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Nate Otto // October 21, 2014

Introduction to Open Badges

Badges

Hello! Allow me to introduce myself - I’m a new face on this blog, and a new developer at Concentric Sky working on our web applications that deal in Open Badges. For the last year, I have been coordinating a team at Indiana University studying 30 projects that designed and implemented programs to issue open digital badges for learning. The findings from that project are being published now. We found that overall program success often came to the programs that had the best understanding of how all the moving parts of their design fit together, not necessarily those with the most ambitious plans or the best technology.

I’m proud to be joining Concentric Sky, because the team here really understands the potential of Open Badges. With our years of combined experience in EdTech, we’re in an excellent position to help organizations build programs that issue badges - and we can provide much of the software that will help each of their participants earn badges, manage their credentials, and most importantly, use them to unlock future opportunities.

What are Open Badges?

Open Badges are digital images that symbolize particular achievements, benchmarks, or experience. Unlike many of the digital badge systems that have sprung up in videogames and online, Open Badges are a shared language for data about these achievements. They are designed to break down the barriers between different systems that understand only their own sets of familiar credentials.

Open Badges directly embed data about the achievement they represent inside the image. This data stays with the image as it is moved and shared. Using this technology is a way for badge earners to bring together verifiable representation of qualifications, skills, and experience to tell a unified story about their accomplishments, no matter whether those badges were issued by a single education provider or by a wide range of issuers.

The metadata standard was originally designed by a team at the Mozilla Foundation, and now many organizations, including Concentric Sky, are contributing to advancing the standard and growing the ecosystem of organizations and people who can act as badge issuers, earners, and consumers. Using this common standard for embedding metadata about achievements into badges helps consumers understand what badged accomplishments mean, and in addition, also enables automatic verification of authenticity. This means admissions offices, hiring managers, and others who examine credentials can shift their attention from calling phone number after phone number to verify qualifications, to determining whether or not those qualifications help represent someone who is a good fit for their mission and goals.

The Potential of an Open Badge Ecosystem

The well-recognized credentials of today’s education system, from the high school diploma to the PhD, are familiar to the public and are at home in resumes and applications for all sorts of positions. But there is also a wide range of learning providers operating outside the accredited education environment that offer youth and adults learning experiences that represent important components of people’s educational journeys. These providers often award their own paper certificates for the various accomplishments that they measure, but the public has little to no familiarity with these credentials, and so they are often not represented as prominently as the traditional components of an individual’s experience. For learning providers, Open Badges represent an opportunity for organizations both inside and outside the formal education sector to contribute richer information about badge earners’ experiences in a way that can help them better represent themselves in conversations about their qualifications.

We believe all stakeholders in the education ecosystem could be better served by providing and accessing more detailed information about achievements, especially as the need to connect learning across different environments, formal and informal, from a young age through learners’ careers, increases.

Concentric Sky is incubating multiple projects to serve all sides of the Open Badges ecosystem. From making enterprise-level issuing tools available to even the smallest learning program, to the mobile Badgr badge repository available for iOS and Android, to the BadgeRank website that aims to begin crowdsourcing information about the value of badges, the idea is to make it possible for many issuers and earners to better tell their own stories where it counts, and for their audiences to understand them.

We’re excited to participate in growing the ecosystem and helping learners access and receive the benefits of participating in a wide variety of learning experiences.