and metadata requirements for open badges. While the idea of badges was new to many of the participating organizations, every organization enthusiastically jumped into badge content creation.

Different lenses
Each entry level badge represents one or more of the STEAM categories and focuses on learning of some sort, so perhaps the most obvious lens we used on them was learning. A final tally of the issuing organizations revealed the following three categories for learning:

  • in-school teaching and learning organizations (formal)
  • out of school teaching and learning organizations (informal)
  • the City of Chicago organizations (governmental)

Badge pathways
Another lens onto this system comes from the hierarchy of badge progressions or badge pathways. We considered a number of possible badge levels and requirements before settling on a relatively straightforward progression. We arrived at a simple structure due to some significant aspects of the program: 1) the time in between school year end and school year beginning is surprisingly brief; 2) the number of opportunities to be had was wonderfully rich and we wanted participants to be able to experience as much of it as they were able to; and, 3) the technical considerations of linking a range of different systems proved quite complex in our limited timeframe. All of these factors—plus others—contributed to our decision to implement a streamlined badge system hierarchy.

The suggested path was as follows: earn a required number of entry level badges in any STEAM category from any organization, and when the required level is reached those badges in turn level up the earner to one of the City of Chicago awarded S-T-E-A-M badges; the earning of that city level badge in turn unlocks a series of STEAM-related citywide challenges & associated badges that can also be earned. Viewed through that lens, the system looks as follows:

Entry level badges

  • organizations offering entry level badges through face to face participation
  • organizations offering badges through self-paced activities
  • Ci3 offering The Source game badges

City level badges

  • the City of Chicago offering Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math city-level badges

Challenge badges

  • organizations offering citywide challenge badges

The system can be expanded outward from this framework. There were additional suggested badge pathway opportunities as well but this represents the germinal structure.

Still more to come
As noted above, this was a fantastic opportunity for the Mozilla Open Badges team to test out some of our hypotheses about badge design, badge system design, and technical considerations. CSOL provided us with wonderful circumstances ripe for creativity. We were honored to work side by side with individuals profoundly committed to improving the possibilities for the youth of Chicago through open badges, and we’re excited to see new learning pathways being forged by Chicago youth.

Along the way we conceptualized, designed and created a number of new tools that we’ll continue to refine: some for assessment, some for badge creation, and some for badge issuing. We found it tremendously educational and informative to work directly with organizations brand new to badging, and we were deeply moved when those same organizations were impressed with their own conceptual development and badge thinking. It’s been an amazing ride and it’s not over yet.

Many, many thanks to the Open Badges team who brought this dream to life. Together we salute the youth of Chicago and all of the people who help them on their journeys.

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Much more soon.

related reference:
Earlier I happened across this interesting research on summer learning drop off by Rand Education, it seems worth including here.

Badge pathways: part 2, the “quel”

badgetypes1badgetypes2badgetypes3


In the badge pathways paraquel post we discussed the importance of the whole system and how your badges can coalesce into something greater than its parts. But let’s talk about what the parts of the system are. The parts of the system can include badges, goals, earners, organizations, stakeholders, and time. Why is it important to discuss these when we’re talking about badge pathways? Because your badge pathways will come about through pushes and pulls in the system; through different desires and needs manifesting themselves through the medium of badges.

Chains of importance, cowpaths & desire paths
In a recent conversation on the Webmaker google group, Christian Briggs shared some of his thinking about badge pathways. He mentioned a process of discovery he and a team had worked out that addressed chains of importance for all folks. This aligns with much of our earlier thinking and writing here.

At a meeting about the future of badges earlier this year, I floated the idea of badge pathways as essentially cowpaths. I mentioned this in reference to the idea of “paving the cowpaths”; seeing where the traffic goes and then paving where the paths are worn. As you can imagine, if you’re not familiar with this phrase and its related concept, it can take some getting used to. Rafi Santo kindly jumped in to offer the much more preferable desire paths. But regardless of the language used, what’s valuable and important here is where someone wants to go versus where they’re told to go.

Descriptive pathways vs. prescriptive pathways
Let’s take a minute to understand the difference between descriptive approaches and prescriptive approaches. Descriptive pathways approaches seek to acknowledge the ways that people willfully choose to earn badges. This technique may feel more natural to the badge earner since they’re defining their own paths. In this manner, the badge earner makes use of personal agency. Prescriptive approaches seek to declare one standard or recommended badge earning path over another. It can feel more limiting and formal. The badge earner is compelled to follow the proposed pathway or drop out of the pathway. Each approach has its own pluses and minuses.

