Tag Archives: system design

A foundational badge system design

The last two years or so have found me investigating and contemplating many different types of badge systems. Along the way I’ve been wrestling with considerations of badge types, potential taxonomies, and conceptual approaches; feeling my way around a variety of assessment types including summative, formative and transformative. Working in badge system design rewards a person with a continuing sense of adventure and opportunity.

A badge system structure for many
After much thought and many contemplative examinations, I’ve developed an archetypal badge system structure that I’m happy to recommend to the open badges community. Here are the many reasons why I think you’ll want to implement it.

  1. It’s simple.
  2. It’s modular.
  3. It’s easy to implement.
  4. It encourages a range of creativity.
  5. It works for organizations of vastly different sizes.
  6. It accomplishes the difficult task of working from bottom up, top-down, and middle out.
  7. It not only allows for growth, it thrives on it.

Introducing the 3 Part Badge System
This badge structure is the one that I developed for the Mozilla badge system that we are in the process of building. I’m calling it the 3 Part Badge System (3PBS). It’s composed of three interlocking parts and those three parts create a flexible structure that ensures feedback loops and allows the system to grow and evolve. Or breathe. And by breathe, I mean it allows the system to flex and bow as badges are added to it.

While some community member organizations have expressed a desire for a strict, locked-down, top-down badge system to—in their words—guarantee rigor (and you already know my thoughts on this), this system supports that request but is also designed to include active participation and badge creation from the bottom up. I’d say it’s the best of both worlds but then I’d be leaving out the middle-out capacity of this system. So in reality, it’s the best of all possible worlds.

This approach is a vote for interculturalism—or the intermingling and appreciation of cultures—in badge systems. Its strength arises from the continuous periodic review of all of the badges, in particular the team / product badges as well as the individual / community badges.

Don’t tell me, show me
It’s easier to talk about this system with some visuals so I’ve designed some to help explain it. Here is the basic 3 part structure: Part 1) company / organization badges; Part 2) team / product badges; and Part 3) individual / community badges. This approach avoids a monocultural hegemony.

Carla Casilli's 3 part badge system design

The basic components of the 3 Part Badge System

Part 1: Company / organization badges
Many companies and organizations have specific needs and concerns about branding. This system addresses those concerns directly. In this proposed system, an advisory group defines, creates, and governs the highest level of badges—the company / organization badges—providing control over the all-important corporate or academic brand. While not all systems have a need for such strict brand maintenance requirements, this approach allows for conceptual levels of badges to be created while interacting in organic and meaningful ways with other types of badges. An advisory group creates and vets these badges based on the organization’s foundational principles and values. The company/organization badges transmit the most important values of an institution and they address organizational concerns regarding brand value and perceived rigor.

Part 2: Team / product badges
Few organizations exist that do not have some middle layer accomplishing the bulk of the work of the organization; the 3PBS proposal recognizes the team / product groups as necessary and important partners. In addition to acknowledging the contributions of this collection of folks, 3PBS engenders them with the ability to respond to their public through badges. Different teams and products groups can clearly and unequivocally communicate their closely held qualities and values through the creation and issuance of their own badges. These badges are created entirely independently of the Part 1 company / organization badges. In a bit we’ll discuss how the team / product badges play a role in influencing other aspects of the 3PBS.

Part 3: Individual / community badges
So your organization is comprised only of management and teams? Of course not. The 3PBS honors the folks who are on the front lines of any organization—the community—by empowering them to define their values internally as well as externally. These badges operate outside the requirements that define the Company/organization badges and the Team/product badges. The community badges can be created by anyone within the community and do not hew to the visual requirements of the other two subsystems. What this means is that an individual or community can create any types of badges they like. In other words, it provides the ability to publicly participate—to have a voice—in the system.

How the three different parts influence one another in the 3 Part Badge System
How do these parts interact? In order to communicate how these subsystems can affect each other, I’ve created some color based graphics. You’ve already seen the first one above that describes the initial system.

But first a little basic color theory to ground our understanding of how these subsystems work together to create a dynamic and powerful system. The basic 3 part structure graphic above uses what are known as primary colors, from the Red, Yellow, Blue color model. Centuries of art are based on these three colors in this color model. The following graphics further explore the RYB color model and move us into the world of secondary colors. Secondary colors result from the mixing of two primary colors: mixing red and yellow results in orange; mixing yellow and blue results in green; mixing blue and red results in purple. Now that we’ve established how the color theory used here works, we can see how the parts represented by these colors  indicate intermixing and integration of badges.

