Tag Archives: learning

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.

Badges + credentials, another visual take

My last post included a badges and credentials Venn diagram that elicited a fair number of responses, and in turn, triggered a number of my own considerations. An important conclusion: we must at least roughly agree on what open badges are and how they are being used if we’re to have a constructive discussion about the accuracy of a Venn diagram that illustrates open badges and credentials as an incomplete overlap. It’s also worthwhile to reference where they are being used so as to situate the conversation. In short, they are being issued in high schools, out-of-school environments, workforce, colleges and universities, and notably less so in social and civic environments, although there are inspiring efforts concentrated to increase that activity. Even that encompassing swath may not present a complete picture of the spread of open badges.

A version of the phrase attributed to Heraclitus, You can’t step into the same river twice, seems an apt way to describe the open badge ecosystem during the last five years: iterating, testing, and improving. It’s fair to say that the previous Venn diagram visually spotlighted a limited aspect of a much larger conceptual conversation about how and where this new credentialing world is moving—and where it may considering moving. Right now the credentialing world is also part of that swiftly moving river as it struggles to accommodate new members. The great part? We, the open badges community who have been building badge systems over the last half decade, can help to structure and influence the direction.

A constantly growing and evolving ecosystem is difficult to capture in a visual. And yet, there are numerous benefits to distilling things down to a visual representation, not the least of which is improved insight about its parts and a sense of its gestalt. To that end, I’ve prepared another graphic to illustrate the inherent flexibility and dynamic potential of badges, focused on where they might be issued / used / consumed.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 12.09.55 PM

Assertion: An open badge can be designed to represent a small thing, such as a fundamental principle or a single competency (micro level)—and an open badge can also be designed to represent a large thing, like a competency set, or a license, or a degree (macro level). This visual illustrates that badges can be used to represent any credential currently being issued. This may seem like a minor thing to visualize, but given what badges can represent, it’s one that is definitely worth understanding. Why?

Nothing else in the credentialing world operates like open badges.

Badges can slot into a variety of environments and be used in a myriad of ways, and so are the chameleon of the credentialing world. Or maybe they’re the cuttlefish of the credentialing world: able to assume various conceptual shapes and sizes according to their context. Either way, chameleon or cuttlefish, they are unique. For some people this wide ranging flexibility—to grow to the size of a degree and shrink to the size of an essential component—is a feature and for others, it’s a bug. Again, because nothing else has the capacity to be as flexible as this in the current credentialing world.

The last post’s Venn diagram referenced this dynamism in a roundabout way that may not have been readily apparent. But now that this power has been teased out with this discussion and visualization, what are your thoughts, open badges community? Are all badges credentials, regardless of conceptual size, depth of assessment, or amount of criteria? Or are some badges as big as our current understanding of credentials, and some badges as small as elementary principles within a course or experience?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Badges + credentials, a venn diagram

A wonderful and long hoped for event has been transpiring in the credentialing world: badges are being openly discussed, recognized, and included In the conversation. The new forms of credentials that have emerged over the last few years, e.g., badges, nanodegrees and even certificates, are being swept up and embraced by the credentialing club. This evolutionary development is welcome news—and a huge win that clearly indicates the growing public appreciation of badges and the value they carry. I extend my heartfelt congratulations and thanks to all members of the open badges community who have dived in, toyed with, worked on, pushed back, fought over, and exulted in open badges. You’re how we got here.

Now that badges are shifting to become an active member of the credentialing club, new requirements and responsibilities are ramping up. To that end, I am privileged to be able to represent the voices of the open badges community in a variety of discussions and initiatives sensitive to badges as one of the newest forms of credentialing.

As a number of conversations within different initiatives have progressed, a specific need has arisen, and that need is a starting point to orient the conversation—a commonality, if you will. The question being posed across two Lumina Foundation funded initiatives, Connecting Credentials and the Credentials Transparency Initiative is this: What essential aspect or component will allow us to collectively converse about value and meaning across many, if not all forms of credentials?

