How could you reflect on-the-job training in your CV? How can students dropping out of a course evidence their work? To find out more about accreditation for learners, Jisc Inform spoke to Carla Casilli, director of badge system design at the Mozilla Foundation in the US, to explore how open badges might be part of the solution.
Carla, who is based in Los Angeles says:
“I believe that learning is everywhere and that there’s a real place for open badges in that ecosystem. We started down the road toward making that a reality about three years ago, but having got the plumbing right we’re now focusing on making it easier for people to use them.”
Open badges are digital credentials that, once earned, you can display anywhere. Apart from being a lot prettier than a traditional CV, they recognise achievement and attributes that may not be recognised in formal qualifications. They are underpinned by an open accreditation infrastructure developed by Mozilla but supported around the world by organisations like Jisc.
The issuing organisation 'bakes' into the badge the criteria for earning it, as well as other information like who the badge was issued to and when, making each one unique and trustworthy.
Many consider that badges should be awarded only after appropriate assessment. But Carla disagrees:
“Open badges don’t necessarily need to acknowledge only learning – they may, for example, recognise participation. I don’t have a problem with that. This is a very wide open field and I’m interested in a broad eco-system approach to that challenge.”
“Within five years, I’d like to see badges being used everywhere as bridges – whether that is for students who haven’t finished a course, to help them get a job; to share knowledge and scaffold off a course; and to create personal pathways for people.” Users have absolute control of how they display them, and may for example choose to show certain badges and not others when applying for a particular job.
For example, when someone separates from the military, badges can be used to show future employers the skills they’ve already learned,” she explains. They are also useful for breaking up the learning journey especially for those who feel the point of reward is too far off."
Carla cites professional development as one area in which she’s recently noticed real developments, as employers and learning providers seek to recognise the work and effort that a professional might put in to keep up with changes in their field.
An emerging currency
“But one of the challenges we face is that open badges don’t act as social currency everywhere yet. When Purdue University [a major US research university] began using them and creating tools so that other organisations could use them, it was a wonderful reinforcement of our work. Seton Hall University [the oldest diocesan university in the US] is encouraging a sense of community among freshers using social badges. So it is starting to happen.”
It’s clear that for badges to have currency, people need to be confident in their value, so Mozilla is working with the open badges community to develop standard types. Additionally, the organisation encourages 'distributed co-creation', people creating badges that have currency among their own communities.
It’s clear that for badges to have currency, people need to be confident in their value, so Mozilla is working with the open badges community to develop standard types. Additionally, the organisation encourages 'distributed co-creation', people creating badges that have currency among their own communities. Carla says:
“We’re not worried about duplication of effort. Open badges will work differently everywhere.”
The global movement
Carla has seen worldwide interest and uptake of the concept, including in China and India. She says:
“If anything, practitioners in these countries are even more accepting than their US and European counterparts, because there is already such a strong culture of certification. There’s outreach happening everywhere. The way that we look at Jisc is as another node; there are so many forward thinkers in Jisc and they have the opportunity to share their own concept of badges.”
In the UK open badges were thrust into the spotlight in autumn 2013 when the Scottish Qualifications Authority announced it was working with Mozilla to explore their adoption. And would encourage its partners to do the same. After years of work from Jisc, it was the permission to innovate that the education community needed – and now, six months on, more providers are looking into the opportunities with support from organisations like Digital Me which leads the Badge the UK scheme.
Grainne Hamilton of our Regional Support Centre in Scotland says:
“In Scotland we are doing some world-leading work in this area – to raise profile and develop the thinking, for example through the Open Badges in Scottish Education Group (OBSEG). It provides a forum for discussion, connection-forming and joint developments.”
Where do I get started?
In the past, people looking to create such a digital emblem might have needed a certain knack with Wordpress or design, but now, Carla says, it’s all change:
“When BadgeKit launches it will be a one-stop shop for people wanting to get started,” says Carla. “You won’t need to be a professional designer: the kit will help people and organisations create badges in a simple way.”
Open badges in action: Borders College, Scotland
Since being introduced to open badges at a Jisc Regional Support Centre Scotland conference in 2012, Borders College has been issuing open badges for a variety of purposes.
Students at the college get a digital literacy badge if they complete their profile on the college’s virtual learning environment; their whole staff continuing professional development (CPD) recognition system is also online and uses badges for recognition. David Killean, vice-principal for quality and innovation at the college, says:
“Open badges have enormous potential in motivating learning, improving retention and in presenting the skills of our learners in a way that is clear and accessible for them and employers. We believe in using the media and technology that young people are comfortable with and crediting their learning and skills in a way that is meaningful and motivational for them.”
This article originally featured in issue 39 of Jisc Inform (UK web archive)