6 Predictions for Open Badges in 2016

About this Blog

So: a mere 23 years after discovering the World Wide Web at TVOntario, this is my first real blog post. It’s taken a while to distill my thoughts. 8->
I’ll be leveraging my edtech-soaked obsessions with digital identity, online community, lifelong learning and career development, and this will be a combination of speculation, evaluation, reportage and related rabbit holes from the perspective of an advocate and active participant. I’ve been pretty active on social media such as Twitter and  Slideshare; this should help fill the cracks with longer explorations of the ideas that I’ve been sharing there.

About this Post

Nothing like setting yourself up for trouble on your very first blog post, but it is January 1st after all, and it seems only natural to look ahead at the coming year. I may regret this 12 months from now. Or I may feel like a genius.
Open Badges have followed an interesting path since the idea was sketched on a napkin after the 2011 MozFest in Barcelona. 2016 will mark 5 years since their inception. Are they poised for the big time, or is this concept still “ahead of market adoption”, to quote Madison Area Technical College’s Academic Plan for 2014-2107?

List of predictions

  1. Coming to Canada: Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport
  2. Version 2.0 of the OBI Standard
  3. Endorsement by Third Parties
  4. Alignment to Frameworks
  5. Regional Badge Ecosystems
  6. October in Bologna: ePIC 2016


1. Coming to Canada: Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport

This is the one I have most control over: my company Learning Agents is working with Discendum to launch a clone of the complete Finnish solution on Canadian servers in early 2016.
I’ve been an early and staunch supporter of Open Badge Factory (the issuing platform) and Open Badge Passport (the complementary storage and display platform) since I invited Mozilla Foundation to introduce Open Badges at ePortfolio and Identity Conference (ePIC) in 2012. Mark Surman couldn’t make it except via this video clip:
…but Carla Casilli and Doug Belshaw (then at Mozilla) did a great job of inspiring the European ePortfolio community that June in London in 2012, including Eric Rousselle, CEO of Discendum from Finland.
Eric and his development team at Discendum conceived Open Badge Factory as a solution for educators and trainers to issue Open Badges in distributed learning environments (ePortfolio, LMS, online community of practice, face to face) but to manage them centrally, ensuring coherent issuer control and avoiding badge fragmentation (because “badge rot is real!”).
More recently, they introduced Open Badge Passport as a more robust and flexible alternative to Mozilla Backpack. This loosely coupled tandem of Factory and Passport should be more flexible than the tightly integrated competition. We’re betting so at Learning Agents, and I’ve been very impressed with the momentum of innovation that Discendum has been able to sustain over the past two years.
A micro-credentialing solution housed on Canadian servers will be “PIA-friendly” (PIA= Privacy Impact Assessment), and therefore more attractive for Canadian academic and public institutions who may be interested in micro-credentialing, but concerned about PIPEDA, the US Patriot Act and related privacy issues. The fact that it originates from a country which respects privacy and is known for its educational outcomes doesn’t hurt either.  The Canadian service will be re-branded to avoid confusion with the original that continues to be offered from servers in Finland.
More on this via other channels in the coming weeks.

2. Version 2.0 of the OBI Standard

Nate Otto has been doing a great job wearing half a hat as Interim ED of the Badge Alliance in addition to his duties at Concentric Sky. I’m hoping that 2016 will see greater stability for the mandate and funding of the Badge Alliance so that Nate and other stakeholders such as LRNG are able to steer the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) standard from 1.1 to 2.0, sometime in the summer of 2016.
The standard has holes in it and anyway must continue to evolve in a changing environment and growing awareness of its potential as a building block for learning and recognition pathways. Details of the scope of changes for 2.0 are still sparse, but watch the OPEN BADGE STANDARD WORKING GROUP for details as they emerge.
Version 1.1 brought us Extensions, which enabled all kinds of new functionality, and we haven’t harvested anywhere near the total benefit of that yet. Because Version 2.0 is a major upgrade, expect some things to break from previous versions of the OBI, but also expect accessible migration paths.

3. Endorsement by Third Parties

The most obvious example of Endorsement is a standards organization endorsing badge issuers and/or the badges they issue, but could also include consumer or stakeholder community endorsement, such as by employers, industry associations or regional networks.
whats a badge really worth
Bryan Mathers, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
This is one of the barriers holding back cautious potential issuers and consumers from adopting Open Badges. Endorsement is now theoretically possible via Extensions in version 1.1 of the OBI, which have already been used to enable distributed issuing networks (“badge sharing“) and geolocation. Version 2.0 of the standard may also have a role to play.
Expect to see one or more OBI-compliant implementations of Endorsement in 2016.

