Badges: Questions and Themes

During our first live, interactive Badges 101 webinar, we received over 100 questions through email, Twitter, comments, and the webinar chat box. We invited our Badges for Lifelong Learning team to jump in and answer your questions, and will continue posting the remaining questions throughout the week. Many questions are open-ended and thought-provoking, so jump in to share your own responses.

Flickr photo via Veronica Debord

Will 'complexity' reduce the value of badges in the eyes of potential employers because they don't have the time to unravel that complexity?

It depends on the employer.  And, of course, this is true for any evaluation system. We don't have anything like one current standard--and we won't with badges, and shouldn't.  For some, badges will seem too complicated. For others, interesting and important and no more complicated than the current system of resumes with their odd code words, their obscurity, their vagueness, and jargon.  Face to face interviews and verbal recommendations will likely not be replaced by badges, at least not for traditional employers.

Can badges provide a mechanism for employers to better identify and recruit suitable employees (and vice versa)?

Absolutely -- if employers wish to devise and use such a system. The point is that badges are community-driven and members of the community have to find ways to use them, and reasons for using them that fit their organization.

People who earn digital badges signify to employers what their skills and knowledge are regardless of whether or not they possess a degree.

Badges are not degrees.  Some people who earn badges will have degrees, some will not.

Who will we see becoming the leading badge authorizers?

No one knows. Badges for Lifelong Learning is an experiment and a competition.  We cannot know who is best or leading or most important before the experiment even begins. 

How can we ensure that badge inflation does not occur?

You can never ensure that any system will be perfect until humans become perfect.  Short of that, in systems where there are not negative badges or demerits, people earn badges by doing things.  The badge carries with it the record of what earned that badge.  You can over-accomplish, I suppose, in order to earn more badges but that seems a bit self-defeating. Still, any system is susceptible to abuse, as we certainly know from the current one where everyone is, as the saying goes, "above average."

Does there need to be a standardisation of badges for them to be valuable?

No. The point of peer evaluation is how it carries what it signifies with it.  All that needs to be standardized is the operability of the badging systems themselves, so they can be readable across different platforms.  

Is there a badge standard? Are some worth more than others based on who issues them?

The community or organization or employer seeking the best employee or community member will have standards and will see badges that meet those standards.  But what those standards are for which kind of organizations -- nursery school teacher versus Java Script programmer -- varies by the nature of the organization and the position being sought or even the kind of role within the organization.   I might want to see a different kind of badge for a nursery school teacher if I am thinking of hiring one versus if I'm thinking whether I want my child to go to a certain nursery school.   Actually, come to think of it, in that situation I would hope the criteria are quite similar, that the owner of the nursery school and the parent wanting to send a child to that school have similar values, requirements, obligations, and expectations for a great nursery school teacher.  

Who determines when someone earns a badge? Or that badges from different issuers are equivalent?

Peers give badges within an organization or across organizations.  You can see a badge, click on the badge, and then find all the content that, together, comprises the reason for the badge having been issued.  No external body determines "equivalence."  The point is to be able to acknowledge different forms of contribution at different levels.  This is high standards without standardization.

It seems that success of badges would partially depend on educating employers and the public on their value?

Of course.  And there will be early adopters and there will be resisters.  Remember, Mt. Holyoke was the first university to use the ABCD grade.  The American Meat Packers Association came soon after but they then decided the system was too inflexible and therefore meaningless for grades of sirloin and chuck.  Other universities, however, felt no such qualms and rapidly went to the ABCD grading system.  Something similar may well happen with badges.  To what extent is the ecosystem envisioned as a place where groups -- classrooms, clubs, etc. -- earn badges, as well as individuals?

How about badges for organisations (providing badges)?

This is certainly something that could be done. Currently, this is not built into the Open Badge Infrastructure (and defined badge metadata specification) because we are focusing on individual accomplishments and skills. At this point, all members of a group could be issued a badge, but each individual would get it (and own it) separately.

If this is going to work on a larger scale, do you think there needs to be a badge accreditation system to assess badge issuers and curricula?

We are talking about a different and new system here so we want to avoid imposing limitations on the system from the beginning. There is already plenty of information carried with each badge, including the criteria/assessment behind the badge and the issuer, so that is enough information to value the badge for most cases. Mozilla is building the capacity for third party endorsements of badges, so that could function as a way to add in more formal accreditation, or there may be markets/organizations that emerge around the consumption side of badges and create filters or ranking systems. We don’t know yet, but there are a lot of possibilities and we should be open to considering all of them at this stage.

How are assessments actually integrated into the badges?

The badge is something issued after the successful completion of an assessment. So the learning experiences, assessments and interactions can still occur as they are now, its just that there is now a badge at the end to recognize the learning/skill. Once issued, the badge includes metadata that explains the badge, including a link back to the criteria behind the badge, which in many cases will be a description of the assessment. So in that sense, the assessment is embedded with the badge so that people consuming the badge understand what was accomplished to earn it. Also, there is an optional piece of metadata that links back to the evidence, or learner work. This might be the work submitted for the assessment, and even the assessment feedback. This information then is also carried with the badge. (NOTE: this metadata field is optional since some evidence URLs may have personal information that the issuer/user does not wish to share). 

Could a third party issue a badge based on the completion of an open course, without the input of the original institution?

It depends on how the open content is licensed. If it is completely public and remixable, there could be third parties that take the content and build experiences and badge systems around it. But if the original insitution maintains some rights to the content, then they would most likely have to approve or own the badge system aligned with the content. It may be that they explicitly open it up to other badge designers and endorse a certain subset of those badges more formally.

