Today a group of educators from across North America met to discuss the Mozilla Foundation’s badges for learning initiative. NITLE organized this impromptu conversation, using Google’s Hangout function for a videoconference platform.
What follows are my notes, abbreviated and summary in an attempt to keep up with the free-wheeling exchange:
Alex Halavais (Quinnipiac) described his work with Mozilla, including using badges in his classes, and the opinions of colleagues. He noted that Mozilla has successfully won both mindshare and infrastructure placement, but has also stirred controversy.
Other participants, including Ed Webb (Dickinson) and Joe Murphy (Kenyon) raised questions of how badges can intersect with assessment – i.e., working with portfolio initiatives, or helping deepen existing assessment work. Badges could refine one’s sense of what’s learned in class.
Several participants more closely associated with the Mozilla Foundation explicated the badges program. Carla Casilli noted that a bottom-up approach suits the Mozilla perspective very well. Badges so far cover a mix of skills, including hard and soft ones, but Mozilla is focusing on doing the plumbing, i.e., infrastructure to support them. Matt Thompson (Mozilla Drumbeat) expanded on the use of badges for “exchange”, explaining that they should enable badge-holders to exchange meaning between different organizations and entities. Mozilla acts quickly, producing rapidly in a “publish, then filter” mode.
Where will badges live? Casilli and Thompson noted that the Badges Backpack idea (see wiki) was now being deemphasized in the Mozilla world. Backpack was originally supposed to be part of the Firefox browser. But now the architecture includes storing badge metadata information within the badge’s image file. In other words, badge-related information is “baked in”.
More on that badges infrastructure – who would build it? We discussed different large-scale structural issues, including the possibility of governments imposing badge structures in a top-down way, vs an alternative in classic bottom-up open source style. The idea of a “better badge bureau” was floated.
How would badges interact with current reputation projects, such as eBay’s seller status or Amazon’s reviewer rankings? We discussed the likelihood that some companies would resist the open badge idea, preferring to keep that information in-house. Other entities might be more amenable to using open badges, perhaps for competitive reasons. In that case Mozilla could serve as an intermediary or broker.
The conversation sped up from that point, so I have to identify topics rather than speakers:
- We already have badgelike functions in education – certificates, for example, or programs that must be completed in a unitary way (writing across the curriculum).
- There’s a key difference for schools between creating their own badges and considering those created by external authorities (imagine an MLA term paper badge).
- Introductory classes might be the best location for badge implementation.
- Badges could help flag achievements we associate with majors, but which aren’t clearly marked out by curriculum.
- One problem with badges: academic institutions inertia
- Another problem: institutions could warp badges out of shape by too much standardization (or too little), emptying them of value or meaning.
- Third problem: badges could increase learning’s commodification.
- Fourth: badges could focus attention too much, discouraging a focus on the learning itself or reflection around it
We turned to the future of badges, exploring how they might unfold over time.
- We saw a competing badges issue, competing on authorization sources. A pecking order of badge issuers would likely emerge. People would also want to display different badges to different audiences.
- A different split could surface re: what badges were awarded for, skills or experience?
- Badges’ reputation would have to build up over time, or fail to win support.
- Successful adoption of badges could have visual impact, if Web sites became too crowded with their images.
- ” ” ” ” ” negative value effects, if less valuable badges and/or authorities crowd out good ones.
- Badge-issuing authorities would have to develop, running the risk of some of them behaving badly.
- Faceted identity might support badges, letting users present different badges to different audiences.
- Adoption could occur in the open source world, working through those application sources.
All of this conversation occurred in about 50 minutes. Many thanks to the energetic, thoughtful, and provocative participants!
- The DML open badges competition
- The badges program launch video
- One good summary; another
- Mozilla’s white paper on the subject (pdf)
- Some badge ideas so far
- One curated page for badge articles
Leading criticisms from: