Open Badges – informal learning accreditations

Scroll down to the bottom of this post and you can see the badges I set up for the recent ‘Our Green City’ MOOC. Learners can earn the badges in a number of ways, for example by watching videos, taking quizzes or posting in the discussion forums. Some badges are triggered automatically by learners’ actions while others need the MOOC administrator (me) to ‘award’ them. Hover over the badge images below to find out more about them.

A quick note on terminology. We decided it was best to avoid the use of ‘award’ as this might be confused with the conferment of credit and the other kind of awards the university is involved in, i.e. academic degrees! I settled on ‘earn’ as the most appropriate terminology. It is more student-centred, relating to what the student does rather than the institution.

So what is special about badges? Aren’t they just pictures? Isn’t it all a bit ‘Mickey Mouse’?

Badges are images but they also include metadata hard-coded into them. This metadata includes information such as who issued the badge; who earned it; what needed to be done to receive it; the date it was earned and for how long it remains valid.

Badges can be shown to other people and they are able to read all the metadata embedded within. This can be done, for example, via a Mozilla Backpack – an online space where learners can put together ‘collections’ of badges (e.g. a set of badges on a particular subject) and allow specific other people (e.g. future employers, personal tutors, all your social media contacts) or the whole world to see the badges they have.

So, are they a bit ‘Mickey Mouse’? Possibly. If the badge represents watching an hour or so of video on a MOOC (or just clicking a few buttons to say you watched the video, whether it’s true or not!) then probably, yes, that is somewhat inconsequential. But if a badge were used as verifiable evidence that a learner had engaged in a significant course of learning (e.g. a 15-credit university module) and proven they had successfully learned (e.g. by taking an exam) then it would represent something fairly substantial and shouldn’t be equated with a Disney character, in my opinion.

I’m interested in badges as a way of encouraging and rewarding activity by learners.If you are too then let me know in the comments below.

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