Tag Archives: badge system design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Much more soon.
carla at mozillafoundation [dot] org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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. 

Badge System Design: beyond a binary approval system

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

Much more soon.

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

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.

– – –

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.

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.

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