Tools & Tips

Open Badges and Open Microcredentials – A guide to get started

This article is intended as a practical resource to help interested organizations design and implement an open badging system. Open badges are a type of open credential designed to recognize a variety of skills, knowledge, and experiences, both inside and outside of traditional educational settings. While growing in popularity, common questions asked by those interested in using open badges include: How do I get started? What technologies exist to produce open badges? And what do I need to know? This article seeks to address questions such as these. First, we introduce the reader to key terms in the badging world and explore open badge design precedents, responding to who, what, how, where, and why open badges have been used in the past. Drawing on this research as well as our own personal experience, we then present a possible framework for getting started with open badges and a step-by-step guide for implementing that framework within your organization.

The Rise of Alternative Credentials

In recent years, alternative credentialing has become an increasingly important method of recognizing learning and achievement that takes place in a wide variety of environments. Alternative credentials have been defined as “competencies, skills, and learning outcomes [that are] derived from assessment-based, non-degree activities and align to specific, timely needs in the workforce” (Fong, Janzow, & Peck, 2016, p. 1). This rise in the popularity of alternative credentials is due, at least in part, to changes in the cost, availability, and perceived value of both formal (e.g., universities, colleges) and informal (e.g., MOOCs, YouTube, Khan Academy) learning opportunities; economic changes (e.g., rising tuition, dropping enrollment in institutions of higher education); and demographic shifts across the world (Fong et al., 2016).

One form of alternative credentialing that is rapidly gaining traction are open badges. Many corporations, government agencies, institutions of higher education, certification issuing organizations, and others are beginning to adopt open badges as a viable means to recognize learning, accomplishment, and other types of achievement (Devedžić & Jovanović, 2015). An open badge is a digital microcredential that adheres to the open badge infrastructure (OBI) developed by the Mozilla Foundation and currently administered by IMS Global. OBI calls for badges to be formatted as images enriched with metadata (e.g., issuing organization, badge description, badge requirements, submitted evidence, standards, endorsements) that allow people to (a) digitally verify that the badge was earned by a particular recipient and (b) gain deep insight into the actual skills the badge earner possesses. Open badges are envisioned as (a) remixable (i.e., they can be mixed, matched, and republished to different audiences for distinct purposes); (b) controlled by the badge earner, rather than by an institution, in terms of how it is shared, collected, and displayed; (c) portable across media and thus widely shareable to anyone selected by the earner; and (d) issuable by any party, to any party, within any learning context (Mozilla Open Badges, 2014a). They also tend to be competency-based and to require evidence of completion in order to be earned (Jovanović & Devedžić, 2014). While open badges are primarily a method for recognizing learning, they have been used for a wide variety of other purposes as well, including as (a) a mechanism for increasing learner motivation, (b) a means of charting learning routes or pathways, and (c) a strategy for supporting self-reflection, planning, and learner agency (Jovanović & Devedžić, 2014).

A variety of tools have made it possible for organizations to begin issuing open badges with minimal effort required; however, many of those seeking to do so quickly find that implementing a successful badging program involves more than simply issuing badges. This article is intended as a practical resource to help interested organizations design and implement an open badging system. First, we introduce the reader to key terms in the badging world and explore open badge design precedents, responding to who, what, how, where, and why open badges have been used in the past. Drawing on this research as well as our own personal experience, we then present a possible framework (see Figure 1) for getting started with open badges and a step-by-step guide for implementing that framework within your organization.

Who Is Issuing Open Badges and To Whom?

There have been over 1,400 institutions who had issued open badges as of 2013 (Mozilla Open Badges, 2018). As the list below indicates, open badges are currently being issued by a wide variety of organizations to an even wider variety of target audiences. Higher education institutions are issuing badges to their students (Gibson, Coleman, & Irving, 2016; Randall, Harrison, & West, 2013), K-12 schools and districts are issuing badges to teachers for professional development (Davis, 2017; Gamrat, Zimmerman, Dudek, & Peck, 2014; Lynch, 2018; Otter, 2018), teachers, tutors, and coaches are issuing badges to their individual students (e.g., Aurora Public Schools, 2017; Corona-Norco Unified School District, 2018; Davis, 2017; Lynch, 2018; Otter, 2018), and sometimes, badges can be for extracurricular learning, such as with afterschool programming (Davis & Singh, 2015).