For all of the conversations that I have been privy to and participated in, the deliberations have homed in on competencies as one of the essential initial components. Let me pause to highlight the word initial and follow up with this caveat. As a member of the open badges community and as a long-term shepherd of the ecosystem, I recognize that for some people this credential / competency component decision can appear to be both a terrific structuring arrangement as well as a hair-raising disruptive concern. Why? Because badges cross many conceptual boundaries. More specifically, badge criteria are issuer defined, created, and designed. That means that badges are not required to express the same things that traditional credentials do, and a number of badge issuers do not want to use competencies as their lodestone.

However, because we need a basis to begin to create a mental model, illustrate concepts, and provide some guideposts to explain how we are shaping a new and more inclusive and representative world of credentialing, this is a fair enough beginning. Think of it as a beginning point of another journey: one that leads into the larger, more rough and tumble world of formal credentials.

As badges shift into a form of currency in the credentialing world, do we gain or lose anything by having a completely overlapping Venn diagram? Or, as I have long asserted, are badges and credentials an incompletely overlapping Venn diagram?

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 7.23.00 PM

To my mind, the answer is yes to the latter question, and here’s why. Badges, as they were envisioned originally, were created to capture learning whenever and wherever that learning occurs: formal, informal, public, private, group, individual. The overlap on the Venn diagram is sometimes referred to as microcredentials, and actually gives that term greater meaning and sense. Although, the overlap can still just be referred to as badges.

With this in mind, I’m eliciting feedback and encouraging open conversation about badges that are credentials and badges that are not credentials. What are your thoughts? Should all badges be considered credentials, or, as illustrated in the Venn diagram above, should we leave the door open to badges that fall outside of the requirements of credentials?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, open badges community!

Much more soon.
Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com


Credentials: not finished changing

Image from page 176 of "The dodo and its kindred; or, The history, affinities, and osteology of the dodo, solitaire, and other extinct birds of the islands Mauritius, Rodriguez and Bourbon" (1848)

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” —Benjamin Franklin

From the gold standard to the floating exchange rate
The world of credentialing is evolving. Degrees have long been considered the basic unit of educational currency. But it appears that we’re experiencing an accelerating shift away from the gold standard of degrees and toward a more inclusive credentialing world that embraces badges, microcredentials and nanodegrees and is based on a market-driven floating exchange rate.

For the last decade we’ve lived through increasing degree inflation, watching jobs that previously required only a high school diploma become jobs that require not just an Associate’s degree but a Bachelor’s degree. In extreme forms of degree inflation some of those same jobs now require a Master’s degree or a Doctorate, or even post-doctoral work. What has happened to make this necessary? Have jobs changed that much in the intervening years? Is the world exponentially more complex? Could it be the degree itself causing these problems? My response to that last question is yes.

if u cn rd ths…
Our dependence on degrees as the primary means by which we collectively judge what someone knows and can do has effectively turned degrees into social and cultural shorthand. An unfortunate and increasingly inaccurate shorthand. An interpretive shorthand that attempts to speak to an individual’s qualifications well beyond what formal education currently provides, and one that gives informational short shrift to all stakeholders, perhaps most disappointingly, to the learners themselves. Why must the degree be so opaque? What does a transcript tell the student of their accomplishments other than the grades they received in a prescribed pathway? How does a course grade correlate to an amorphous future job? Is an A equal to a Job Grade Level V review?

Coke vs. Pepsi (or the problem with big educational brands)
Brand recognition should not be the calling card that gets most people in the workplace or college door. But it is. Ultimately, that’s primarily what our credentialing system has reified: brand. And not the brand value of the exiting learner—no, that would most likely be an incredibly useful metric. Instead the shorthand / reification focuses on the brand of the credential-issuing institution. Thankfully we’ve begun to see a questioning of this confused metric from both industry (EY + Penguin Random House as noted in Cracking the Credentialing Club) and through calls for research into college and university success rates in the somewhat de-fanged College Scorecard. These credential tremors are indicative of a larger and maybe-not-impending-but-already-happening tectonic shift occurring in education, learning, credentialing, and assessment.