The three-fold path
Several potential uses of these two approaches exist. For example, people may choose to (or be compelled to) move through a badge system in these three ways:

  1. Command path: suggested or recommended badge arcs.
  2. Contract path: desired or pledged badge groupings.
  3. Badge desire path: independently followed or pursued badge passages.

The importance of the distinctions between these paths cannot be overemphasized. Why? Because to the earner, each of these avenues will feel very different.

badgeflows

Part of the beauty of open badges in general is their extreme flexibility. This flexibility extends all the way from their creation to their earning, from their earning to their consumption. The system is designed to accommodate flexibility and alternative uses. This means that all badge creators/issuers are developing badge systems that will express emergence—one way or another. And one of the ways that emergence will come about is in the ways that people will choose to progress through your badges. So let’s return to the three different pathways.

Command pathways
The command approach is the most prescriptive: it relies on a formal, structured and recommended path. Most likely, this badge pathway will be linear—a straight line from one learning experience to another. This is not unlike what occurs in many school courses.

Contract pathways
The contract path encourages the earner to think about and select a potential learning arc. In the strictest sense, it, too, is prescriptive. But because its prescriptiveness is set forth by the earner herself, the potentially dictatorial nature does not carry the same paternalistic qualities.

Desire pathways
The badge desire path carries with it the greatest capacity for knowledge and system emergence. When there is no prescribed pathway, people can find the way that makes sense to them; can choose to follow other people’s paths or can strike out in very different directions.

The learning trail
All badge earners leave behind a trail. That badge trail may prove to represent merely a series of required steps; that path may illustrate a series of revealing, personally inspired choices, or that path may appear to be erratic and nonsensical, indicating nothing. But rarely is that last example the case. All of these directions may make perfect sense to the badge earner. But perhaps the one that makes the most sense to her is her own constructed narrative: the path that she develops a story about, even if her story can only be understood in retrospect. Sense-making often occurs after an experience: that doesn’t render the process any less meaningful, even if that process has seemed peculiarly arbitrary and idiosyncratic. They’re sending you messages about finding meaning and building personal value in the midst of communication chaos. And do not underestimate the immense power of self-reflection and self-assessment. Indeed, the badge earning iconoclast asks the badge system—and the people designing it—to not only acknowledge their atypical badge pathway approaches but also to appreciate their unique ability to see what might be rather than what is. They’re your badge system’s true north.

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More soon.
carla [at] mozillafoundation [dot] org

Badge system design: investigating assumptions

Last week during the Open Badges community call, we introduced a new repeating discussion area: badge system design. (We’re considering expanding badge system design into a standing call of its own and so we’re testing the depth of interest within the existing community call.) The first few questions I posed to our call tribe were, “What assumptions are there about badges? What have you been running into in your discussions? Where do your assumptions lie?”

Karen Jeffreys of ForAllSystems was kind enough to share her thoughts with the group and this, in turn, acted as a catalyst for additional thoughts within the group. After her initial verbal response, during which I took notes, a number of others began a flurry of writing in the etherpad. Folks also began to verbally pour out their thoughts on this subject. Success! We had hit upon a previously untapped area that was worthy of exploration and conversation. It seems that there are a number of assumptions that everyone is working with as they progress through the discussion, creation and sharing of badges.

While the group wrote and spoke about a number of different areas—and we ran out of time on the call—their responses tended to fall into these categories.

  • Languages/terminology/semantics assumptions
  • Usage/sharing assumptions
  • Perceptions of badge types
  • Process assumptions
  • Technical assumptions
  • Educational assumptions
  • Risk/assessment assumptions

Languages/terminology/semantics assumptions
Let’s expand upon these assumptions a bit further, starting with the first bullet point. The languages/terminology/semantics area is fairly large and covers a variety of assumptions. In particular, our community members noted varying interpretations of the word “badge,” the use of metaphors or other descriptors for that word, such as “micro-credentials.” This is definitely an area we have heard before and one that we will continue to investigate.

Usage/sharing assumptions
The occurrence of usage assumptions appears to be on the rise as more people become aware of badges. This may be due in part to folks assuming that all badges represent learning, when badges can be used to indicate affiliation, as well as achievements that are not related directly to “learning.” Badge usage represents an area for further study as it relates to the life cycle of a badge: issuing, earning, sharing, consuming. With regards to the sharing assumption, we have been assuming that once badges are earned that there would be a ready marketplace for them, not only from a personal representation perspective, but also from a community appreciation of them. But there may also be reasons why people choose not to share their badges: deeper investigation into different demographical behavior patterns for sharing / not sharing is warranted.

