The realities of badging

‘Taking Care of Business’: The Realities of Badging

by John Casey, City of Glasgow College

John Casey facilitates deep discussion in the second badging workshop

John Casey facilitates deep discussion in the second badging workshop

I facilitated 2 workshop sessions on the ‘reality of badging’ as part of the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Advisory Forum that happened in Edinburgh on Monday 13th October. For those of you who are new to the idea of using digital ‘badges’ to evidence learning, check out the weblinks at the bottom of this post. It was a fascinating day, starting with an overview of the project followed by a keynote ‘big picture’ view of the state of open education by Prof. Martin Weller from the Open University entitled ‘The Battle for Open’. In his talk Martin argued that there were a number of competing narratives at work about the future shape of open education.

A key recurring narrative Martin identified was one aligned with commercial interest that pushed the idea of a ‘crisis’ in our (public) education systems to which the answer was invariably a technical and commercial fix. While stressing that he had no objection to private companies supplying services to the education sector (they always have done), Martin reminded us that the potential global education market was estimated at being many trillions of dollars and it is naïve to think that open education is somehow a ‘commerce free’ zone.

As it happens, Martin’s observation were borne out in some of the discussions about badges, where people in the community education sector had been using commercial badge services (notably and were now coming to think again about the long-term ‘business’ of issuing, earning and using badges – hence the title of this post. In many ways this is a good thing and shows that the use of badges is maturing and moving from a technical innovation at the edges of education to the mainstream.

The second badging workshop

The second badging workshop

Our discussions on badges started with a ‘reality check’ session that asked what the participants knew about badges. Most were already aware but some had not heard of badges before. So, in each session Doug Belshaw of the Mozilla foundation and Fionnuala Carmichael, Manager of JISC RSC Scotland provided a quick overview of badges. In essence badges are a digital format that can record and share people’s learning achievements (in the form of a graphic ‘png’ image file that also has readable information about the learning embedded inside). Badges were originally developed by the American Mozilla charitable foundation and you can find more information at this link

One thing that became clear in the discussion was that take-up, practice and understanding was widely different – natural in such a new development. It was striking that the two main uses of badges was seen in (i) accrediting informal learning such as work experience and so called ‘soft skills’ with a view to entering formal education and (ii) of evidencing professional development. There was little sign of educational institutions planning to use badges in conjunction with their formal certificated offerings, with some participants expressing disquiet at that prospect. In connection with this there followed a discussion about the innate conservatism of our education institutions and the long known problem of getting agreement to the accreditation of prior learning. It is worth recording that a representative of the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) was strongly in favour of FE colleges using badges to ‘enrich’ their formal qualifications and provide additional evidence to employers about a candidate’s skills, experience and employability.

It was suggested that getting institutional professional and educational development units to use badges to accredit their own courses for teachers would be a powerful way of spreading awareness and acceptance of the concept, a participant from Glasgow Caledonian University describing their use of badges and the development of a toolkit. In fact the two main VLEs  (Virtual Learning Environment) platforms in use in Scotland (Moodle and Blackboard) already have badge-making engines built in and ready to go. So, perhaps, the obstacles to this are not technical but rather cultural?

A striking and encouraging example of the use of badges for professional development was described by a participant from Abertay University who was working with the Law Society of Scotland to accredit and accept the use of 4 badges to provide annual mandatory CPD (continuing professional development) courses for lawyers. As with the case of teachers described above, examples of the uses of badges for accrediting professional development in this way can only be a good thing for driving the acceptance, credibility and adoptions of badges in general.

A theme that emerged strongly was how badges (by being linked to individuals, learning, certification and institutions) neatly act as a ‘lightening rod’ to highlight many of the issues facing education and training as we move further into the digital realm. Examples of this were about the long-term ownership and management of the badges, currently the Mozilla Foundation provides a long-term place (called the ‘backpack) where individuals can ‘park’ their badges and manage who can see them. But Doug Belshaw, from Mozilla, observed that the expectation was that institutions and commercial providers would provide their own systems, this led to some discussion about the possibility of Scottish solutions.

Another lightening-rod issue related to the use badges was how they highlight the challenges relating to ‘digital literacy’ at both a personal and institutional level. At its simplest this means how we manage and control our digital ‘stuff’ over a lifetime, something we all struggle to do. On a more personal level is the issue of how we use badges to support and manage our different online ‘personas’ – both professional and personal.

So, to sum up, it looks like badges are here to stay, although there is much more to be done. It was good to see a diverse attendance, especially from the community sector. As these sessions were part of an advisory forum, here are some ‘take-home’ messages for the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland project to think about as it makes plans for the future:

  • It would be useful to provide a library of case studies to help individuals and institutions make sense of badges and see how they might best make use of them – both in ‘plain English’ and in technical terms
  • Develop and provide guidelines for dealing with public bodies and private companies supplying ‘paid for’ services related to badges (including privacy issues)
  • Provide (or link to) toolkits and guidance for adopting badges in different sectors (Schools, FE, HE, Community Education, Commercial and Industrial etc.)
  • An ‘aggregation’ service or ‘index’ that links to the UK and global open education initiatives using badges. This would be useful for newcomers, researchers and practitioners alike to help situate their work with badges in the diverse wider open education context.

Useful links and further information

There is a JISC RSC toolkit on badges and JISC RSC Scotland convenes the Open Badges in Scottish Education Group (OBSEG) with members from schools, further and higher education institutions, educational agencies including the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland, professional bodies, employer bodies, national and local government, Open Badge projects such as DigitalMe’s Badge the UK and Mozilla. For more see below:

The Mozilla badges website:

Jisc Badge System Design Toolkit:

JISC Open Badges in Scottish Education Group: 

Posted on October 20, 2014, in Event, Report, workshop and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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