Evolve or Die
I suggest that there is an implicit choice currently available to the credentialing world: evolve or die. You’ll note that this is the same choice that confronts every living thing and it affects both the small no-name brand and the very large, multinational brand. Academic and business systems are living things and must evolve in order to stay useful and relevant. The popular and useful thing of yesteryear may fade quickly into obscurity—and you don’t want to be the flightless bird in this story.

Consequently, we need to ask what we think we’re expressing when we hand out degrees and certificates. What is missing? What opportunities do new credentials like open badges offer? What are we hoping to effect and why? These questions must always acknowledge that context and audience are essential components of any answer. Because the credentialing environment is not composed solely of monolithic, faceless institutions struggling to survive, but rather thoughtful, circumspect individuals making hard choices about the potential, cost, and value of credentials in their own personal evolution.

Much more soon.
Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com

Cracking the credentialing club

The Open Badges movement has grown and evolved in sometimes tumultuous ways over the last five years. And we’re beginning to see ideological light in places where previously there was only questioning shadow. For example, there have been inklings in the professional world that despite—or perhaps because of—creeping degree inflation, the long-term infatuation with the degree may be fading. Indeed, some rather large employers, like Penguin Random House and Ernst & Young (EY), are venturing into relatively unknown territory by dispensing with degree requirements altogether. While it might seem disorienting, this is a good thing for both the learner and for the traditional degree granting institution.

The Credentialing Club
Too much has been asked of degrees as representational communication objects. Our assumptions about them have grown to be enormous and consequently, virtually impossible to fill. Additionally, the degree granting system has perpetuated the degree-granting system: discussions about any learning experience after high school are typically had by people who have attended higher ed—and more than likely possess an advanced degree. In a feedback loop such as this, how can we guarantee that new ideas will be appreciated and promoted?

While graduates of four year degree programs are the majority in any discussion about post-secondary education, a little less than half of the individuals who pursue some form of education after high school attend community colleges or technical schools, among other educational environments. The power, impact, and usefulness of these educational opportunities should not be underestimated. And here’s a surprise: that 44% percent also includes people with higher ed degrees. It seems that a healthy minority of folks who attend some learning institution after high school go to a community college at one time or another. Yet somehow when we talk about post-secondary education, our conversation defaults to four year colleges and universities. This must stop.

And stop it shall, particularly as our society moves toward embracing different forms of credentials. On a related note, I’ve ceased using the term alternative credentials in my discussions about these new initiatives. Why? Because that word introduces an adversarial quality to the conversation. It suggests that the new forms of credentialing might be alien or less dependable or less robust or less valuable than a degree. Horsefeathers!

I’ll take time in another essay to distinguish among the new credentialing forms (there are more similarities than differences) but for a second, let’s just consider some of these new representational possibilities:

  • online degrees
  • course certificates
  • badges
  • microcredentials
  • nanodegrees

And the best part? They’ve been developed already and they’re here, operating in the real world, right now. The credentialing club is about to start accepting new members.

Interrogating the new world of credentialing
From the consumption perspective, this impressive burgeoning might indicate that right now and for the foreseeable future, there are too many forms of credentials. On the one hand, isn’t that wonderful? It means that many more people have many more ways to represent their abilities, competencies, experiences, and skills. On the other hand, it means that potential consumers of those credentials now have to sift through hundreds and thousands of different permutations of learning representations. If we’re concerned that degrees have become an unfortunate elision of abilities, a surfeit of new credentials can prove equally problematic. Happily, there are initiatives (more on these in future posts) looking at the many and varied aspects of what constitutes a good credential—and not just from the credential issuer standpoint, but also from the other stakeholders in this process, e.g., the credential earner and the credential consumer.