How about coordinating badge efforts with iTunesU and OpenCourseWare?

Yes, definitely! Both ITunesU (or content owners on it) and MIT could be badge issuers. They would be very valuable additions to the ecosystem.

How do we authenticate user's identities? Hopefully users can't transfer badges?!

For badges in the Open Badge Infrastructure, the user is identified via email address (using Mozilla BrowserID). The user can log into their Badge Backpack and view all of their badges associated with that email address. When they try to use the badge, or put it somewhere, the consumer/displayer can call back through the OBI to the issuer and validate/authenticate the badge by asking the issuer if this badge is connected to this user, and if it is still valid. If the issuer responds positively, the badge is validated and confirmed. If there is not a positive response, the badge is unvalidated.

If a badge is an open badge, can it only be used on open platforms? Or could I display these badges on my company intranet?

The badge infrastructure is designed to be open and accessible, thus allowing portability and representation across the web — that includes all platforms. If your company designs a widget that permits badge display on their intranet, the infrastructure could accommodate that sort of display. Should your company develop an internal assessment rubric and associated badge system, they can issue and display badges that can then in turn be shared outside of the corporate intranet. Sharing reinforces the value of the infrastructure and the badge ecosystem.

Should badges ever expire, or should they be permanent?

One of the defining aspects of the Open Badge Infrastructure is the badge manifest, or the information that defines the content embedded in the badge PNG. In the manifest, the badge issuer can assign expiration dates to badges so as to limit their lifespan. As to whether or not the badges should be permanent, that’s a decision to be made by the badge issuer when they develop assessment and award policies.
How much control will I have over my badge portfolio? I’m on the job market right now, and I tweak my resume depending on the job I’m applying for. Could I have separate urls that I give to different employers, each one showing the badges I might want them to see?
As we develop the Open Badge Infrastructure, the badge recipient is foremost in our minds. Badge recipients, or owners, will have complete control over where their badges are displayed. Indeed, recipients will be able to host their own badge backpack, thus controlling the display of their badges. As the badge ecosystem grows, recipients will have increasing opportunities to display their badges in new venues (websites, blogs, Facebook, professional job sites, etc.)
How will badges display obsolescence?
If by obsolescence you mean expiration, badges are designed to have the capacity to expire. We are addressing how expiration might be indicated in badge display as well as in the badge backpack. The question of badge expiration will be answered by the badge issuer during the badge system assessment and award development.

Is everything badge friendly?
An interesting philosophical question. Badge issuers will be addressing this question as they begin to create assessment and award systems that underpin open badges. Open Badges offers one attempt to address learning, skills and competencies that are currently either unrepresented or underrepresented in traditional, formal personal representation on resumes and CVs. Soft skills such as community-mindedness, peer interaction, and mentoring present excellent assessment opportunities that may result in some of the most important badges to arise from the ecosystem.

How would an employer stay on top of an ever-growing list of badges which certify the relevant skills?
Open badges will carry information needed to understand and validate them so employers can use that information to see the criteria and evidence behind the badge, and confirm that this person did in fact earn this badge from this organization. Beyond that, there may be markets that emerge to help us filter, rank and make sense of badges to help employers quickly figure out how to value the badge.
Will badges make learning cheaper? 
It depends on what is meant by cheaper. Will badges make learning more inexpensive and accessible? They could make some learning channels more viable and legitimate for jobs and other types of advancement. Will they cheapen or diminish learning?  We don’t think so. Badges for Lifelong Learning is about giving recognition for learning that already occurs. We certainly stress the importance of robust assessments and innovative approaches to learning behind many of the badges, but also see value in other kinds of goal-driven badges as well. We hope solid research and attention is given to these badge systems to have more evidence behind their effectiveness and best practices.
Could badges apply both to individuals (students) and institutions (schools, employers, government, etc.)?
The awarding of badges does not have to be limited to individuals, although the current iteration of open badges does focus on individuals and their accomplishments. As the ecosystem evolves and grows, it may begin to encompass large and small organizations, institutions, and government agencies. Endorsers, third parties who endorse certain badges or badge systems, will begin to have an impact on the development of the entire ecosystem. One of the best parts of the Open Badge Infrastructure is its openness, which means that all members of the open web can help frame it, build it, and benefit from it.

Who is the target audience for badges? K-12? Postsecondary?
While the academic community has responded vocally to the idea of open badges, the target audience includes any organization, institution, individual, group, etc. who would like to offer and support representations of learning, achievements, skills, and competencies.

How are assessments actually integrated into the badges?
You’ve asked an important question. Mozilla is developing the Open Badge Infrastructure that acts as the plumbing to the badge ecosystem. We’re making it easier to formally represent learning, skills, achievements, and competencies. The other vital aspect for developing the open badge ecosystem involves individuals, organizations, groups, institutions, and government agencies creating and defining badge systems and assessment rubrics. Essentially the ecosystem arises from the creation of those badge systems and assessment rubrics and Open Badge Infrastructure guarantees the portability, personalization, and openness of the system.

It's not the badges that are of value to a Boy Scout.  It is becoming an Eagle Scout that outsiders value.  If I didn't go to college and collect badges for 4 years I might have a lot of skills and knowledge.  But how is that packaged into something of value that is recognized?

A badge system will have different values embedded in it along the way. There are plenty of Scouts that don’t become Eagle Scouts but still proudly wear their badges. There is something to be said for getting incremental achievements, while also having something larger that motivates the learner to work towards.