Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Open Badges: Trying to navigate through the melting pot of ideas

A short literature review on open badges in Higher Education generates a large number of conflicting emotions and views around their potential. I’d sum these up as follows;
  1. uncertainty
  2. excitement
  3. potential
  4. irrelevance
  5. anxieties
  6. disruptive
  7. game changer
  8. questionable
  9. learner centred
This short discussion explores what underpins these emotions and opinions, and how a HE Institution might progress with open badges in the short term.

Open badges are relatively new. “There is currently little in the formal literature relating to their use or impact” (Glover & Latif (2013:1402)). Their importance as a means of accrediting learning was highlighted in the Innovating Pedagogy Report 2013, and it is clear open badges play a role in enabling many of the ideas discussed within the Innovating Pedagogy Report 2014.

A digital badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest ( From the learner’s perspective this opens up the opportunity of their learning environment no longer being tied to a structured classroom or online space, but being wider, encompassing formal and informal learning opportunities. Badges enable learners to navigate “multiple pathways to gain competencies and refine skills through open, remixable and transparent tools, resources and process” (Mozilla Foundation (2012:4). Within this context open badges are the method to demonstrate the outcomes of this evolving learning journey.

Given open badges are a recent innovation, this discussion is grounded within the knowledge they will undergo significant changes. Carey (2012) states, “many of the first badge systems will fail … they won’t be designed well enough or properly connected to communities of interest”.

The question is, what are the current discussions around open badges?

Glover and Latif (2013)’s study indicates the use of badges in formal education is a conceptual struggle, however students and staff are engaged within creative discussions. For instance, staff wish to explore badges within reference writing, while the students wish to differentiate badges with some only available to high achievers. However, both groups felt employer engagement was important.

Gibson et al., (2015) review of badges in HE see the uses around incentivising learners to engage in positive learning behaviours, identify progress in learner and provide credits for engagement, learning and achievements. They explore the positive potential on a leaners motivation, through status recognition and evidence of achievement.

Carey (2012) explores the impact on traditional assessment and recognition methods in HE. His discussion highlights the disruptive nature of badges and their potential as a game changer. Carey (2012) notes, open badges make the standard college transcript look like a sad and archaic thing. Where the information within the transcript is both limited in quantity and usefulness to employers. On one level this challenges the current locus of control within the the assessment process. For instance, the wider use and acceptance of badges would encourage the learner to develop their own assessment framework.

The previous point hinges on the acceptance of open badges across society. Therefore, the role of employers becomes critical. Open badges enable a learner to present a rich picture of themselves, however, adoption is dependent on them being credible to employers and professional bodies. Therefore, they will succeed or fail on how desirable people find the issued badges (Glover 2013).

Davies et al., (2015) identify there is significant opportunity of using open badges to certify practice compared to the current practice based on a degree and examination route. They outline a top-down design framework and conclude with “a carefully prepared and effeciently implemented certification system based on open badges could potentially provide a transparent, flexible, efficient, rigorous and credible way of certify evaluators” (Davies et al., (2015:161).

Some of the emerging concerns from the literature are around the rigour of the badge and the badging system. Currently, the rigour of the assessment criteria and trust is placed on those who authorized the badge. Therefore, questions must be asked concerning what mechanisms are in place and how is quality assured? Goligoski’s (2012) review summarises public concerns of open badges, and provides a longer term perspective around badges becoming just a commodity, which as digital assets may exclude some individuals, resulting in an uneven implementation. If this occurs, it would be expected open badges will remain on the periphery.

Within the above context, the next question is, how might an institution progress with its open badge initiatives?

The starting is institutions need to start piloting the use of open badges within the formal and informal learning provision.

The less contentious route is to focus on the informal learning mechanisms within an institution as a means of piloting a number of initiatives. The pilot needs to help the institution articulate the questions to ask within its context. For instance, what do students and staff currently perceive as the potential of open badges? What value do local employers place on open badges? How should be manage the open badge infrastructure? While addressing the trickier questions at the heart of the debate, what value does a badge have? Should be we concerned about comparing learning effort across badges?

At UCS the first stage has been to develop the infrastructure, and pilot some uses around informal learning opportunities, including reflections on conferences and workshops, and the completion of study skill workshops. This has developed a broader understanding of the answers to some of the earlier questions, while building up confidence and capacity in a robust and resilient infrastructure. On reflection, within the literature this is prevalent approach, the toe in the water, to help contextualise what open badges mean to us.

However, for successful technological adoption, we’ll need to ensure two key elements are aligned if these small scale, unconnected pilots are to morph into an institutional wide impact.
  1. Leadership from the top. At the moment there is no senior / academic lead endorsing and driving the change programme and pilot. However, this is required so they can articulate how the technology supports the institutional strategic vision.
  2. Institutional commitment and investment. The provision of ring fencing resources to deliver the change. A successful pilot project will require academic staff input. Therefore, involvement must be recognised as a valid activity for staff and is reflected within workload models.
  3. Engage with local employees to discuss their opinion of badges and the potential  role they play
I would suggest if an institution wished to progress on open badges it does not need to go through the early adopter, proof of concept stage, as there are enough lessons learnt within the public domain. They should progress straight to a large scale pilot with top level institutional support.

Further Reading

  • Carey, K. (2012) A Future Full of Badges. Available at: (Accessed: 17 June 2015)
  • Davies, R., Randall, D. and West, R. E. (2015) ‘Using Open Badges to Certify Practicing Evaluators’, American Journal of Evaluation, 36(2), pp. 151–163. doi: 10.1177/1098214014565505
  • Gibson, D., Ostashewski, N., Flintoff, K., Grant, S. and Knight, E. (2013) ‘Digital badges in education’, Education and Information Technologies, 20(2), pp. 403–410. doi: 10.1007/s10639-013-9291-7
  • Glover, I. (2013) Open badges: a visual method of recognising achievement and increasing learner motivation. Available at: (Accessed: 17 June 2015)
  • Glover, I. and Latif, F. (2013) Investigating perceptions and potential of open badges in formal higher education. Available at: (Accessed: 17 June 2015)
  • Goligoski, E. (2012) ‘Motivating the Learner: Mozilla’s Open Badges Program’, Access to Knowledge, 4(1), pp. 1–8.
  • Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (ed.) (no date) Digital Badges. Available at: (Accessed: 17 June 2015)
  • Jovanovic, J. and Devedzic, V. (2014) ‘Open Badges: Novel Means to Motivate, Scaffold and Recognize Learning’, Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 20(1), pp. 115–122. doi: 10.1007/s10758-014-9232-6
  • Open University (ed.) (no date) Innovating Pedagogy 2014 | Open University Innovations Report #3. Available at: (Accessed: 17 June 2015)
  • The Mozilla Foundation (ed.) (2012) Open Badges for Lifelong Learning. Available at: (Accessed: 17 June 2015)

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