Friday badges wrap up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More soon.


Open Badges & Webmaker Badges in 2013: an ongoing conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thanks. More soon.
carla at mozillafoundation . org

Mozilla Open Badges: building trust networks, creating value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Badges: suggested components for trust to develop

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

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

Open Badges: permutations of trust

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

Open Badges: the evolution of trust networks

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

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

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

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More soon.  carla at mozillafoundation . org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much more soon.

Mozilla Open Badges: the ecosystem begins to take shape

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

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

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

Impression of public understanding of Mozilla Open Badges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Validity 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 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 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.

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.


  • 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


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


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


  • representational vs. abstract
  • categorical vs. individual


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


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


  • 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

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

– – –

More soon.

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

Badge System Design: beyond a binary approval system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

Much more soon.

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

Learning, coding, systems of power, and Mozilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.”

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.

– – –

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.

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 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 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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caine's Arcade

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

More soon.

Badge System Design: standardization, formalization & uniqueness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

Mozilla Open Badges Legal & Privacy Considerations

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

Lifelong learning contrasted with COPPA and FERPA considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More soon.

Open Badges & Badge System Design

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

Open Badge Infrastructure Public Beta!

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for everything so far. More to come.