The beauty of flexible and open credentials such as open badges is that they can also be issued by nontraditional learning institutions or experience providers. For example, corporations (e.g., IBM; see https://www.youracclaim.com/organizations/ibm/badges) are issuing badges to employees and members of the community, including customers (Young et al., 2019). Libraries and museums are issuing badges to their patrons, in particular to youth as part of their summer learning programs (Chicago City of Learning, 2017). Professional development organizations and credentialing bodies are issuing badges to trainees.

What Badges are They Issuing?

Badges can be issued for learning or achievement within any subject domain. They can also follow any classification or leveling system that meets the needs of the issuer and earners. Some general ideas for badges within a system include color coding the badges; using levels (e.g., bronze/silver/gold or Level 1/2/3); attaching categories or tags; and using meaningful icons (Santos et al., 2013). In considering how to establish their own badging systems, organizations may find it useful to consult some of the following precedents.

Skill badges. IBM issues badges focusing on professional technical skills. Their badges are organized into categories such as analytics, cloud, mobile, and security. Similarly, Brigham Young University (BYU), Purdue, and The University of Memphis issue badges focused on various technology skills for educators. There is little hierarchy among the badges, but each badge is tagged with specific categories, such as media production or assessment tools. Another example is that of Colorado Community College System responding to address a perceived skills gap between graduates and employers by using badges to better communicate the skills of potential employees.

Knowledge badges. Many, if not most, badging organizations offer some badges for acquiring knowledge, sometimes in preparation for applying that knowledge in skills-based badges. One example is the extensive badging program offered by Wichita State University, which includes badges for skills and completing projects, but many for acquiring knowledge in disciplines such as health care, library sciences, business, and engineering (see http://badges.wichita.edu/badgecatalog).

Social or life skills. Many organizations are exploring using badges to recognize learners’ efforts to develop social and life skills that are not typically taught in classes, but are important for a successful life. The University of Central Oklahoma has created a Student Transformative Learning Record that encourages and recognizes, through open badges, students gaining abilities in global and cultural competencies, health and wellness, leadership, service learning and civic engagement, disciplinary knowledge, and research and creative activities (see http://sites.uco.edu/central/tl/stlr/). Similarly, the Education Design Lab has created badges for 21st century learning (see https://eddesignlab.org/badgingchallenge/) that includes skills in cultural fluency, creativity, empathy, and resilience.

Participation badges. Siemens (a multinational industrial manufacturing company) issues a variety of badges, including a voluntary participation badge for those who volunteer to contribute to a Siemens project for one day (see https://www.openbadgeacademy.com/badge/1273). Cambridge University Press offered badges for participating in Cambridge Day events and workshops (https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/it/events/openbadges/).

Identity badges. Earning a badge can represent a person’s entry into and development as a member of a community. In this way, badges can help one develop an identity as a professional in a certain discipline or community, which can be particularly valuable for students who may otherwise feel disenfranchised. When an organization certifies that someone belongs, or has successfully started on a path to becoming a full member of the community, such badges contribute to sense of belonging and identity development. The University of New Mexico’s Chemical and Biological Engineering program has experimented with such badges as part of furthering students’ sense of identity as engineering professionals. They found that in first year courses, the students most interested in earning professional engineering identity badges were non-traditionally-aged students (Svihla, personal communication, September 26, 2019).

Earning a badge can represent development of a person’s expertise and their evolution into becoming key members of a community. In this way they can help one develop an identity as a professional in a certain discipline or community, which can be particularly valuable for traditionally disenfranchised or minority persons. The University of New Mexico’s chemical engineering program offers badges to students to provide flexible and responsive learning opportunities as part of furthering students’ sense of identity as engineering professionals.

Certification badges. Badges can be used as certificates that represent culminating achievements in a portable, data-rich way. Davies, Randall, and West (2015) outlined how badges could help certify professional evaluators. Microsoft, Apple, and National Instruments are some companies using open badges to issue certificates.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Getting Started With Open Badges and Open Microcredentials | The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning

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