Perceptions of badge types
Perceptions of badge types is linked to usage assumptions as well as audience assumptions. Since by their nature badges are so protean, they can be used to represent a huge variety of different concepts, things, ideas. Mozilla has been building badge systems based on three types of badges: participation, skill, and achievement, but there are many other ways to slice the badge type pie. Contextual understanding of the conceptual framework of a badge system is necessary to fully comprehend not only its goals but its success at achieving those goals.

Process assumptions
The process assumptions seem to stem from different interpretations of how a badge might be used—and how a badge system might be implemented. There are many types of badge systems, therefore they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. As we share our badge work with the world, it’s important to realize that how we think that our badges will be used or perceived may not match up with the ways that they are perceived. Issuers may have assumptions about how they fit into their process and yet, hiring organizations may have an entirely different set of assumptions about how best to use badges. To that end, research and reflexivity should be built into the process.

Technical assumptions
From Mozilla’s technical perspective, open badges can be relatively easy to implement. However, from an outsider’s perspective, or a non-technical perspective, they can seem like a wonderful solution that can only be viewed behind a glass window. Differing levels of technical expertise can make the creation of an open badge system seem complex. There are differing perceptions of the technical chops necessary to implement badges effectively. While badge creation and issuing platforms are easing the process every day, there are new concerns being raised about vetting, consumption methodologies, and open source requirements surfacing. We must remain vigilant about assumptions about technical implementation and ease of use.

Educational assumptions + Risk/assessment assumptions
Badges have been received into the educational world with open arms. Consequently, a variety of assumptions about usage within that environment and possible best practices have arisen, too. Assumptions are rampant about varying pedagogies, the dilution of educational efforts, the devaluation of formal credentials and the meaning and value of different types of assessment. Education is a cultural touchstone and masses of perceptions exist about how and what are the best ways to teach or to learn. What does it mean to introduce another form of assessment within the educational world? How will it be used and by whom? Badges help to expose many of our pre-existing tacit assumptions in this realm. Accordingly, it’s vital that we work to unpack the thinking associated with badge use within this existing, extremely complex system.

Conclusion
Badges open many doors to many solutions, but those doorways need to be investigated and understood as having their own meanings as well. The only conclusion to be reached here other than understanding that badges are dynamic, vital things that can be interpreted in many very different ways, is that it is useful to understand the contexts in which we are creating, sharing, disseminating and conversing about badges.

Thanks to the community for sharing their thoughts on assumptions. I invite you to share yours as well. More soon.

Badge System Design Principles, Part 1: RFC

Flickr image courtesy of  justus.thane

Flickr image courtesy of justus.thane

Badge system design paper released
A quick post to direct you to a new paper that I’ve been writing about badge system design principles: Badge System Design Principles, Part 1. It’s a publicly accessible document open for comments. But, a bit of context first: I felt that it was important to develop a paper that focused specifically on principles of badge system design. Once we have established the basic foundational principles—and there are ten to start with—we can focus on best practices and recommendations in later documents.

Comments welcome
Please do us the honor of reading and commenting on this paper. While comments will remain open on the document for this week and the next, I’ll be using all comments gathered by April 19th to begin revising the paper. Also, the next paper in the series, Badge System Design Principles , Part 2, will be released for public comment right around that same time, April 22nd.

Ten principles: five now, five later
This paper addresses ten principles and focuses intently on the first five while lightly skimming the remaining five. This provides enough room to focus on important areas without giving short shrift to content that deserves deep and meaningful discussion. And while the first five are covered in some detail, much more could be said and written about them, in particular the goal definition. I’ll be dedicating some blog posts to those areas to flesh them out even further.

The ten principles of badge system design include:

  • team selection*
  • goal definition*
  • environment definition*
  • audience definition*
  • badge types*
  • languages (including verbal and visual)
  • timing
  • technology
  • assessment
  • pedagogies / alignments

* covered in detail in Badge System Design Principles, Part 1.

I appreciate all feedback received thus far and look forward to seeing even more. Thanks for working alongside us in developing and sharing this work. If you’re in the midst of developing a badge system, let’s talk (contact info below). I’ll be setting up office hours soon and will post them here when they’re underway. Thanks!

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

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.

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

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.

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.