Educational map ≠ learning territory
This discussion brings to mind Clay Shirky’s cognitive surplus hypothesis: the massive collective power released by shifting from a social construct based on consumption to one based on creation. To me, the credentialing boom is just one of the reverberating results of the big bang of the internet. The web’s continuing expansion seems to indicate that our current system just isn’t broad enough or powerful enough to adequately address the experiential, social, professional, and personal representation requirements that it has engendered. A quick test: for those of you who hold a degree, would you feel comfortable saying that it accurately represents all of your capabilities? And for those of you who hold multiple degrees, why wasn’t the first one enough?

These challenging questions help us to understand that the educational map is not the learning territory—that our abilities are so much broader and more nuanced than anything a degree imparts or a transcript indicates. We’re capable of so much more than what any one credential says we are. And that’s where badges, microcredentials, nanodegrees, etc. come in.

I’m glad that the credentialing club is beginning to accept new members. It’s about time.

Much more soon.
Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com

Open Badge Opticks : The prismatic value of badges

During a recent Twitter foray, I jumped into an ongoing conversation about where education is headed and the role that badges might play in where education is headed. The discussion stemmed from Kevin Carey‘s insightful and provocative NYTimes article, “Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That Are Seen As Official” (based on an excerpt from The End of College.) During that Twitter exchange, Anya Kamenetz (who has recently written The Test) was commenting on Carey’s book and mentioned that she felt that badges have been operating in—and will continue to operate in—perpetual beta. When I asked her why she felt this to be true, she tweeted, “I don’t see the value.” I tweeted back saying that badge value was prismatic. This post is an exploration of that position.


Traveling around the world over the last four years, introducing people to open badges and helping them to understand their possible and actual uses, I’ve had quite a bit of time to listen to questions about badge value. Followers of my blog know that I’ve written about value before here and here, and no doubt will again, but as for my thoughts on that subject right now, in Q1 2015, here’s where I am.

Value can mean so many things to so many people. Of course a generic dictionary definition exists but what does value mean in action? Exactly where does value lie? Just so we’re all on the same page here, here’s my view: value is a thing’s capacity to be perceived and interpreted as having some resonant meaning that translates into a degree of assumed importance. Still, that’s pretty fuzzy, right? That definition is somewhat academic and perhaps still difficult to apply. So let’s take this thing apart to see where the values (plural!) of badges reside.

My primary assertion: badge value is prismatic.
We can’t talk about badge value without talking about a badge’s audience because that’s where the possibility of value is first perceived and then created. Maybe wherever we see the word “value” we can just pop in the word “audience” right before it. That will help to remind us that value is derived by audience interpretation and therefore it is always contextual and situated.

Now, let’s make like Isaac Newton and compose an Open Badge Opticks so as to identify and demarcate the spectral components of badge value.

1. Personal value
First, and I would suggest foremost, badge value is initiated by the earner. This value, the one most often dismissed by critics, is perhaps the most important value of all. Badges represent skills, competencies, activities, and achievements but they also represent the person who has earned them. If by earning a badge, an individual gains greater insight into themselves and their abilities, then the value of the badge is extremely high. This consideration turns traditional learning / achievement on its head because it recognizes that the process of earning a badge can be construed as an intrinsically rewarding effort. So, one form of value is entirely dependent upon the perception of the earner.

2. Institutional value
Institutions that go to the trouble of issuing badges are betting that their badges have value. Another way to think of this type of value is as intended value. Indeed, badge issuing organizations seek to impart their values through their badges. It takes a commitment of time, money, and resources to develop and issue a badge, even more to develop a badge system, so issuing a badge that carries no institutional value is an exercise in waste. The vast majority of the badges currently in circulation have been designed to impart values representative of the issuing organizations.

3. Social value
The social value of a badge is complex. There are a number of ways that badges contain and contribute to social value, including: academic value; professional value; cultural value; and group value. I could probably write a few long paragraphs about each of these types of value but in the interests of brevity and because you’re smart, try thinking through those on your own. I will note, however, that somewhat perversely, the group value of badges appears to be the most under-appreciated of all of the possible values. Considering that society is predicated on the concept of in-groupness and out-groupness, this under-appreciation always strikes me as odd. Badges are indicators of community and consequently carry the values that are related to the communities in which they circulate.

4. Consumer value
We might consider the consumer value the strongest representation of exchange value for open badges. Consumer value might also be thought of as market value. We might ask ourselves, in what way does a badge, or a series of badges, enter the marketplace of conceptual exchange? Is it the same way that we understand the value of a service or good? In the past I have referred to badges as having different levels of currency: some badges might be considered the equivalent of a silver while other badges might attain the lofty levels of high-value paper currency. We’ve long argued that a freely operating badge marketplace will define consumer values over the long haul.

5. Generic value
Generic value is rooted in the desire for a standard exchange rate. Because of that it is the trickiest value of all to imagine and to calculate: within a shifting marketplace where exchange rates vary over time, it’s a challenge to define a firm basic unit of value. This is not unusual: our own monetary system is in constant flux—and our socially constructed understandings of degrees and certificates are as well. A BS from one college is not always equivalent to a BS from another college. Nonetheless, the public perception of badges and their value ultimately will be equated as a generic or system wide value.

Conclusion: a spectrum of value
So here are 5+ areas supporting the idea of prismatic representation of badge value. I sincerely hope that you can now feel comfortable in saying that badges have different perceptual values across their many audiences.

One last note, though, related to my first assertion. Here is its corollary: just as light has a spectrum that includes both visible and invisible properties, so does badge value. More on this in a future post addressing emergent value in and across badge systems.

Much more soon.

Talk to me at cmcasilli [at] gmail [dot] com

Open Badges, wicked problems, and that thing called hope

"feather bad weather" by Erik bij de Vaate

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Chicago Summer of Learning: thoughts on badge design

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSOL city-level STEAM badges

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entry level badges

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

City level badges

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

Challenge badges

  • organizations offering citywide challenge badges

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

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

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

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

– – –

Much more soon.

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

Badge pathways: part 2, the “quel”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

Badge system design: investigating assumptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badge System Design Principles, Part 1: RFC

Flickr image courtesy of  justus.thane

Flickr image courtesy of justus.thane

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

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

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

The ten principles of badge system design include:

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

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

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

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

Boundless learning: the continuum of web literacy

There are a lot of people who think that our educational system is broken. I tend to think of it as problematic rather than broken—because it still works for some people, just not everyone. Wouldn’t it be great to have a system that works for more people in new ways?

A look back to look forward 
Here’s how we may have arrived in this confusing spot regarding education, a spot that is overripe for reimagining. The web.

The web is limitless. And its limitlessness has revealed to us the profound limits bound into earlier systems of knowledge measurement. Let’s use an example. Books were a previous primary yardstick. And we thought that all of them gathered together in the form of libraries constituted a window onto the edge of knowledge.

The lure of the past
But with the rise of the web in the last few years, we’ve realized that that was a false limitation. Libraries, even spectacularly large ones, that previously seemed like they contained all the information in the world are competing against an ever-growing, easily accessible accumulation of knowledge from around the world. The last Encyclopedia Brittanica—for years considered the gold standard for reference to be found in a printed set of thirty-two bound volumes at the cost of $1395—is now dwarfed by a free site on the web. That free site? Wikipedia. Over four million articles can be found on Wikipedia; it contains over twenty-nine million pages. That’s just one site on the web. And interestingly enough, it’s a site to which many editors contribute but that no one person “owns.”


“The web has allowed us to see that the world is significantly more complex and interesting than we thought it was.” (2012, Weinberger) Indeed, the web mirrors much of our world in that it:

  1. contains massive amounts of information,
  2. has a distributed ownership model, and
  3. a large part of the information found on it is entirely free.