Individual / community badges influence team / product badges
The 3PBS concept relies on badge development occurring at the individual and community level. By permitting and even encouraging community and individual level badging, the system can will continuously reform itself, adjusting badges upward in importance in the system. That’s not to say that any part of this system is superior to another, merely that these parts operate in different ways to different audiences. As I wrote in my last post, meaning is highly subjective and context-specific.

individual / community badges influencing team / product badges

Individual / community badges influencing the team / product badges in 3PBS

This graphic illustrates the team / product created and owned badges assimilating some badges from the individual / community created and owned badges. The graphic also indicates that the company / organization badges can be held separate from this influence—if so desired.

Periodic review by the team / product groups of the individual and community badges likely will reveal patterns of use and creation. These patterns are important data points worth examining closely. Through them the larger community reveals its values and aspirations. Consequently, a team or product group may choose to integrate certain individual / community badges into their own badge offerings. In this way a badge begins to operate as a recognized form of social currency, albeit a more specific or formalized currency. The result of this influencing nature? The team and product group badge subsystem refreshes itself by assimilating new areas of interest pulled directly from the larger, more comprehensive and possibly external community.

Team / product badges badges influence company / organization badges
Company and organization level badges operate in precisely the same way, although the advisory group who is responsible for this level of badge can look across both the team / product badges as well as the individual / community badges. That experience will look something like this in practice.

teamprodtransformcompany

Team / product badges influencing company / organization badges in 3PBS

Periodic review of the team / product badges by the advisory group responsible for company and organization badges may reveal duplicates as well as patterns. Discussion between the advisory group and the teams responsible for those badges may indicate that a single standard badge is appropriate. Considering that teams and product group badges are created independently by those groups, apparent duplication among teams may not necessarily be a bad thing: context is all important in the development and earning of badges. That said, examination and hybridization of some badges from the team and product groups may create a stronger, more coherent set of company and organization level badges.

Individual / community badges influence company / organization badges
In addition to being able to examine and consider team and product level badges, the advisory group responsible for the company / organization badges can also find direct inspiration from individual and community created badges. Since there are few to no rules that govern the creation of the individual / community created and owned badges, insightful, dramatic, and wildly creative badges can occur at this level. Because they come through entirely unfiltered, those sorts of badges are precisely the type to encourage rethinking of the entirety of the 3PBS.

indcommtransformcompany

Individual / community badges influencing company / organization badges in 3PBS

Here we see how the individual / community created and owned badges can significantly color the company / organization badges. Since the company / organization badges communicate universal values, it’s vital that those values remain valid and meaningful. Incorporating fresh thinking arising from individual and community badges can help to ensure that remains true.

Three parts, one whole
So, if we loop back to the original system, prior to the (color) interactions of one part to another, we can see how each part might ultimately influence one another. This is the big picture to share with interested parties who are curious as to how this might work.

The 3PBS model with different types of influence.

The 3PBS model with different types of influence.

So, that’s the 3 Part Badge System in a nutshell. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

—-

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

The myth of the lightweight badge

The development of the open badge ecosystem is at the heart of all of the work that I do. I am deeply invested in ensuring that the ecosystem grows and thrives. During the time I’ve been focused on this work, folks have repeatedly declared deep concern about badge rigor, usually expressed as an underlying fear of the ecosystem-imperiling power of the “lightweight” badge. I’d like for us as a community to investigate and dispel the myth of the meaningless, lightweight badge before it becomes ingrained into the ecosystem as an alleged truth.

First let’s begin by discussing badge types. Certainly there is a lot to be said about proposed and future badge typologies and I’m hoping that we can engage on them here at a later date. For now, though, let’s talk about the much maligned “participation” type badge. Participation badges are typically earned through a simple act of attendance. They usually have no associated criteria aside from physical or virtual attendance. Mozilla has issued MozFest Reveler badges for exactly this type of interaction. Considered by many in the badge community to be throwaway badges with little to no social meaning, in fact participation badges are markers and data points in the larger, more complex concept of self.

Am I who you say I am or am I who I say I am?
During the process of badge system development, implementation, or interpretation, certain types of badges like participation badges may appear to be devoid of much or any value. Let me say that again with emphasis: may appear to be so. They are not. All badges have some value. Badges layer upon each other: no badge is entirely independent of any other badge—at least not to the badge earner. Just as all badges operate in contextual ways, participation badges live alongside other badge types. They can and do interconnect in ways that may be far outside of their issuer’s original intent. This is one of an open badge’s best features—they act as connectors! Perhaps even better, all badges act as touchstones for the earners.

