Open Badges lessons from October

BadgeMaker's badge wall
BadgeMaker’s badge wall

Over the last month I have had the pleasure of attending not one, but two Mozilla events: the Mozilla Summit, which ran from the 4th – 6th October, and MozFest which took place this weekend, from the 25th – 27th October. I was invited to attend because of the work that I have been doing around Open Badges in Leicester; supporting our schools, colleges, universities and educational organisations in developing their ideas around Open Badges.

The two events have been instrumental in moving my own understanding around Open Badges forward – giving me the opportunity to work with members of the badges team from the UK and America. I have learnt a lot this month, and below is a summary of the key tools and ideas I have taken away from these events.


I have found that often conversations around Open Badges are dominated by discussions of validity and the technical infrastructure. What is often underestimated is how difficult it can be to actually design your badge. Whilst it may only take two minutes to create a ‘Chopstick Ninja’ badge (awarded for mastering the skill of eating with chopsticks), to design badges that have true educational value and that fit well within their context can be much more complex. A badge may also be part of a larger eco-system of badges, meaning that learning progression needs to be considered too.

But fear not! There are tools available that can help with this process – that support an issuer in considering all of the necessary elements of a badge, and an eco-system if required:

The first are badge design principles – ‘The badges Design Principles Documentation Project studied the winners of MacArthur Foundation grants from the 2012 Digital Media & Learning competition, extracting general principles for badge system design from the contextual practices found among these diverse projects’ (DPD 2013).

These principles have been presented in a handy deck of cards, arranged into four groups:

  • Assessing learning with badges
  • Motivating learning with badges
  • Recognising learning with badges
  • Studying learning with badges
Badge Design Principles
Badge Design Principles


One way of working with the cards is to begin with your problem or challenge – what it is that you want to create a badge for – and then work through the principles to identify which would support a solution system. This can then help you in making the final decisions about the aspects of your badge/badge system.

With your chosen principles in mind – you can then use DigitalMe’s Badge Design Canvas to map out the different aspects of your badge. I think that the canvas is a great tool for structuring your ideas and making sure you have considered each element of your badge. I have talked about the canvas before (in my Open Badges Hands on Session post) but just wanted to reiterate how useful I think this tool is for designing Open Badges.


The next issue that many individuals and organisations face is finding the right tool to support them in issuing badges.

There are a few out there, and more being developed, which for busy educators can actually make the process of finding the right tool harder. From the ones I’ve tried, they all have their merits – I think the best way to choose is to think about what you want the system to do and then chose the tool which best matches your needs. Below I’ve tried to pull together a table of the tools I have experienced – as I find more I will add to it (feel free to point any out that I may have missed).

badge grid

Mozilla also announced at MozFest last weekend that they are working on a BadgeKit – an open badges tool stack that will support all of the aspects of badge design and issuing. This will be worked up from an existing collection of tools created for the Chicago Summer of Learning programme, which includes tools to:

  • Design – Badge Studio
  • Define – Open Badger
  • Assess – Aestimia
  • Issue – Open Badger
  • Collect & manage – Backpack
  • Share – Backpack
  • Discover – CSOL Backpack

For more information about why a BadgeKit, and why now, see Erin Knight’s post for the Open Badges Blog.


Validity and Verification

The issue of verification has been raised many times – both during the summit and in our interest group meetings. There is concern around how we can ensure the validity of badges – how can the credibility of the issuer be ensured? how do we encourage employers and other institutions to accept badges as valid proof of achievements?

During the Summit, Mozilla confirmed that Endorsement is an area they are currently looking into – where organisations/institutions could essentially ‘back a badge’ to give it further credit and weight. For example, if a school issued badges to accredit learning that falls outside of formal assessment – a local college could ‘endorse’ those badges, to show that they acknowledge them as valid accreditation for those skills/behaviours.

This is still in the early stages of investigation, but holds a great deal of potential for solving these issues around validity and verification.


Stakeholder Representation

At both events Grainne Hamilton ran sessions on ‘Developing an Open Badge Eco-system’ which introduced The Open Badges in Scottish Education Group. This group includes representatives from further and higher education and educational agencies including the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland. Grainne highlighted how having representation from all stakeholders helped to move conversations forward within the group.

During the Leicester Open Badges Interest Group meetings, we have begun to develop ideas around how Open Badges may be used across the City. In order to take these initial ideas forward, it may be useful to map the organisations who are currently represented within the group and identify if there are others who could be included – who we feel could help us to move forward.

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