A new model for learning
Thanks to a lot of people who recognized the value of the web (and who like teaching and tinkering and sharing) learning can now happen and is now happening anywhere and everywhere. So, how can we break free from the limited thinking that chains us to book learning and formal academic levels? Can there be alternative methods of information dissemination?

The learning continuum
Let’s agree on this: learning is a process. There is no endpoint.  But what does this mean for education? That there is no cap to the amount of knowledge we can accumulate. And now because there is no endpoint, we need to rethink how people might find their way through this glut of information. We need something to fill in the space of what was there previously—or at the very least to find a way to acknowledge the new learning spaces that we’re beginning to see.

The last printed Encyclopedia Brittanica was published in 2010. It’s now 2013. The world has not stopped amassing information in that interim. So, we must become comfortable with the idea that there are volumes of knowledge that we’ll never know. It’s simply not possible to do that anymore; it’s not possible to put edges or boundaries on learning opportunities. This is where badges can provide their greatest value: as guideposts in an increasingly complex knowledge universe. Badges can be issued on an atomic level. We can start to acknowledge the primary elements  that constitute a basic level of knowledge.

I’m hesitant to even use the word level here. Due to its requirement for contextual definition, the idea of educational levels often leads straight to a bizarro world where levels are spoken about as if they’re universal, but their implementation reveals that they are most distinctly not universal in application.

Let’s just say that there are continua of knowledge and as a whole we are on them. To quote my colleague, Doug Belshaw, from our in-progress web literacies* white paper, “Literacy is a condition to be obtained not a threshold to cross.” The key to that statement centers on the idea of conditions: we are continually moving through and across boundaries of knowledge. This is one of the beauties of the web—and of life. In general, the boundaries we experience have been created and defined by us in the development of our society. Badges let us reimagine what those boundaries are and where they might appear. Thus, we can move ever closer to aligning our ability to acknowledge all of the learning now possible with the web’s vast capacity for increased knowledge acquisition.

Learning pathways 
Right now we’re focusing on what a web literacy standard might look like and how it might be implemented. A significant portion of this thinking will include developing potential learning pathways. Along those lines, we will be thinking through the framework’s ‘Beginner’ and ‘Intermediate’ levels before considering ‘Pre-Beginner’ and ‘Advanced’. Taking this approach will allow us to produce multiple touchpoints and signposts along the way to web literacy. We’ll use those touchpoints and signposts to develop a web literacy badge system that accommodates various learning pathways, builds upon the web literacy framework, encourages continued community badge creation and aligns with Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure.

The honor of your presence is requested
There are many ways that you can participate. Here are just a few:

  1. Join our weekly web literacy standard community call on Thursdays 8am PST / 11am EST / 4pm GMT. Here’s a canonical etherpad agenda that includes dial in information.
  2. Visit our continually updated wiki.
  3. Continue to read and respond to these posts.
  4. Share your ideas about what might be useful indications of learning.
  5. Begin to imagine a world where web literacy is an easily understood literacy with badges that communicate where someone might be on that arc.

We’re gathering together with you at the forefront of our understanding of what web literacy is and we’re aiming to map out a workable future. We’re pretty excited and we’re really glad you’re here.

* It’s worth noting that we’re distinguishing between our earlier work with web literacies and our new efforts for a web literacy learning standard.

Flickr image CC by mikeedesign

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

Co-constructing a framework of web literacy and badges

Two weeks ago on Thursday we held our first web literacy framework / standard conversation. We, along with interested and influential folks, are thinking through what a web literacy standard might look like and how it might be implemented.

You can read more about our first gathering on this etherpad and check out our recorded interaction here—but before you fall too much in love with that pad or deck, take a gander at this etherpad, too. Because we held another web literacy online gathering just yesterday. (By the way, if you haven’t introduced yourself in the web literacy group of the webmaker list, please do.)