Value accretion
The concept of accretion will be readily understood by the scientists, accountants and financial thinkers among us. Here I’m using it to indicate the continued layering effect of badges being earned throughout a length of time. Earn a badge. Earn a badge. Earn three badges. Earn another badge. Accretion operates on a meta, ecosystem level as well as a smaller system wide level, and its power should not be underestimated. Why? Because the continued layering of earned badges from many different issuing organizations and experiences—the accretion—means that value arises in unexpected and emergent ways.

The multiplication factor
For example, while it may be possible to know how one badge is perceived by its earner in its original context, it is not possible to estimate how three badges from three different organizations may be perceived by an earner. Consequently, that “lightweight” badge that Josefina earned while attending The Museum of Natural History during a class trip may become a connector to an online natural sciences webinar may become a connector to a robotics class held at the local library. Combined, these “lightweight” badges begin to highlight potential pathways and future area of interest.

Weak signals, strong network effects
Interest-driven participation badges communicate in subtler ways than skill or competency badges do but they are sending signals to the earner as well as the larger social structure. They act as windows into alternate interpretations of self. Not only do they work to represent past experiences but also possible future selves. They accumulate and in their accumulation they tell different stories to both the earner as well as the public.

So, the next time you hear someone note a concern about “lightweight” or meaningless badges, think about Tennyson’s “Ulysses” quote below. Ask yourself if you’re not the composite of everything that you have experienced, large and small.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

Et voilà. The myth of lightweight badges is dispelled.

More soon.

references
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. (n.d.) Ulysses. Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659

Badge pathways: part 0, the prequel

This prequel blog post is part of an ongoing trilogy. The trilogy consists of three posts—the prequel, the “quel” and the sequel—plus a bonus paraquel post. The first post to appear, the paraquel, can be found here; the “quel” post can be found here; the prequel post you’re reading right now; and the sequel post is in process. All of these posts provide a window into our thoughts about pathways—past, present and future.

You may have noticed that these posts have come out of order. Why is this so? For a simple reason. Because they’ve occurred to me in this order. And somewhat poetically, their order underscores the exact ideas that I argue in all of these linked posts—that there are few simple linear trajectories, even with blog posts.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
We started down the road toward making Open Badges a reality about 3 years ago, so it’s possible (and useful!) for us to take a look back to our inception to make sense of the past and provide us with clues about where we might head.

Episode IV: A NEW HOPE
In the beginning, the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) was focused on the development of software that allowed people to develop their own badges—badges without traditional definitions or parameters—and with little to no input from socially prevalent hierarchical organizations. Mozilla cheered badge systems that did not hew to limiting linear learning paths, badge systems that investigated new and dynamic ways to recognize learning regardless of where and when and how it occurred. And yet, in those early days we spoke about the OBI only as a sort of plumbing, as a tool that would privilege the earner rather than the badge issuer. By linking people who wanted to create badges with people who chose to earn badges with people who wanted to display and consume badges, we gambled that a meaningful marketplace would arise. This marketplace would foster new types of skill, learning, and competency acknowledgement and encourage new forms of assessment. And all of this would begin to occur in a new way thanks to the space of possibility created by this new tool, the OBI. And so it has.

The force is strong, or the power of disjunctive and conjunctive tasks
In retrospect, it’s easy to see that in addition to creating a dynamic and effective tool we were creating a community-driven movement as well. How did we arrive at that social movement? By alternately marching to the drumbeat outlined above and finding serendipitous alignments with other folks seeking similar objectives. Through the confluence of  disjunctive / conjunctive tasks. But what exactly are disjunctive and conjunctive tasks?

The organizational theorist, I.D. Steiner distinguished between disjunctive tasks, those in which only one person needs to succeed and conjunctive tasks: those in which everyone’s contribution is critical. (Page, 2007, p. xv)

The OBI began as a disjunctive task. In other words, the disjunctive nature of the task required that Mozilla succeed at developing a functional technical implementation of the OBI. The success of the OBI as a tool was of primary importance. And I’m pleased to say that we have built a robust and dynamic, fully functioning tool.

And yet, Open Badges operates as both a tool (and soon a series of tools) and an ecosystem—an ecosystem that houses a series of other systems: individual badge systems created by many different issuing organizations as well as a variety of badge consuming organizations. Each of those systems acts in a conjunctive way in reference to the larger open badges ecosystem. They’re important for the growth, continuity, and development of the ecosystem.

