Open Badges FAQs

SueSmith edited this page Sep 29, 2014 · 15 revisions
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Open Badges involve a few complex concepts and technologies to get your head around - see below for some answers to common questions you might have!

What is a badge?

A badge is a digital representation of a skill, learning outcome, achievement or experience. Badges can represent such diverse accomplishments as attending a festival or achieving a professional accreditation.

  • badges can represent knowledge, competencies and involvements
  • badges can recognize experiences gained online or in offline life
  • each badge is represented as an image plus some data
    • the data describes what the badge represents, who earned it and who awarded it
  • earners can display their badges online and share them via social networks

Badges can be used in many ways, for example to set goals, motivate behaviors and convey success. Badges can be particularly useful for recognizing new kinds of learning, beyond the traditional classroom environment. The end result is a way to communicate achievements across institutions and contexts - and a more complete picture of a person's qualities.

These days, learning happens everywhere - badges provide a way to demonstrate that learning in its full diversity.

What are the benefits of badges?

  • Badges can demonstrate a wider range of skills and achievements than many traditional forms of accreditation - representing these experiences in a more detailed, representative way. Each badge can include a description of the achievement, together with the evidence used to support the badge award. The badge packages all of this information in a portable, verifiable digital object.
  • Badges can be used to unlock learning and career pathways, making them a motivator - and a way to break down barriers to further development. The detailed, diverse nature of badges can help employers and educators to better match individuals to opportunities.
  • A badge can represent a formal or informal learning experience - most people's skill-sets are a rich and a unique mix of both.
  • Since Open Badges are open and portable, earners can use them to convey their achievements in a variety of contexts, rather than traditional types of accreditation, which tend to be siloed to separate environments.
  • Although individual badges can be granular and detailed in nature, they can accumulate to represent larger scale achievements, like degrees and certificates.
  • Being digital and open, badges can evolve faster than traditional models, allowing them to represent emerging specialties and innovations - for example new skills and literacies, which are valuable to further education and employment, but are not always quantified.
  • Badges can represent many of the personal attributes that matter to employers (such as soft skills) but that traditional education makes little or no attempt to measure.
  • Badges have the potential to aid the motivation process in learning environments, unlocking privileges, encouraging engagement and reinforcing the sense of reward.
  • The granular nature of badges encourages varying pathways to learning, allowing learners to discover their own strengths, rather than following strict, recognized routes.
  • Badges can be used in professional contexts, such as CPD programs and professional associations.
  • Badges give earners control over their online identity, integrating with web channels for building community links, for example via social media.
  • Unlike traditional qualifications, badges describe the path a particular learner took along the way to an achievement.
  • Badges use technologies which make them inherently interoperable with a range of existing and future applications.

What kinds of skills or achievements can badges represent?

The short answer is any! Badges are open, so you can potentially represent any skill, achievement or experience using a badge, or a set of badges. Badges can represent:

  • hard skills e.g. proficiency in a programming language
  • soft skills e.g. collaboration
  • community involvement
  • new skills and literacies
  • anything else...

How are badges different from resumes and CVs?

Resumes and CVs are static, so need to be continually updated. Badges are inherently dynamic and so create a constantly evolving picture of a person's development - particularly since they can be integrated into automated systems. Badges can also represent a much more detailed picture than a CV or resume typically would.

While a CV or resume is "self-reported", i.e. the individual lists their own experiences and attributes - badges are verified before being displayed. This means that interested parties (e.g. employers) can rest assured that a badge represents a legitimate, authenticated achievement, the nature of which is described within the badge itself, which is also linked to the awarding organization.

What form does a badge take?

A badge is a digital image and some metadata. The data can be baked into the badge, meaning that it is embedded into the image file. The individuals and organizations who issue badges create the badge metadata - which is designed to support verification of badges, so that an earner's badges can be checked for authenticity. The data includes information about:

  • what the badge represents
  • who earned it
  • who issued it

The data for an awarded badge is described as a badge assertion - see Assertion Information for the Uninitiated for an introduction.

Note: Some proposed changes to the assertion specification are currently under discussion. See these threads in particular:

What does a badge issuer do?