4. Alignment to Frameworks

This is another “popular” barrier to adoption for early and late majorities. Assuming an Open Badge is of “good quality”, where does it fit, what is its relevance? How can you use it to recognize the skills and abilities of the earner? The OBI makes Open Badges technically “portable” between contexts, but how is a badge in one context meaningful in another?
One way is to align the badges to standards. This is already starting to happen with Teacher PD and the ISTE standards (see both Digital Promise and  PD Learning Network in the US)  and in the world of IT with the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) framework (see QualIT example from New Zealand and this proposed model from South Africa…there will be one from Canada in 2016, if all goes well.)
However, the OBI doesn’t currently support Alignment very well…in the standard it’s just a single URL with an open text description. What’s needed is is a standardized way of referring to a framework and where this badge fits in that framework. This will improve things such machine readability, discoverability and modular development pathways, helping Open Badges achieve their potential as developmental building blocks in interoperable skills ecosystems. Myknowledgemap‘s Justframeworks.com from the UK may be useful in this regard. It’s a simple solution that avoids leveling where possible, although I am sure there will be other solutions that are more complex and may still be simple enough to work. I was hearing again recently about Simon Grant’s InLOC specification in this regard.
Expect to see some meaningful progress on this file on several fronts in 2016.

5. Regional Badge Ecosystems

What if you gave a badge and nobody cared? This is true of far too many badge systems. Open Badges are easy to do…badly. A common shortcoming is an over-emphasis on what’s easy for a single instructor to do: formative, “gamified learning” learning strategies to engage (torture?) students inside the context of a course. If there’s no meaning for the badge beyond that course, no redeemable, summative value outside of the context, why:

  • …should students care, especially if they’re uncomfortable with certain aspects of gamification?
  • …bother making it a portable Open Badge?

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using digital badges for gamification inside a context – Khan Academy is a decent example of this. But that’s not why Open Badges were invented, hence the tagline: “Get recognition for skills you learn anywhere.” For ongoing meaning, there has to be a summative recognition value to the badge:
Source: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges
Summative recognition implies someone doing the summing up: the badge audience (or “consumer”). It can be an audience of employers, admissions officers at educational institutions, or any entity that needs to assess the capabilities of a candidate. A clear awareness of audience is typically missing in hasty badge implementations. Good badge system design engages badge audiences early, sometimes even giving them a chance to co-create the badges. Then, when candidates approach them with these badges, they are a familiar currency.
All well and good, but it can be an exhaustingly incremental process to build badge audiences org by org, or even sector by sector. What if you could bring a representative group of stakeholders together for a community or region to put Open Badges and common skills frameworks onto the local radar and vocabulary?
Excitingly, this is what’s starting to happen in these places:

  • Cities of LRNG (formerly “Cities of Learning”, but I guess they re-allocated the vowels) in Chicago, Dallas, Washington and Pittsburgh, soon to be followed by many more.
    This example is stronger on the “supply” side (i.e. issuers over audiences), but has good funding and great potential.
  • Colorado – a potentially converging cluster of: Colorado Community College System Badge Consortium (presentation), Colorado State University , and Aurora Public Schools (see Badge Summit advertised June 2016)

I also have hopes of helping get something similar going in BC’s Lower Mainland. I’ll be encouraging and tracking all this in 2016.

6. October in Bologna: ePIC 2016

Serge Ravet started this conference about ePortfolios in 2003 and I’ve attended every one since 2004. It’s my favourite conference, because it’s always been about staking out new territory.
In recent years, I’ve played more of a role in helping with the programming. I was able to introduce Open Badges in 2012 with Serge’s enthusiastic approval, and since then Open Badges have gained in prominence every year. That’s not surprising, because they represent a less monolithic, more modular and often complementary enhancement to the mission of ePortfolios.
This year, Serge’s organization ADPIOS is partnering with CINECA, the Italian HE consortium behind the new Bestr badge solution, to offer ePIC 2016 in the fascinating city of Bologna:
I *think* the dates will be October 27-29. We’re still finalizing the details, but should be able to issue the Call for Contributions soon.
This promises to be a banner year for ePIC. I’ll be returning to it in future posts as the year progresses.

In closing

Wow, this took a while; I hope it hasn’t been too long a read for you. I’ll be working to get quicker and pithier in future posts.

13 thoughts on “6 Predictions for Open Badges in 2016

  1. Just a brief note to see congratulations on your first post. Looking forward to this being a regular part of my online education in 2016 :O)
    We’ve recently put in place Concentric Sky’ss Badgr LTI on our CanvasVLE and looking forward to getting this running next year especially for crediting teacher skills. The OBP still remains a very creditable portfolio platform for presenting skills beyond the organisation.

