Open Badges – A digital solution for recognising achievement in schools?

I have been interested in the concept of Open Badges for the past few months but it’s only in the past few days that I have been able to connect all aspects and actually issue a digital badge. In short, Open Badges is an open source project designed to make the accreditation of learning and achievement become a global standard. It is designed to support a broad range of different badge issuers, and allow any user to earn badges across different issuers, web sites and experiences, then combine them into a single collection tied to their identity. Note that as Open Badges is an open source project, I have refrained from referring to it as Mozilla Open Badges.

I already use a number of tools with students which issue badges to recognise some form of achievement (e.g. Edmodo or CodeAcademy). I have seen the positive impact that can be gained from issuing a badge for “unlocking” a particular skill or as acknowledgement of a piece of work. However, currently badges awarded within these resources stay with those resources i.e. an Edmodo badge is only accessible from Edmodo, while the CodeAcademy badge can only be viewed by logging into CodeAcademy. What Open Badges seeks to achieve is a global standard currency in badges which, in theory, can remain with the learner for life. Any Open Badges issued are stored in a single online location – the backpack.

When I first investigated Open Badges, I could see how it could be implemented and earned myself a couple of test badges online via but at the time the process for issuing badges was a bit daunting. Last Saturday I attended a Computers At School Scotland session hosted by Doug Belshaw where he explained that badges could now be issued using a WordPress plugin, WPBadger. I installed WPBadger on this blog following these instructions and then these instructions, and created and uploaded a simple PNG badge. From there I was able to issue my badge to anyone with a valid email address. As our school website is also built using WordPress, in theory we would be able to issue badges from there although as things stand I don’t think the current version of WPBadger is really suited to the kind of scale that would be required in a secondary school. An alternative is to use, which is probably easier to set up but still doesn’t seem as though it could cope be easily used with a large number of badges and awards.

I think there are a range of ways in which Open Badges might be awarded in a secondary school, for example:

Skills-based learning
Students complete an aspect of a course e.g. the Code Guru badge for completing a range of practical programming tasks, the Algebra Level 1 badge for completing the algebra unit in S1

Students pass a unit assessment, or complete the practical tasks required to achieve a unit assessment

Students gain 30 smart stamps, or perhaps receive 50 ClassDojo points

A digital version of the Duke of Edinburgh award, or a badge for being in the school football team which won their league

Clearly this would result in a potentially large number of badges being issued to learners each year, but I don’t see this as a problem. Open Badges provides a backpack for storing digital badges which can be organised into categories determined by the user. In Scotland we will require all our students to produce a profile during S3, and one of the biggest problems I foresee during this process is that young people often struggle to identify what their achievements are or have been. Using Open Badges they will have access to every badge they have ever been awarded. Furthermore, parents will also be able to see the achievements of their child via the Open Badges backpack.

In summary, I think that Open Badges is pretty much spot on in terms of an approach to digitally recognising the achievements of our students and providing them with a mechanism for managing and sharing those awards. The success of Open Badges will come when we are able to accredit students via those online resources we are using daily in our classrooms, and also when there is a better mechanism for a single organisation issuer being able to easily  roll out a range of different badges to a number of different learners.

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