This is a second research update as part of a larger body of research on using digital badges as a credentialing tool. For the first research update, click here.
Creating a digital badge is relatively simple. Since they are largely issued and displayed virtually, a reasonable question in terms of credentialing is how to validate the worth of the badge. The most obvious is to look at who issued it—if a university or NASA, for example, provided the badge, then it carries the weight of those institutions. However, this still provides little detail on how the credential was earned and no guarantees that the person claiming the badge actually earned it rather than just copy-pasting the image of a badge. Open Badges solve all of these problems.
The Open Badge framework was created by Mozilla, best known for the web browser Firefox. Open Badges was released in 2013 after almost 2 years of research and development by Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC. The Open Badge software sets a technical standard that any organization can use to create and verify their digital badges.
How does an open badge differ from a digital badge?
A digital badge is the physical image of the badge that acts as a representation of the achievement. It is essentially a trophy—all there is to see is what is in front of you. On the other hand, as former Mozilla employee Doug Belshaw described, the metadata in Open Badges is “baked” in. Learning Solutions Magazine noted:
“An Open Badge (or similar badged credential) […] includes metadata with value beyond the image; for example, the metadata will usually include the identity of the badge issuer, the date of issue, and the criteria the badge holder met. In spite of the superficial resemblance, and the use of the word “badge,” Open Badges and credentials are not an example of gratuitous gamification.”
What kind of metadata is found in an open badge?
The above image summarizes the contents of Open Badge metadata fairly well. Open badge metadata includes information about the skills acquired and what the earner had to do to show mastery, the qualifications of the issuing party, larger skill sets proven, and verification of the earner’s identity. Open Badges include authentication channels; meaning that when someone is confirming the validity of a badge, they can “call back” the issuing party and confirm that this badge was in fact issued to this person. Another useful tool is the Open Badge’s ability to expire. Therefore skills that need to be refreshed or can become outdated have credentials that reflect the timeliness of the skill acquisition.
As digital standards become more widely recognized, the standards will probably become higher and more complex. Educational innovator Timothy Freeman Cook wrote an article that details how deepening the accreditation system can further validate the information a digital badge conveys.
Credential sharing with Open Badges
The other advantage of the Open Badge is the ability to integrate multiple badges from different sources into a single location. Open Badges have what is called a “backpack”, where the person who earns the badge displays all the badges that they earned. The backpack is sharable on websites, social media, LinkedIn, resumes, and more. This makes it easier for prospective employers or clients to access and view the associated metadata.
There are several organizations issuing and/or developing badges on the Open Badge framework, and Mozilla lists them all here.
Should an organization wish to issue Open Badges, the creation and issuing process is relatively simple. Open Badges is free software with an open technical standard, so anyone may be part of the Open Badge network. Credly and Open Badge Designer are just a few platforms that can be used by those with little to no tech experience to create customized badges for any learning experience the organization wishes to recognize. The most important thing is to ensure that the badge symbolizes a true credential—that is, the process of attaining the badge is worth rewarding and displaying. In the final research paper, I will dive deeper into the types of learning that open badges can symbolize, as well as examples of how they are earned.