Prequel_single

A single badge system, consisting of a number of badges.

Wheel within wheels
Given that they’re conjunctive for the ecosystem, here’s a bit of a mindbender: each of the individual badge systems operate as disjunctive tasks. They need to depend only on their own systemic integrity to thrive. Consequently, those systems are free to explore, consider and attempt various criteria, assessments, and systems design. Even more of a mindbender? All of those badge systems are in turn, conjunctive: the success or failure of them is dependent upon the individual badges—that are their own disjunctive tasks. And yes, this can all seem a bit fractal.

Prequel_types

Similar types of badge systems begin to coalesce into a rough typology.

Indeed, this systemic plasticity creates a space of possibility and is one of the primary reasons why we (Mozilla) encourage so much developmental experimentation and why we support so many alternative approaches to assessment. The Open Badges ecosystem can accommodate significant speculative load. All this is to say that together, as a community, we’ve developed a truly distributed information project.

Setting the stage for growth
Or how we rely on the kindness of our community member to develop, improve, and police our system.

As the economic historian Paul David pointed out to [Scott Page], one of the great challenges in constructing distributed organizations is transforming conjunctive tasks into disjunctive tasks. For example, the success in open-source software development requires an initial template that modularizes the problem into a collection of disjunctive parts.
(Page, 2007, p. xvi).

Dawning of the open badges ecosystem

Dawning of the open badges ecosystem: many types of disjunctive badge systems begin to form.

Et voilà! Here you have the Open Badge Infrastructure. A loosely designed system rooted in this precise theory: distributed co-creation. And by direct and indirect extension, really any badge system that operates within the open badges parameters and framework.

Prequel_beginning

As badge systems increase within the ecosystem, system strengths and network ties appear.

Resilience as a result of a conjunctive system
It may seem obvious, but on the off chance that it’s not, let’s discuss what we’ve been somewhat indirectly addressing here: resilience. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, there is great value to having an extremely resilient system. In its current iteration, the larger system (the Open Badges ecosystem) can accommodate failure because all of the systems can act both independently and interdependently. We might consider the open badges ecosystem’s ability to withstand failure—its resilience—to be one of its absolute strengths.

Some of this may have come from extremely savvy planning, some of it may have come from working with the community to build an agreeable tool and some of it may have come from luck. To quote from George Lucas, “when Star Wars first came out, I didn’t know where it was going either. The trick is to pretend you’ve planned the whole thing out in advance.”

Prequel_middle

The open badges ecosystem continue to evolve, developing systemic resilience.

All this talk about what’s come before, what about pathways? As noted above, these posts are stitching together our experiences thus far, seeking a narrative for our ecosystem pathway. Along similar lines, we’ve been finding some resonance with Bitcoin (open source P2P money) as an analogue to the development of a new system possessing social value. Of course that product also includes actual financial value as well and so is a whole other kettle of fish. (As for the conceptual trajectory Bitcoin has been tracing, now there’s an interesting pathway worth examining closely. Possibly more about that in a future post.)

To be continued…

Distributed problem solving can be thought of as a form of innovation. This opening up of innovation activities is sometimes called distributed co-creation. The diverse toolboxes that people bring to problems enable large populations to enable novel breakthroughs. (Page, 2007, p. xvii)

Prequel_finalfull

The thriving open badges ecosystem contains various types of badge systems: an expansive, inclusive universe.

Using distributed problem solving as our lodestone, we’ll continue to move ahead. We’re creating new opportunities as we go, charting new directions for other organizations to follow, and encouraging the development of the badge universe to continue to expand. We’re embracing emergence and encouraging novelty.

Much more soon.

references:
Page, S. (2007). The difference: how the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools and societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Available from: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8757.html

Hibbard, J. (2010). George lucas sends a letter to lost. Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars#Prequel_trilogy

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.

- – -

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”

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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 pathways: part 1, the paraquel

badgepathwaysA few weeks ago I posted this image and stated that I would be following up with several posts about badge pathways. In particular, how they fit into our work at Mozilla along several different lines: the web literacy standard, webmaker, and open badges. Straightforward, yes?

