Why Badges?

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The value of badges

I am more than just my grades.png

Traditional certificates can be issued for anything. A four year-old may earn a certificate for colouring in a picture while waiting for a meal at a restaurant chain. Equally, someone may spend years researching and working at a very high level in order to earn a Ph.D. - which also comes with a certificate. Whether it’s displayed temporarily on the refrigerator or permanently in an expensive frame, what certificates have in common is that they have an audience.

Just like certificates, Open Badges can be used to credential different levels of knowledge, skills, and behaviours. Just as we’d issue a certificate in both a low-stakes situation and a high-stakes situation (but recognise that there’s a difference between the two) so we can issue badges in both situations. One advantage of using an Open Badge instead of or as well as a certificate is that badges have a built-in ‘breadcrumb trail’ of evidence. The audience can then immediately follow this trail if they have doubts about authenticity or rigour. This isn’t always immediately obvious or available with traditional paper certificates.

Badges as micro-credentials

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. Articles such as this one in Edutopia advocate for micro-credentialing based on standards:

Building micro-credentials that have rigor and market worth could be the first step toward updating our current paradigm of how we credential learning. If we truly want to build school-wide cultures that empower learners to grow as individuals, we need to provide personalized learning opportunities for all of our learners – including our teachers.

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.

As Open Badges is a standards-based system, badges from different providers can stack together to unlock a ‘larger’ badge. One way this can work is familiar to anyone who has played the board game Trivial Pursuit and collected the small coloured wedges before racing to the centre of the board.

Badges for Open Recognition

Person giving a badge to someone else, surrounded by 'credential' and then 'recognition'

Every credential, large or small, is a type of recognition. If anyone can issue a badge for anything, then we can talk of 'Open Recognition', which is often defined in the following way:

Open Recognition is the awareness and appreciation of talents, skills and aspirations in ways that go beyond credentialing. This includes recognising the rights of individuals, communities, and territories to apply their own labels and definitions. Their frameworks may be emergent and/or implicit.

This definition, along with the image which accompanies this section, demonstrates that even when we're doing the highest-stakes credentialing, it's still a form of recognition. There is a community called Keep Badges Weird which contains members whose stated aim is to help "organisations to start thinking about upskilling in a non-traditional way". It is a community "in which contribution badges can recognise participation, creation, and reflection, as well as act as credentials".

Other ways to use badges

As the Open Badges Infrastructure is an open system that people can use for any purpose, we're beginning to see new and interesting use cases emerging.

For example, an initiative called HPass enables individuals working or volunteering in the humanitarian sector to earn badges issued from a range of different humanitarian organisations and learning providers (28 in early 2022), and display them on a dedicated passport known as myHPass. An individual's free myHPass profile can be maintained throughout their career, as they move between organisations and locations (which is common in the sector due to the need to respond to rapidly evolving crises). HPass is used by many well known humanitarian organisations such as Save the Children, World Vision International, Red Cross and War Child, as well as smaller humanitarian training providers. For more information about this initiative please contact info@hpass.org.

Also in the humanitarian sector, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Disaster Ready are using badges as part of a 'humanitarian personal learning environment'. Badges are used for knowledge and skills, but also to signify someone as the 'go-to' person for a region, having done disaster relief in that area. This may be thought of as similar to a 'tour of duty' in a milatary context.

Don Presant, who is involved in the above MSF project and a well-known name in the Open Badges community, has suggested some additional ways that Open Badges might work in some contexts:

  • A high school student may be able to demonstrate citizenship or leadership skills using Open Badges from an after school program curated in an eportfolio that they are using to challenge for university entrance or a scholarship (see one example from NYC-based institutions)
  • A PSE student making the transition to graduate school may use Open Badges from Co-Curricular activities to demonstrate skills such as exemplary communication or an aptitude for helping others
  • A job candidate may use Open Badges from a workplace readiness program to demonstrate that they exceed the minimum level of functional skills needed for a particular job
  • A professional may use Open badges from a wide variety of activities to demonstrate Continuing Professional Development (CPD)There are a multitude of ways Open Badges can be used in almost any context!