By Jade Forester

At this year’s MozFest, the Badge Alliance was represented by three team members—Carla Casilli led a research-focused session and held office hours throughout the festival weekend, and Sunny Lee and I sat down with a group of attendees to dig into this year’s accomplishments and start to look at areas in need of attention in the coming year.

We used the Cycle 1 Working Groups as a starting point, focusing on each to identify gaps still to be filled in key areas of both the infrastructure that supports Open Badges and the growing ecosystem that expands adoption of badges. Upon our return from MozFest, we brought our notes from this group exercise to the Community Call, inviting attendees to add their thoughts. These conversations helped clarify the most critical issues facing the open badges community as we continue to push this work forward.

WGs

Here’s what we found:

Employers will be the key to widespread adoption

Workers need jobs. Employers need talent. Badges can help workers showcase their full skill sets and allow employers to identify candidates with the right qualifications and competencies. This has been part of the Open Badges narrative since day one, and as we see increased adoption of badges within education, the next step is to help more employers see the value proposition in using badges to differentiate between job applicants and identify those with the right skill set. Without employer buy-in, badges earned for academic or professional skills cannot have meaning outside of the issuing environment.

During Cycle 1 the Workforce Working Group developed an Employer FAQ, identified a list of existing workforce badge use cases, and created an employer pipeline graphic for Open Badges. Expanded badging piloting and documentation particularly as part of the hiring and training processes, will lead to increased employer acceptance. It will also enhance the value of existing badges, especially the badges that align with industry standards in particular fields.

Some members of the community indicated that veterans separating from the military will play an increasingly important role in workforce, therefore focusing badge activity and adoption in this area could potentially yield great success—not only for the veterans but also for employers. Continued efforts will be needed to support open badges initiatives aimed at connecting veterans with civilian employment opportunities.

We need to keep pushing for badges in higher education

Badges are steadily gaining a foothold in higher education as a way for instructors to recognize a wider range of skills and achievements than traditional credentials allows – institutions such as UC Davis are using badges as a supplement to traditionally graded programs. Others are pushing the envelope even further, such as Dr. Bernard Bull at Concordia University Wisconsin, who has developed a master’s program in education technology based entirely on competency-based digital badges. Many are still reluctant to integrate badges into their courses; the Campus Policy Framework Document developed by the Policy Working Group will help more institutions find a way to make badges work for them.

Continued collaboration by the community will be increasingly important as more educational bodies and institutions start to explore and adopt badges. The Higher Education Working Group started curating a list of examples of badges in higher education – if you know of more, add them to the list!

Continued research is vital

Building on a quickly developing base of ongoing open badges investigation, the Open Badges Research strives to establish a research base that reports on a variety of open badges aspects. A nice progression from the Research & Badge System Design Calls, now with a stronger emphasis on traditional academic research, this group covers the entire realm of the open badges ecosystem, and actively works to provide the public with meaningful information about open badges.The group’s foundational landscape survey—developed with IRB review and exemption granted from the University of Michigan (thanks Steve Lonn!)—will help badge researchers find future areas of focus. By coalescing, investigating, and funneling research activity into accessible locations, the research community will continue to expand on this meaningful research base that benefits the entire ecosystem.

Global Cities of Learning will bring badges to communities around the world

2014 has truly been a year of global growth for Open Badges. Initiatives such as Badge The UK have continued to raise awareness of badges in the UK; European badging projects have seen increased activity in France, Finland, Serbia, Spain, and Germany; and Down Under, the OBANZ community has formed to support the research, development and adoption of Open Badges in Australia and New Zealand.

The Cities of Learning initiative grew from one summer program in 2013 to six summer and year-round initiatives in 2014. Now that there is increased global badging activity, international cities are starting to investigate the value of using badges to recognize youth activity. Partnerships with local governments and community leaders will be the key to developing an international Cities of Learning movement—the driving force will come from the communities, not from outside influences.

The Open Badges Standard is really important

The Open Badges Standard and technical infrastructure (OBI) are the lynchpins that hold the ecosystem together: their importance can’t be understated, and the community recognizes this. There are several issues that the badges team and community have been working on that are in need of continuing efforts, including:

  • The Backpack: The community has requested that the Mozilla Backpack receive continued attention to address bugs and find solutions to common problems such as sign-on identities, and to get us closer to backpack federation, which Chris McAvoy has written about extensively. Other backpack options are also starting to emerge – Serge Ravet and Nate Otto will be presenting a peer-to-peer Open Badge Passport at the OpenEd Conference in late November, and Digital Me’s Tim Riches led a brainstorming session at MozFest to gather ideas for a ‘next generation backpack’ maintained by a dedicated team of developers.
  • The Directory: The Directory Working Group, led by Achievery’s Kerri Lemoie, released an initial prototype of the Open Badges Directory during Cycle 1. There’s still a lot of work ahead for the directory to live up to its full potential, and the group is eager to tackle a number of key focus areas, including: listing badge instances in addition to badge classes; additional API endpoints; and exploring ways to lower the barrier of entry for badge issuers while still clearly articulating the value of open badges. Read more over on Sunny’s blog.
  • Endorsement: Endorsement will be a game changer in terms of how badges are used, understood, and trusted, because it allows third-party organizations to publicly indicate which badges are aligned with their values and are therefore most meaningful and useful to them, Working closely with the the Standard Working Group, the Endorsement Working Group produced the initial technical implementation proposal to support badge endorsement. The conceptual framework for digital badge endorsement is outlined in the Endorsement Working Group’s seminal working paper. Ongoing technical development for badge endorsement will allow badge adoption to reach a critical tipping point, encouraging the further development of open badges trust networks.
  • Shareability: The portability of the badge has been an integral part of the narrative since day one, but making that experience more intuitive is something the community is in need of. This includes being able to easily share badges on LinkedIn, as the biggest professional network on the web, as well as easy integration with online résumés and digital portfolios. While the community have found a number of workarounds, collaboration with critical players will be the key to making this a smoother process.
  • Building technical resources: As an open source project, Open Badges relies on a vibrant community of volunteers to report and fix bugs in Github; encouraging technically-minded folks to get involved will be an ongoing need for the community to address. As other organizations work to build out badging platforms, a connected network of resources will help the ecosystem continue to grow without each newcomer having to start from scratch.

Get involved: be the change you wish to see

We’ve identified a number of important areas for community contribution over the coming months. None of them were particularly surprising; these are issues we’ve been talking about for a while now. We’ve already achieved so much—if you haven’t already checked out the overview of our successes from Cycle 1, do it now—but there is still much more work to be done.

The exciting part is, the work has already begun. No-one has to start from scratch, and there is a thriving community ready to support and collaborate with you. We started this work the same way we’ll accomplish the things we outlined above: as a community.

 

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