Badge system design, white papers & badge pathways
Sort of. This is the paraquel (!) post coming before the quel itself. I have an inkling that there’s a prequel yet to be created because quite some time ago I started a post about how these tasks all come together from a conjunctive / disjunctive approach. In fact, all sorts of -quels are in the offing, the main event being a white paper about Badge System Design. While I have written quite a few blog posts about badge system design before, a solid white paper along with some example cases will help to more fully explain our direction of thought travel.

So, let’s take a minute to talk about what step comes both after badge system design and very much in the middle of it: badge pathways. Like many complex, long-form thoughts, it’s hard to say exactly when this idea began to ease itself into the (badge system design) picture.

The threequel
But first, a look down the road to where the next few posts will be heading. This first post will address how we got to thinking about badge pathways from a badge system design perspective. The following second post will address how we’re working with them and where they might be effective. And the third and final post will consider how badge pathways might link together vast systems to more accurately represent the individual learner and how that might be represented.

Finding networks
About two weeks ago at Dan Hickey’s digital badges design principles workshop, just prior to the DML conference in Chicago, I had the opportunity to speak to many of the impressive DML winners. Dan’s work along with his grad students’ work digs into some really interesting areas arising from grantees’ experiences. The DML grantees have created some amazing badges and badge systems and hearing them describe their work as the day progressed was particularly enjoyable, especially when they discovered unanticipated commonalities with each other.

During that gathering, Dan asked me to speak to the assembled group about the importance of badge system visualization, an absolutely sound and worthy discussion point. I started off with the best of intentions about responding to his extremely rational request but soon enough found myself diving into a soliloquy about badge pathways. It was a heady few moments. One in which I may have even asserted something along these lines, “Badge pathways are more important than badges themselves.”

What?! To the attending audience this statement may have seemed completely strange and unexpected. Yet with a bit of pruning, that statement is true. Badge pathways are just as important as badges themselves. And, with a bit of hindsight, I now realize that a visualization like the one above begins to illustrate exactly how relevant that comment was, so I was answering the question Dan asked, but I was speaking about it in a new way.

What’s a badge pathway?
A quick sidebar to clarify what we mean by badge pathways. Let’s start with what they’re not. Badge pathways are not necessarily predefined, nor are they limited to one educational category or issuing organization or type of learning, nor do they necessarily have an end point.

And now let’s address what they are. Badge pathways can be and most likely will be entirely emergent. This, friends, is from whence all their magic derives. Badge pathways provide people with opportunities to make decisions based in personal agency, to define steps that may seem more like hops, and to think about ways to do things that aren’t sequential or even seemingly rational. They allow earners to link unexpected badges (read concepts, learning, achievements, etc.) together in exciting and unanticipated ways. They allow folks to connect the outlying dots that constitute lifelong learning. And while predefined badge pathways can provide easy and simple directions and pointers along a certain direction, the self-defined or peer-defined or team-defined pathway can resonate in ways that may prove far more meaningful to an individual than those that are suggested by experts. Badge pathways can act as a form of distributed intelligence. In that way, badge pathways are inextricably linked to badge system design.

Order from chaos
What we have repeatedly spoken about—that your badge system design must be flexible, that there are multiple ways to learn things, that badges are outcomes of learning—is still all true. But as you work through your badge system, as it evolves past the first 10 or so badges, you’ll find that prescriptive and descriptive approaches begin to come seriously into play. In other words, the angle with which your badge system is viewed can easily shift from a prescribed series of steps to a free for all wherein earners pick and choose their own way and the pathways you think you’ve created are not the paths that people are following. Here’s an opportunity to embrace the chaos of your system. Chaos that given enough time will reveal order. Order that will have evolved from actual usage.

The most stunning thing living systems and social systems can do is to change themselves utterly by creating whole new structures and behaviors.… The ability to self-organize is the strongest form of resilience. … Self-organization is basically the combination of an evolutionary raw material—a highly variable stock of information from which to select possible patterns—and a means for experimentations, for selcting and testing new patterns. … The source of variety is human creativity… (Meadows, 1999, pp 14-15)

A recommendation
When you are deep into designing your badge system, pause. Look outward: consider the bigger picture that your earner will see. Imagine the thrill of being a learning explorer charting new territory with badges as your guideposts! Now with that new perspective, rough out some potential badge pathways that do not solely include your badges—that include far flung and seemingly unrelated badges. Begin to imagine a future where your badges mingle with and build on a variety of other badges; where new constellations of learning pathways evolve into being from earners devising their own paths, guided by light from distant badge galaxies.

More soon.

references:
Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: places to intervene in a system. World91(7), 21. POINT. Retrieved from http://www.sustainer.org/pubs/Leverage_Points.pdf 

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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

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

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.

