A Foray Into Open Badges

Fabric patches of various shapes, sizes, and colours are in a pile
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Here at Western, we’ve been putting open badges to the test recently. Thanks to the support of eCampusOntario and CanCred, Western launched the Western Badge Project in the fall of 2017, running through to the Spring of 2018. The project is a ‘sandbox’ of multiple prototype teams working through a badge design process to see how open badges might work for them – the Teaching Support Centre being both a coordinator of and player in the sandbox, with the hopes of developing some open badges for our professional development programs.

Considering the wide taxonomy of open badges ranging from professional development to pre-curricular, curricular, and co-curricular -style badges that can be developed to recognize skill development of various forms, the prototype teams have spread a wide net in testing out badge design and implementation. We’re learning a lot about badges – particularly across the Institutional plain  – if there are groups on campus interested in awarding badges, how do we as a diverse community best engage in badge development and awarding in a coordinated but autonomous fashion?

There will certainly be other platforms for that conversation. Here though, on my personal blog, I’d like to reflect on a few things I’m learning about badges – what this all coming to mean for me. See, I’m a novice open badger. Aside from the badges I’ve been developing for this sandbox, I’ve not earned a single badge. I do not have a fancy LinkedIn profile, I’m not sure my family really cares whether I earn and post a badge to Facebook. What then is my own personal incentive to engaging in this badging business? My reflections here are an activity in considering what my own personal points of resistance are, possibly informative then of others and their perspectives – similar or different.

You can’t earn badges you don’t know about

I’d like to consider myself a relatively early adopter – or at least, the early majority. And yet, I’ve not earned a single badge. Why? I can honestly say I’ve not once come across an invitation or ‘open door’ to do so. In all my professional and personal activities, earning badges does not seem to be a part of the work that I do. And yet, as an eLearning professional, it seems a rife and reasonable platform to expect to find open badging. The FOMO voice inside worries I’ve missed some important Tweet, or that I’ve been skipping over emails a bit too quickly.

I cannot earn the badges I do not know about. Presumably there’s a library of badges out there I could earn, but how am I to come about earning them?. Should it be up to me to find these badges, or should be badges find me? For badges to have the fullest meaning for me, I’d like to be able to look up quickly from my everyday professional development activities and see the opportunities for earning badges in front of me, ready and convenient for documenting the things I’m already doing. This then, is a transition to my next question –

Why earn a badge?

Without current access to clear and easy pathways to building my badge repetoire, I often consider this question of: why would I want to earn a badge. anyway? It’s been a question I’ve been answering for others as I work through the badge prototyping process of the Western Badging Project. Badges, after all, are a chance to document and show others the skill development and learning you’ve been engaging in. My tinkering has led me to appreciate that I could share my earned badges on social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google + but I question the meaningfulness of these avenues for me. This underused website and blog stands out as the one possible place where badging, for me, starts to make some sense. A digital curation of the things that I do, so that maybe one day, someone will come along, view my pages, and find it just a little easier to strike up professional small talk with me…

Maybe it’s context specific and I just need the right context to find meaningful reasons for earning badges. One day, when that context is right I’m hoping the badge itself will help me see more clearly how and where I can put badges to use for me.

It’s a long road to a meaningful badge passport

All of this tinkering takes time. And seeing how few and far between the opportunities are for engaging with badges – that is, having the opportunity or invitation to earn a badge and going through the process of actually earning them – it’s going to be a long time before I’ve built myself a meaningful collection or ‘passport’ of badges. This raises some questions of sustainability for me, then.

What platform is best for this long and slow process of building a passport? Will my badges have staying power, such that if I build up my passport slowly over years that those first badges will still be meaning and value 1, 2, or 5 years down the road?

 

These are the questions that come to mind, for me, as I consider badges. I can answer all kinds of questions about badges for and on behalf of other people. I can design placeholder badges, I can tinker and build magnificent sand castles in my sandbox. But if I cannot reach some answers to these main questions for myself then I’m not sure where that leaves me in promoting badges for others, the community, and the Institution more broadly. This is, however, a beginning and in the writing of this post alone, a move along the learning curve.

 

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