A badge issuer creates badges and awards them to earners. This may involve a range of complex tasks, such as assessment and comparing evidence against criteria - alternatively it may be lightweight, for example where a badge is issued for attending an event. Depending on the level of complexity, badge issuing can involve several people operating within a larger organization or could simply involve one individual.

At a minimum, a badge issuer has to host some JSON files at a persistent online location.

What does a badge displayer do?

A badge displayer creates sites, applications, widgets and social media tools for displaying an earner's badges online. Displayers can utilize the Displayer API for retrieving earner badges from the Mozilla hosted Backpack. When the displayer code retrieves a list of badges, they need to parse the JSON data for each badge and may also need to carry out verification steps, depending on the badges' source. When retrieving badges from the earner's Mozilla Backpack (using the earner email address), the displayer will only be able to access those badges that the earner has chosen to make publicly discoverable.

Who can issue badges?

Put simply - anyone who wants to and has access to the technical resources required. Issuers can be:

  • educational institutions e.g. schools, colleges and universities
  • professional bodies e.g. for doctors, engineers, accountants
  • international credential assessment agencies
  • informal community learning organizations e.g. adult literacy, employability
  • community organizers e.g. voluntary groups, event organizers
  • communities of practice e.g. open education projects, peer learners
  • after school programs, learning networks
  • online courses, open courseware initiatives
  • government agencies, public sector bodies e.g. libraries, museums, NASA
  • employers
  • individuals e.g. teachers, tutors, coaches and community instructors

How are badges created?

The process of creating a badge typically involves two broad tasks:

  • creating a learning or other experience (and optionally assessment)
  • creating a badge to represent that experience within the Open Badges framework

For example, an issuer could define a competency in a subject such as math, then design learning materials for it, assess students with regard to that competency and so on. Once the competency is defined (and the method for learning/ assessing it), the issuer can create a badge to represent the achievement of earning that competency. For non-educational badges, the first task is simply to create or plan the experience you plan to award a badge for.

The process of creating a badge within the Open Badges framework involves designing the image and data, then hosting them for online display. In technical terms, a badge consists of a generic badge class and a badge assertion for each earner who is awarded it. Essentially this means hosting some JSON files and an image file.

Issuers can use a variety of tools to aid the process of designing and defining badge JSON data, including BadgeKit.

For advice and support creating badges, join the Open Badges Group and/ or the Open Badges Dev Group.

What properties should a badge image have?

The image for a badge should be a square PNG (or SVG). The file size should be a maximum of 256kb and should not be smaller than 90px square. When you create your badge image, it is recommended that you view it at a size of 50px square to ensure that the content remains legible when scaled down.

How does someone issue a badge?

Badge issuers first create badges then make them available for earning, for example via a listing on a website. This process involves designing the badge image and creating the metadata for the badge.

An earnable badge is defined as a badge class, using a variety of data items, including descriptions, criteria and information about the issuing organization itself. When an issuer decides to award that badge to a specific earner, they create a badge assertion.

A badge assertion describes an awarded badge - it includes the earner identity and a link to the generic badge class, which in turn links to information about the badge issuer.

All of the data for the badges is defined using JSON structures. To award a badge to an earner, the issuer creates a badge assertion in JSON.

Issuers decide what approach will best suit their community of badge earners - a range of tools are available to support whichever approach an issuer chooses to take. The Open Badges Group and Open Badges Dev Group also provide access to plenty of expertise and support.

If you're interested in becoming an issuer, try giving yourself a badge.

What is the OBI (Open Badge Infrastructure)?

The OBI (Open Badge Infrastructure) is a set of software tools and specifications to support people and organizations who want to adopt badging. The OBI is the core underlying technical scaffolding for the badge ecosystem.

The OBI supports a multitude of issuers conferring badges into the ecosystem, as well as many displayers and earners using badges to share their competencies and achievements. Anyone can earn badges across many issuers, collect them in one place tied to their identity, then share them with various websites and audiences (including career sites, social networks or personal portfolios).