Participants at both of these public interactions began to think through and converse about some of the many complex questions surrounding this effort. Things like, what do we mean by the term “standard,” and what about people who are educationally or socially underserved, or those folks who are not even on the internet? While we don’t have answers to all of these questions, we do anticipate that this communication opportunity will spur a number of lively conversations and perhaps some complex philosophical and sociological inquiries, as well. Of course we want to talk, but more importantly, we want to listen, too.

Questions we’re asking
In essence, we’re asking a number questions and we’d like your thinking on them. Here are a few that we’ve been obsessed with lately.

  • What are the basic, intermediate and advanced skills that are essential to becoming a productive participant of the web?
  • How many are necessary to produce useful competencies?
  • What are the related outcomes associated with those skills and competencies? In other words, what might those skills and competencies get you in an applied setting?
  • Can we build assessments that support and acknowledge those skills and competencies?
  • Can we build APIs that allow you to begin to use these skill and competency assessments right on your own site?
  • How can badges be designed that accurately represent those skills and competencies?
  • What sorts of badges make sense in a distributed system like this?

And another question that’s close to my heart:

  • What goes into a badge framework that will encourage other individuals, organizations, educational institutions, etc. to build upon our web literacy badges efforts so that together we construct a viable, meaningful, and valuable network of activities, assessments and badges?

Definition of terms
A lot of this work is contingent upon us reaching some universal agreement about what we mean when we talk about web literacy.* In order for us to make any headway with the development of a standard, at the very least we’ll need to be aligned in our understanding and use of this term. Also, you may hear us talk about a standard and a framework somewhat interchangeably: we’re focused on building a framework from which a standard will emerge. Our approach for the web literacy badges works similarly: we aim to construct a conceptual framework that encourages other organizations and individuals to form their own badge system nodes in this network. While we’re still figuring out how all this gels, we’re forging ahead with designing a web literacy badge system that derives its excellence from a variety of  committed, web-literacy-standards-aligned issuers contributing to it. I’ll explore this idea in detail in future posts.

Systems thinking
One of my favorite posts that I’ve written on badge system design is Building Trust Networks, Creating Value. If you have questions about how we see this all coming together, you’ll find a number of answers there. In short, that post reviews the ways in which trust networks may evolve in the Open Badges ecosystem. It also purports that a system will function at its best if trust grows right along with it: trust that is both internal to the system as well as external to the system. A slightly different way of saying that is that a system will become more resilient if trust becomes and integral aspect of its network effect. The hallmarks of a successful system include resilience and flexibility: we’re working to build those into our web literacy badge system.

How we’re getting there from here
We’ve been considering what web literacies might look like. We’ve released a preliminary set of badges based on low level achievements that can be accomplished using one of our tools. We have a killer team assembled to begin tackling incremental assessment, creating activities that are both informative and inspirational, designing badges that act as guideposts to the standard they represent, and devising possible pathways for people to get from one skill or competency to another.** We’re analyzing the best ways to make this an open standard; imagining ways that an API might be able to be useful for things like those incremental assessments.

An invitation
Over the next few days we’ll be roughing out a lightweight roadmap; there you’ll find specific dates and goals. And exciting next step will be to hold regular weekly calls to publicly investigate, evaluate, and scrutinize this work—this most definitely will be a group effort. You’re invited! Please make a point of joining us for our inaugural weekly meeting on Thursday, Feb 28 at 08:00 PST / 11:00 EST / 16:00 GMT. I’ll post more specific dial-in details when they’re finalized. Dial-in info can be found on the Web Literacy Standard Community etherpad.

We’re excited to have you join us on this journey. Together we will co-create a new web literacy standard, develop badges that reflect that standard and begin to define pathways that lead to rewarding educational, social and personal experiences.

* A quick and appreciative nod to individuals who have been ruminating on digital literacy, digital divides, and technological literacy for years.
** A foundational badge pathways post is coming within a few days. This is a lynchpin concept.

More soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Much more soon.
carla at mozillafoundation [dot] org