Open Badges at the Mozilla Summit 2013

Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, discussing the importance of openness at the Mozilla Summit 2013, Brussels.

A version of this post was originally posted as ‘Open Badges at the Mozilla Summit’ on the RSC e-Assessment blog in October 2013.

What an inspiring few days I had at the Mozilla Summit 2013! The Summit brought together 2000 Mozillians in 3 cities, in 3 countries over 3 days. I attended the Brussels Summit and left it feeling inspired, excited, connected and even more in awe of the power of the open web and the people who are making it. By the people who are making it, I mean the people all over the world who are working in teams or on their own, paid or unpaid, to build open source software, open resources, open badges and an open culture on the web.

The Summit brought together Mozilla staff with the many volunteers who contribute to the range of open initiatives Mozilla drive forward. As well as participating in all the Open Badges sessions, I also led an open session on ‘Developing an Open Badge Eco-system’, sharing experiences from the Open Badges in Scottish Education Group. The session included people from Hungary, Uganda, the UK, Ireland, Germany, the USA, France, Canada, Belgium, Poland, Taiwan and the Czech Republic and provided an opportunity for everyone to consider areas of mutual interest and connections in terms of Open Badges.

Two areas became clear as being of common interest: recognising contributions and accrediting learning.

Contribution and Education

Recognising contribution is a key area of interest to me. In the years I have facilitated online courses, with learners in small online groups, there have always been some learners who have gone over and above in terms of contributing to the learning of the group. They’ve been the ones who have asked the really pertinent and interesting questions, actively contributed to and extended conversations in the forums, posted links to information and relevant resources, shared their own experiences and so on. Given that much of the courses I design focus on discovery through discussion, it is the contributions of the learners to those discussions that really drive the courses and the learning of the group as a whole. So when Open Badges came on the horizon, one of the areas I was really excited about was having a way of surfacing and rewarding those contributors who make a difference in the courses. In online courses I co-developed for the Jisc RSC Scotland, participants can vote for anyone providing the kinds of contributions outlined above. Anyone receiving 3 or more votes from their peers receives an Influencer badge.

In my session at the Summit, a group working on Mozilla’s web development tool Firebug, were interested in using Open Badges to recognise and value the contributions of volunteers to their software, people who contribute extensions or patches etc to Firebug. Submissions for the open source software are reviewed and applied if they pass a rigorous review process. This means anyone, anywhere can actively contribute to the development of Firebug for the benefit of all. Badges would be a great way to recognise that contribution, with the recipient being able to display the badges on professional profile pages, their blog etc and use them to demonstrate the quality of work they can do. The group focused on considering the practicalities of issuing badges, such as only issuing badges for submissions that have passed the review process rather than issuing a badge for every submission. They thought through how they would record the details of who should receive a badge, run a report from their database of contributors at certain intervals, gather the Persona email addresses of the contributors and award badges.

The other group in the session discussed some of the considerations arising in relation to using Open Badges in a formal education context. They came from colleges, universities, companies and included someone looking to develop an Open Badge national identity for accrediting teachers in Uganda. This group recognised that there were some common questions arising from people they have been working with around Open Badges. These included…

Challenge: if you use a third party badge issuing system how does someone viewing a badge know the stated issuer is genuine?

One of the really useful benefits of Open Badges is being able to trace back to who has chosen to issue the badge to the recipient. This is contained in the metadata of every Open Badge. If the badge issuer hosts the system for issuing the badge on one of their own websites, anyone viewing the badge will be taken to that site for the badge criteria and can make their own checks to verify that the issuer is who they say they are. Checks might include looking at other pages on the same site, evaluating if content on the site seems relevant and appropriate to the issuer etc. But what if someone pretends to be someone they aren’t and issues badges with a third party issuing system? The badge criteria is likely to be hosted within that issuing system so it wouldn’t be so easy to make the kind of checks regarding authenticity. This seems an area where it would be useful to see how badge issuing system developers might address this.

Challenge: Levelling – what’s the value of a badge?

Clearly, anyone can read the the metadata contained within a badge to ascertain information about the issuer and what the recipient has had to do to gain the badge. There is no template for writing critieria, however, to make key information explicit and easily discoverable. One is free to write criteria as one likes which provides scope for creativity, narrative and context but something I have been considering as a badge issuer myself, is if there could be a consistent way to pull out the key behaviours, learning outcomes, competences and the like so that they are easily digestible by anyone viewing the badge but could also make the badge more discoverable in a machine-readable way, ie so that they will show up in searches. Some possible options could include:

  • Tagging (which appears to be in the pipeline for development for the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI))
  • Showing the level of learning behind a badge using a qualifications framework such as the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). (It does take resources, and therefore time and money to be levelled using the SCQF, which might be problematic for some badge issuers)
  • Templates for writing critieria
  • Using a framework for writing critieria (we are hosting Simon Grant from CETIS to discuss Integrating Learning Outcomes and Competences (inLOC) at our Open Badges in Scottish Education Group meeting today to discuss if this could provide a consistent means of describing what is being achieved)

Through conversations I have had with employers and employer groups, such as the Industry Advisory Board for Computing in Scotland, it seems clear that employers would find it useful to be able to understand the level or value or a badge in an easy and accessible way. If you are an employer and going through many applications for a job, it makes sense that being able to quickly sum up the value of a badge would be useful. 


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