The OBI aims to support badge issuing, collection and display. This involves:

  • allowing earners to tie badges to their identity and carry their badges with them wherever they go
  • displaying badges to parties the earner cares about (e.g. employers, college admin, peers)
  • allowing earners to manage collections of badges and control visibility of those collections

All of this is supported within a framework that is open and decentralized to facilitate badging across sites and sources.

The success of badges as an alternative path to accreditation and credentialing for learners relies on a significant ecosystem of badge issuers, badge seekers, and badge displayers. Each digital badge, or collection of badges, can inspire learning and translate “anytime, anyplace, any age” learning into a powerful tool for getting jobs, finding communities of interest, and demonstrating skills, competencies and achievements.

How is the OBI accessed?

A range of OBI tools and resources are available via GitHub, including:

See also the resource list.

What is the tech behind Open Badges?

The tech behind Open Badges involves a number of projects - all of them deal with JSON and many are built using node.js. You can see all of the source code on GitHub!

What does a badging system do?

A host of real-world badging systems exist, supporting badge issuing, collection and display. Badging can be a fairly straightforward, lightweight task, or can be rigorous and involve various processing stages.

A badging system for issuers can include badge image design and metadata creation tools, as well as publishing in HTML, for example if badges are to be made available for earner applications via a website. For issuers using assessment, the ability to review and process applications can also be part of a badging system. Badge collection and display systems primarily focus on handling the data for awarded badges, providing the ability to embed badges within sites, applications and on social media.

Badging systems can involve the following tasks:

  • creating badge classes
    • designing badge images
    • defining badge data items such as descriptions and criteria
    • BadgeKit is an example of this
  • creating badge assertions (i.e. awarding badges)
  • assessing earner applications for badges
    • handling evidence for applications
    • BadgeKit can also handle this
  • collecting the badges a particular earner has been awarded
    • giving the earner control over privacy and visibility
    • the Mozilla Backpack is an example of this
  • writing badges out to a digital context for display or sharing
    • verifying badge authenticity

See the participating issuers for links to more information about existing systems.

What is a badge backpack?

A badge backpack is a tool for collecting, managing and controlling privacy settings for badges you have been awarded as an earner. The Mozilla Backpack is one such tool - it includes a variety of APIs for issuers and displayers to plug into an earner's badges. A federated backpack is currently also under development.

Badge displayers can connect to the Mozilla Backpack to retrieve the public badges for a particular earner. For example, an earner could give their email address to the displayer tool, which would then convert this to their Backpack ID and query for their public badges. The displayer can then build the public badges into a site or application so that the earner can share their achievements with others online. The earner chooses which badges to make public via their Mozilla Backpack account, as well as grouping the badges into collections of their choosing.

Are there costs involved in earning badges?

There are no costs associated with collecting badges within the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) or sharing them through the APIs/ other communication channels. That said, the OBI is the infrastructure in the middle – issuers and displayers are free to innovate and design experiences on their own, independent of the infrastructure. So some issuers may charge for certain assessments or badges, and on the other end, some displayers may have a fee for pulling badges into a particular network or profile.

How are badges authenticated?

In order for badges to be truly valuable, they must be verifiable. The data built into an awarded badge is designed to support this authentication in a variety of ways:

  • a badge assertion includes the earner identity, represented as the earner email address
    • which may be hashed (optionally also salted)
  • the verification information in a badge includes either a link to the hosted badge assertion file or a public key used to sign the assertion data
    • the public key can be used to carry out JWS verification on signed badges
  • the assertion includes a link to the generic badge class, which in turn links to the issuer organization
    • which can be used to verify that the badge was issued by that organization
  • for signed badges, issuers can also create revocation lists for badges they have decided to revoke

How does assessment fit in with badging?

Assessment is an optional element in a badge issuing system. The following is a typical scenario:

  • issuer creates a badge and makes it available for earning via a website
    • the public listing indicates the criteria for earning the badge
  • earner submits an application for the badge, including evidence
  • issuer reviews the earner application, including evidence, against badge criteria
  • issuer decides whether or not to award the badge to the earner and contacts them
    • the reviewer can submit feedback to forward to the earner regarding their application
  • if the badge is awarded, the issuer creates a badge assertion
  • issuer optionally offers to let the earner push their badge to a backpack

If you're starting out as an issuer and plan on building assessment into your system, you may benefit from BadgeKit.

