Tag Archives: identity

Open badges + credentials: the value of the not-credential

Image from page 205 of "Carnegie Institution of Washington publication" (1902-)

The value of things that count
We live in a world dominated by credentials. Credentials carry with them a public perception of rigor, assessment, brand. Credentials are the things that “count.” They’re what we look for on resumes, and what we ask about in conversations; they’re the lodestones and compass points of our social, cultural, personal, and political worlds. Unfortunately, some of our current social problems revolve around the basic binary nature of credentials: either you have them or you don’t. Either you have something that indicates your worth or you don’t.

The value of flexibility
Badges were designed to be agile tools: to operate in liminal spaces not currently acknowledged by other means. They were designed to capture learning whenever and wherever that learning took place, regardless of how or with whom. In short, badges are dynamic: flexible enough to represent formal education symbols (e.g., degrees, licenses) as well as informal social tokens (e.g., affiliations, friendships). Badges can fill the spaces that other learning acknowledgements leave fallow.

The value of credentials
I wholeheartedly believe that credentials (like degrees) can be and will be expressed as badges. Indeed, if there is a platonic ideal of a Connected Credential, it is an Open Badge. Open Badges include all of the quality dimensions defined in the ACE Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials white paper: transparency, modularity, portability, relevance, validity and equity. Perhaps, even more importantly, they’re based on the concept of complete interoperability. Somewhat paradoxically, those are precisely the qualities that allow open badges to act as both credentials and things other than credentials: not-credentials, if you will. Badges let us move into a new world of inclusive “yes, and” types of learning recognition, affiliation, achievement, etc., replacing the restrictive “either/or” world of traditional credentials.

The value of public understanding
We exist in a world that already thinks it understand credentials, so let’s work with that. Let’s use open badges to wedge our way into the cultural conversation so that we can sow the seeds of change and encourage them to blossom. Right now, we still need badges to flourish in the non-regimented space of not-credentials—a world of value that has yet to be fully realized or appreciated—where the sliding scale of social and cultural currency changes depending on context.

The value of freedom
Badges should be allowed to take root anywhere: in the conceptual high steppes where learning growth has been stunted, in the loose, sandy soil of the low learning deserts, in places where learning recognition is thin on the ground, where acknowledgement encourages flourishing, where before there had been only barrenness. That’s where one of the most  important promises of open badges can be fulfilled: bringing free and unencumbered learning recognition into the spaces starving for it. We’ve already seen some promising results in this area. But we endanger further development by calling all badges credentials. With that term we enslave badges to existing understandings and expectations of the current crop of credentials. Expectations that severely limit open badges’—and by default our own—revolutionary possibilities.

The value of possibilities
Of course there will be new forms of credentials that are badges. But those aren’t the types of badges we need to worry about. The lonely, desolate corners where learning acknowledgment has been overlooked and undernourished, that’s where recognition is most needed. Let’s ensure that those places continue to get what they need by allowing them to develop and use whatever type of badge makes the most sense for them, credential or not.

The value of waiting
Let’s not limit the possibilities of the open badges ecosystem by forcing all badges to be credentials—before we’ve seen all the things that badges can become. Let’s be comfortable just a little while longer in our uncomfortableness—in this liminal and dynamic space of credentials and not-credentials. There’s still so much yet to be built, so much yet to happen. Let’s learn to welcome the beauty and value of letting a thousand different types of open badges bloom in their own time, some credentials, some not.

Open Badges, wicked problems, and that thing called hope

"feather bad weather" by Erik bij de Vaate

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Badges: what comes between & before


“Dryland” ©2011 Dennis Kleine, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

As I’ve been thinking through the concept of badges and how folks might interact with them from a systems standpoint, I keep coming returning to the idea of the void. The empty space around a badge. Not just what comes between the earning of one badge to the next but also what comes before earning a badge.

As we’ve seen badge systems being developed, we’ve repeatedly heard questions similar to these: What [conceptual] size should I make my badges? How foundational should their criteria be? Should I create levels for our badges? What about developing meta-badges, don’t they begin to recreate the existing system, replicate existing power structures?

These questions reveal a fascinating and somewhat unexplored area of badges: what, if anything, exists between a badge and no badge? And to torture a zen metaphor: what is the sound of an unearned badge?

Some folks have taken a page from games and begun using points in their badge systems. This presents an interesting discussion point. And while I’ll share my thoughts on this below, I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions on it as well.

I’d like to suggest that we consider something other than points. And here’s why: points seem to me to move badges in the direction of counting, accruing, and quantification. Counting up or down until you’ve achieved a certain number of points. There’s something about points that seems to whisper, “This is a reward system, nothing else.” They seem gamification-ized and not in a way that promotes investigation, interest, or enjoyment.

Because it’s the Mozilla view—and mine, too—that badges act as recognition of activities, learning, achievements, affiliations, etc., the concept of badges as a reward seems antithetical. So I’d like to suggest that we consider a concept that I first heard about back during the third and final pitch phase of the 2012 DML Competition, Badges for Lifelong Learning. The suggested solution that I reference here comes from The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt. Their discussion of tokens as things between badges and nothing struck a chord within me and continues to do so.

The issuing of tokens is tremendously appealing to me for a variety of reasons:

  1. Tokens can allow for the creation of rigorous, deep and complex badges;
  2. Tokens can be used to acknowledge incremental progress toward a goal;
  3. Tokens can highlight and encourage traversing multiple pathways to meaningful, socially valuable badges;
  4. Tokens can streamline the signal to noise ratio by de-cluttering the system;
  5. With tokens you can build in functional pathways that allow for repeated attempts (read failure);
  6. They can function as stand-ins for badge levels, thereby simplifying badge systems;
  7. Tokens can reinforce badge systems goals by communicating in an internal and highly contextual fashion while permitting badges to act as truly interoperable, social currency.

Now that’s not to say that we’re going to be introducing tokens into the ecosystem anytime soon, but it is to say that I’m floating this idea to see if it resonates. And if so, let’s work together to figure out what our next steps might be.

Much more soon.

Yes, the pathways posts are coming along as are the additional CSOL posts!

Badge pathways: part 1, the paraquel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More soon.

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

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Webmaker, games, and learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –
Much more soon.

Open Badges & Webmaker Badges in 2013: an ongoing conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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: 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!

– – –

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!

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.

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

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.

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: http://www.coppa.org/coppa.htm. 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: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html. 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.

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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.