Badge Project Blueprint

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So you’re interested in incorporating digital microcredentials into your current practice? Great! What are some of the considerations to developing a successful project?

This blueprint is a collection of thoughts and concepts emerging from a workshop of surgery sessions facilitated by We Are Open Co-op for badging projects made possible by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Credential Project Blueprint
Credential Project Blueprint - a visual overview

Badge system design

Why would we want to issue badges?

Although Open Badges can be issued for literally anything, they’ve gained somewhat of a reputation as being useful for ‘micro-credentialing’. This is the idea of recognising smaller units of learning and achievement than is usually the case. 

Instead of working towards a single, large credential at the end of a multi-year course, learners could work towards a series of smaller, more immediately-relevant micro-credentials as part of a learning pathway. This might begin with a badge issued for simply signing up to the course, but scaffold towards a series of badges that have exchange value in the jobs market.

For more on why you might want to issue badges as part of your project, see this page: Why Badges?

What could we issue badges for?

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There are many reasons to issue badges, but before setting to work, consider these questions:

  • What behaviours are you looking to encourage?
    • e.g. getting people to show up time / share information / improve self-confidence
  • What kind of culture are you trying to promote?
    • e.g. reducing reliance on email / improving diversity / ensuring compliance
  • What types of knowledge could be recorded?
    • e.g. domain expertise / self-reflection / cultural differences
  • What are the thankless tasks that you could reward?
    • e.g. maintenance / welcoming people / organising social events

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Enhancement vs Transformation

Using badges can certainly enhance the certification process. For example, a certificate that would otherwise be left in a drawer can now be made visible online to the whole world!

According to the SAMR model, technologies can be used in ways that to Substitute, Augment, Modify or Transform. Just putting a certificate online would be an example of 'substitution', whereas allowing individuals to earn badges along a pathway of their choice might involve 'modification' of the overall learning design.

In order to use badges in a transformational way, we need to think differently about credentials. For example:

  • endorsing badges to increase the value of credentials
  • automatic matching of badge holders to current opportunities
  • inviting earners of a particular combination of badges to interview

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Helping earners to help others

Any credentialing project requires qualified people to complete the assessment and sign-off process. The extra overhead for micro-credentialing projects could be seen as a burden, unless you think differently!

Instead of placing the administrative burden solely on the expert assessor, consider ways in which badge earners can themselves become assessors. As the importance and prestige of the credential increases, so should the validation. Lower-level participation badges, for example, may not require anything more than self-assessment.

In addition, by making the journey transparent, peers can influence one another in positive ways. Seeing that someone has pledged to earn a badge may motivate others to do likewise!

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Agency through choice

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Learners can be engaged in many ways. With badges, there's the opportunity to increase learner agency through choice, and therefore raise levels of engagement.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How flexible is the badging pathway that is being constructed?
  • Is it possible to start at any point, and earn badges in any order, or is there a set route that all participants must follow?)
  • Is it possible to fit the learning in around an individual’s busy life, or does it have to be done in a specific place at a specific time?

In order to give agency to learners, there must be choice. More on badge pathways can be found here.

Prescriptive vs Descriptive badging

Badging systems are often prescriptive, forcing people through a number of steps in order to achieve the set of badges. These could be a set of course units, a set of behaviours demonstrated, a set of knowledge gained.

However, there’s another approach that often gets overlooked. How can knowledge, skills or behaviours that a person already has, or has gained through a learning process, be described? This is called descriptive badging.

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Who should sign off badges?

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Who is best placed to sign off that someone has met the required criteria of a badge? It may be tempting to think that in order to maintain system integrity, every badge must be signed off by the appropriate expert. However, cost-wise, this is often not viable. Therefore, consider which requirements could be self-assessed/self-claimed. Or which could be signed off by a peer - possibly the learner’s boss or colleague?

High Stakes vs Low Stakes

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Within any learning journey, there will be times of high stakes and low stakes. For low-stakes components, self-assessment can prove very effective, and together with peer assessments, can form a wider picture for higher stakes sign-off.

As a result, it may be helpful to separate these parts out into separate badge elements. A useful question to ask is: what could be the minimum viable badge? There is more about this concept on this page.

Gathering evidence

When thinking about what might make good evidence of the skill or knowledge being attained, consider what evidence already exists. Consider also how a personal testimony or witness statement might highlight:

  • What the person learned
  • How the person applied it
  • What difference this has made

Quality Assurance

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A successful badge programme may issue thousands of badges, but how can it ensure that people in different contexts, with different people involved in assessing completion, having gathered different evidence all have met the same standard in order to achieve a badge?

One way to standardise assessment across your organisation, is to employ a sampling strategy. For example, you could aim to sample a badge (essentially review the evidence attached to the badge) across each region every month.

Working towards a standard

When assessing in terms of a skill, a standard (a level of competency relating to that skill) has either been met by the candidate or not yet met. It’s essential to provide a clear description of that standard, as any measurement is only as good as its measuring stick.

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The credibility pyramid

What makes a badge credible? Here are three elements to consider:

  • Reliability: has the same standard been met by everyone achieving this badge?
  • Validity: do the credentials adequately represent what has been done to achieve them?
  • Viability: is the process of earning and awarding this badge viable?

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Why would they want your badges?

Badge Tattoo

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Would someone get a tattoo of a badge they’ve just been issued? Ok, probably not, but would they add it to their email footer? Or their blog? What about their social media profile? Or their resumé?

Badge Value

What is the value of the badge you issue, and to whom is it valuable? Maybe by earning a certain badge a particular job perk is available? How might earning a badge allow someone to gain visibility, or indeed career progression? A certain badge mentioned in a job requirement as desirable, would certainly increase the value of a badge to potential applicants.

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It’s also possible to issue badges that have an in-built expiry date - however badges that have expired may still hold great value.

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Creating local value

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Often a common ingredient to the success of a badging programme is the creation of local value or currency. This is where the stated value of the badge is recognised by another organisation outside of the issuer’s organisation.

Distribution of innovation

No matter how your badge programme is delivered, it’s useful to remember that in any population of people encountering an innovation, there will always be those considered as “early adopters” who are enthusiastic. These people are really useful in influencing the main population. Equally, however, there are also “the laggards”, those people that for whatever (often not obvious) reasons are simply not interested in the badge offering.

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