The detail of the assessment process is defined by the badge issuer, and should be tailored to the nature of the badge.

Badges can provide greater flexibility and innovation in assessment by:

  • driving innovation around new types of assessments
  • providing more personalized assessments for learners
  • moving beyond out of date or irrelevant testing practices.

For example:

  • Asynchronous assessment - instead of being required to take an exam at a pre-determined time, for example, learners can seek out the assessment on their own time.
  • Stealth assessment - assessment and awarding badges can happen automatically and provide immediate feedback. This can create reinforcement of learning in less formal environments.
  • Portfolio assessment - work samples, projects and other artifacts the learner has produced or been involved in can demonstrate skills and competencies.
  • Multiple assessors or group assessment - in traditional classrooms, an individual instructor generally does most of the assessing. An Open Badge system can support assessment from multiple contexts, including course organizers, peers, or learners themselves. This flexible and networked nature can mean that there are multiple paths or assessment options for earning a badge, making the system more flexible, ensuring that the needs of each earner are met and limiting the learning path constraints.

What happens if an earner does not meet the requirements for a badge?

The issuer can provide the earner with feedback and allow them to re-apply for the badge.

How do earners actually receive their badges?

A badge award at its most basic involves the issuer creating a badge assertion file for the earner and badge. Typically, the issuer will contact the earner when a badge is awarded - the nature of this communication is decided by the issuer (e.g. email or SMS), who knows their community of badge earners best.

The badge assertion and metadata seem very complex - do I need all of the items?

No! The data structures associated with an assertion have been designed to accommodate as wide a range of issuer and badging scenarios as possible. For this reason, many of the data items are optional - see the assertion specification for more information.

How do earners find out about badges?

This depends on the badge issuer and the earner community. For example, the issuer may be an educational institution that the earner is already associated with. Badge data can also include items designed to aid the process of finding badges to apply for, including descriptions and tags. The discovery and directory projects support badge discovery.

What is evidence in badging?

Evidence is supporting information earners can submit when the apply for a badge. The badge issuer can compare the earner evidence against the criteria for the badge when deciding whether or not to award it.

Can more than one person earn the same badge?

Yes, but each awarded badge is awarded to one earner, using their email address. By default a badge can be awarded to many people, however an issuer can choose to designate a particular badge as unique, meaning that it can only be awarded to a single earner.

Can an issuer re-use the data for a badge?

Yes! This is something that many issuers could potentially find useful, particularly where badges are associated with a similar skill type or subject matter. BadgeKit aids the process of re-using badge data with templates.

What are badge criteria?

When an issuer creates a new badge, the data can include details of the criteria that an earner must meet in order to be awarded the badge. A badge can include multiple criteria items if necessary. When assessment is involved, the reviewer may compare earner evidence against the badge criteria. Each criteria item can be required or optional.

What is a baked badge?

A baked badge is a badge image with the metadata embedded into it. If you have a badge image and assertion data prepared, you can use the Baker API to bake it.

What is a claim code?

Badge issuers can choose to issue badges using claim codes. A claim code is a string of characters the earner can enter into a form on the issuer website to receive the relevant badge. A typical scenario for this could be an event or festival at which the organizer hands out claim codes to attendees.

How can earners share their badges?

Since Open Badges are digital, earners can share them online wherever they like. With the help of a backpack and/or displayer tool, earners can share their badges on websites, blogs and social media channels.

How do people know that a particular badge was awarded to a particular earner?

The data for the awarded badge includes information about the earner identity. To verify that a badge was awarded to the person claiming it, the displayer can check the earner email against the value stored in the badge assertion, which may have been hashed for additional security.

How do people know who issued a badge to an earner?

The data for an awarded badge includes a link to information about the issuer, including their website.

How do people know what a badge represents?

The data for an awarded badge includes a link to the badge class information, which includes descriptions of what the badge represents.

See also the Open Badges Glossary.