Why I would like to use Open Badges for Assessment

Image by Stuart Frisby CC BY 2.0

Assessment linked to open badges has been generating some interest lately. The concept of badges is not new, they have been an integral part of the Scouting and Girl Guides movements to recognise skills or attributes for many years and digital badges are often used in gaming, where they can be gained as recognition of certain achievements while participating in a game. However there has been interest in badges recently in other contexts. The idea of using them more widely and in particular developing open badges (which are philosophically similar to open source or open educational resources (OERs), where source code or resources are made freely available and can be contributed to by the community), was highlighted last year when the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC, set up the “Badges for Learning” competition to explore potential uses for badges in learning using Mozilla’s free and open source Open Badges Infrastructure. The thinking is that badges might be used to recognize and accredit skills and achievements, which can include hard skills, such as the ability to create a functioning and secure e-Assessment or pass a course, but also skills which are often not accredited in formal education settings, such as being a good team player, effective facilitator, contributing effectively to community resources etc.

Badges and my own experience

Thinking about badges in terms of my own learning and career, there have been times when it would have been useful to have some transferable and recognized way of demonstrating skills that would be relevant to a particular job.

I haven’t taken a particularly conventional path career-wise and have moved into working in new areas as challenges and roles have inspired me. Having worked in television for just over a year (and gained a relevant degree for that profession), I decided I wanted to change course into the then reasonably new and rapidly evolving world of new media. Given the pace of change in this area, this required the gaining of a completely new set of hard skills and digital literacies quickly, if I wanted to keep up with developments. After reading job descriptions to see what web development / design agencies were looking for, I decided not to do a university or college course (I don’t recall there being many / any that would have provided the relevant training to an appropriate level in the software needed at that time) but chose instead a 6 week intensive course with a commercial company that provided training recognized by the developers of the main software I needed to learn. The company also developed websites and eLearning resources so was the kind of company I hoped to work with on finishing my course.

This learning choice was a fairly pricey one and only resulted in a certificate of completion, unrecognized by any awarding bodies or independent verifiers. It would have been useful to have had a way of validating the level of knowledge and skill I had gained in a more transferable way, perhaps verified by a third party, that I could show prospective employers or use to count towards future learning scenarios. If I could have had a means of demonstrating the softer skills I had, such as the ability to communicate technical issues, work autonomously but also be an effective team player, that would probably have increased my employment prospects further. As it was, these attributes were recognized by the company I trained with, and they offered me a job. If I had not spent time with them for 6 weeks, it would have been harder to demonstrate these other skills that made me suitable for employment with them.

I think that if badges had existed when I was undertaking this fast-paced period of learning and job searching, they would have been a useful way to demonstrate the full range of soft and hard skills I had to any prospective employer in a recognized and verifiable way. It seems to me that there could be massive potential in badges for transforming the assessment landscape, bridging formal and informal learning spheres and recognizing the softer skills and literacies that are constantly evolving but which are vital if we are to keep up with the pace of change we are experiencing at this time in our learning, working and social lives.

Useful links 

Overview of the Mozilla Open Badges concept

White paper by the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla Foundation

Technical information on the Open Badge Infrastructure


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