    • Thanks Gideon! 2016 should be a watershed year for the community. Best of luck with your implementation; teacher PD continues to be an early adopter favourite. Will you be aligning with ISTE or something similar?

  2. Hi Don, Congrats on your first post. Some interesting predictions. I think the most significant one is that 2016 is the year we see Open Badges become mainstream!

    • Thanks Stephen!
      Having people like David Leaser of IBM leading the charge on the IT front helps! http://ibm.co/1VBhXQV Acclaim has done a great job of rounding up Fortune 500 companies for product training as an early proof of what’s possible. Now if they could only make those badges portable…

  3. Great (albeit a little verbose :-)) post, Don. Happy to see you are still so engaged in this – you’ve been such a champion of the eP movement so long and it is clear that Badges are a critical next step in ePortfolio. With the focus our new government has put on bringing in refugees, this could be so useful to us…probably a little late for the Syrian influx this year, but future immigration/transition actions could really benefit from recognizing this new currency of competencies.

    • Thanks Stephen. Open Badges for immigrants is one of those head-smacking shoe-drops that I’m still waiting for. A bit of stuff for ESL and PD, but that’s still about all. It’s a natural, both formatively and summatively, IMO. There’s some interesting work with ePortfolios for immigrants at a large agency in BC, but they haven’t taken the “critical next step”…yet.

    • Thanks Noah! I’m very interested in how you and your colleagues in Colorado will help make #5 (Regional Badge Ecosystems) a reality, so we can show the world how it’s done – in particular, Transition to PSE and Transition to Work. You have the pieces coming together nicely!

    • Grazie molto, Nicola. Non vedo l’ora di ottobre. (See, I’m already in training for Bologna, with the help of Google Translate). We’ll all be working hard to recruit speakers with great regional stories and real employer engagement. I’m sure Bestr itself will have a few tales to tell by then..

  4. Hi Don!
    Looking forward to interesting and fruitful conversations along this year. I would like to add three items to your list of predictions:
    * Blockchains: Open Badges will encounter blockchains and this might change the way we issue, store and exploit Open Badges and credentials. Shall we call it “Personal Open Ledger,” “Personal Assets Manager,” or something else, what is certain is that blockchains offer the opportunity to regain control over our data and be less dependent on platforms of all sorts (e.g. ePortfolio platforms and LMS). No need for “standards” like IMS-ePortfolio or Leap2A to import/export ePortfolios, as the data will be in publicly accessible blockchains.
    * Trust: trust will be central to the discussions around Open Badges, and we will be able to free ourselves from the “dictatorship” of the “pretty pictures.” The metadata (contained in Open Badges) will take precedence over the “pretty pictures” and we will be able to recognise achievements, commitments, competencies, etc. without having to be forced to go through a graphic design phase. The trust relationship between the issuer and the earner can do without it. This is one of the things the Open Badge Passport should be able to achieve.
    * Services: until now, Open Badge practice can be described as “spray and pray.” Technology development has been solely focused on badge issuing and the only people making a bit of dosh are publishers of issuing platforms. My prediction is that the revenue generating will start moving from “issuing” platforms to “consuming” services exploiting de metadata contained in badges and the relationships within and across trust networks. While it was one of the main reasons for developing the Open Badge Passport, shall Open Badges have enough traction to bring in service developers?
    I might be all wrong, but isn’t it what’s fun about predictions?

    • Hi Serge:
      Great to hear from you! Your contribution is a brain stimulant as always. Here are my comments on your comments:
      I deliberately left this one off, along with the “F” word (Federation). My feeling is that this year will see mostly development thinking and early experimentation with these technologies, not real deployment. See my 2017 predictions when they appear! (which may indeed have to acknowledge that I got it wrong).
      Let’s see where we’re at by your ePIC 2016 conference in Bologna Oct 27-29 which may feature some blockchain “ringers”, if rumours are true. (Mark your calendars, folks: you may see me eating my hat! Maybe a red hat.)
      I see this as more of a social and policy issue rather than a technology issue, although technologies like the promised Endorsement Extension and Open Badge Passport can help (especially once OBP completes its migration to the new DML-funded environment, releases OS code for community development and gets back on its innovation trajectory.)
      On the social/policy side, I think that finding the balance between established, emergent and even ephemeral badge issuers will be key in a smart badge ecosystem. I think it was you that may have said that trust is not binary, but emerges (or disappears) over time and across contexts. I agree.
      (Aftermarket) Services
      I love this one, which I would combine with your Trust one above.

  5. Pingback: Do Open Badges Make ePortfolios Obsolete? | Littoraly

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