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. 

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.

Open Badges Lexicon: Earners and Issuers

We’ve leapt into Badge System Design in some earlier posts (1, 2, 3) and we’ll be returning to it shortly, In the interim, I’d like to step back to consider a small number of basic Open Badges tenets. In this edition, we’ll address our evolving lexicon and in particular the nomenclature of Earners and Issuers.

A common language
In addition to their ability to transcend physical boundaries, badges introduce many potential languages, e.g., visual, verbal, cultural, pedagogical, etc. Badges will activate these languages, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all at once. Each of these languages may speak to different audiences, and often to many audiences at once. As simple as we try to make our badges, they will be deeply influenced by our worldviews: imbued with our community’s understandings, desires, and values—and those will be intertwined with the earner’s understandings, desires, and values. In turn, those perceptual strands will be woven through the general public’s social assumptions and cultural fibers. Teasing out a strand (or badge) will not reveal the germ of the process but it may help point toward some of what has influenced it. In short, badges can stand alone, but will remain bound into a complex sociocultural system.

Consequently, flexibility in our system design is key. As we attempt to build and rationalize an open badges lexicon, we recognize that a need for individuation, modification, or personalization will always exist. This is built into the OBI system. By designing an extremely flexible product, we’ve accommodated many different potentials.

What does all of this flexibility get us? For one thing, it opens the door to cultural interoperability. The ability to have the Open Badges system accommodate many different cultures, communities, and values. Given that badges exist as forms of cultural representation that interoperability is essential to a robust system. (We will, no doubt, revisit this concept in a later post.)

Along these lines, we began a document for people to share their ideas about Open Badges definitions of terms. In a nice turn of events, this open approach has lead to some fascinating questions about intent and prescriptiveness. Some questions raised in that document have yet to be answered: it’s an ongoing discussion, one that requires back and forth, give and take. We anticipate that it will continue to raise questions, too. And we’re excited about these provocations because they’ll help us to better understand the ecosystem and improve upon our Open Badges system.

Earner vs. holder vs. owner
One question in that open google document queried our choice of the word, “earner.” As with all things Open Badges, we arrived here after considerable thought—along with the aid of some legal help. (You can read more about our legal considerations here.)

A bit of background: we started with “learner” and ended up at “earner.” Believe it or not, dropping the initial consonant involved quite a bit of in-depth thought. We wended our way around to that term after close consideration of the people who might come into possession of a badge. Even the term “earner” presents some weaknesses. Badges can be used to show affiliation, skills, competencies, associations, etc. Some of the folks we’ve spoken with have suggested that badges can and should be earned by organizations themselves. In point of fact, we don’t know all the ways badges can be used, yet. That’s the beauty of a flexible system.

Earner
We chose earner for fairly prescriptive reasons: because we’d like to suggest that badges must be earned, not simply received. However, as badge meaning is initially defined by the issuer, this moniker may change. The earner can be referred to in the way that makes sense to your group. It’s worth remembering, though, that your earner/holder/recipient/whatever will be interacting in a broad ecosystem along with many Issuers, Displayers & other earner/holder/recipient/whatevers. They’ll have an opportunity to speak for and about themselves and may choose their own sobriquet.

Because the earner exists as the hub of their own personal Open Badge ecosystem they wield quite a bit of power: power of self-representation, power of social contracts with Issuers, power of control with Displayers. Earners define their association with the entire ecosystem: what to earn, where to earn it and with whom, and then, ultimately, how to display what they’ve earned. As Erin Knight has said so eloquently about a personal collection of badges housed in a badge backpack, they can act as “a living transcript.”

Issuer
This one is pretty obvious as to why we chose it: these groups, organizations, individuals, institutions, corporations, etc., do the hard work of issuing badges. Not only do they create badges and badge system designs that transmit their values to badge earners, and a variety of additional publics (cf., Michael Warner’s Publics and Counterpublics, much more on this in later posts)—they also build the criteria for those badges, develop badge progressions, create scaffolding opportunities, and undertake the difficult problem of assessment. Plus, they make the commitment to civic participation in the broader Open Badge ecosystem.

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In a future post I’ll address Mozilla’s approach to privacy, as well as explain our rationale for naming Displayers and Endorsers. Much more soon.

references
Warner, M. (2005). Publics and Counterpublics. Boston, MA: MIT Press

Badge System Design: learning from Caine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caine's Arcade

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

More soon.