Want to start a fight in the open badges community? Bring up rigor. Challenge the point of participation badges or say something like, “I got the I blinked while breathing badge.”

I admit I am guilty of questioning badges for low hanging fruit. During the Connected Educator Month last October you could get a badge for attending almost any event. I wondered, often out loud on Twitter, if this approach made sense.

Christina Cantrill of the National Writing Project often pushed backed. Christina made the argument that the evidence for the participatory bags is just that, evidence. She explained to me that different badges have different value and you could even have leveling up badges. As Christina explained it, rigor means nothing, it is relevance of the badge to the community that matters most.

As I have become more and more swayed towards Open Badges (due to the evangelizing efforts of Ian O’Byrne and Doug Belshaw) I keep returning back to this question: What do we get when badging for participation versus badging for competencies?

VIF International

I found my answer yesterday during the The Badge Alliance Teacher Badges open call. Mark Otter and Julie Keane shared their learning platform that they use as part of their efforts in teacher preparation and global education.


The call was great. Seeing badges in the wild, specifically connected to teacher preparation and professional development, really helped to formulate my thinking. To date VIF International has awarded 592 badges to teachers in their community.

Behaviors versurs Competencies

I am sure this debate has played out int eh badging research community for quite some time. Like I said, I am a recent convert so I am stumbling into  many of the lessons others have already  learned.

Mark and Julie make a distinction between competencies and the behaviors that they would like to see in their community.Teachers can earn badges when they share evidence that demonstrates competencies.  This often includes  lesson plans.

To recognize behaviors that help support online communities and professional development Mark and Julie created a point system that translates into stars. So you can earn points for things such as logging in, posting to a forum, and commenting on another post. These are not behaviors  that provide evidence of growth. Yet these behaviors are crucial to building critical mass in online learning spaces.

I think as I start to develop badges, specifically for summer Gear Up Programs I help run, I will try to bake in a similar approach. Lets keep badges for competencies and use other metrics to reinforce behavior.


Update: I submitted my badge application and recieved feedback from Doug.

This “just for fun” badge actually documents the successful work flow of a badge. Doug created the badge, explained the competencies being addressed, described the evidence needed. I then submitted my material. Doug reviewed it and left me this feedback:



I then went back and revised my original post. If you want to track my edits look at my source code I left the old version in html comment form.

Doug Belshaw issued a challenge. As part of the Mozilla Web Literacy Map roll out he encouraged folks to submit artifacts that would demonstrate competencies on three areas of the map,

Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 13.57.10


I am submitting my badge under the working title of Wisdom, Virtue, Sincerity, Valor, and Austerity in Online Spaces.



  • Accessing the web using the common features of web browsers– I try to teach students how to to explore the web by creating and remixing videos and think alouds of online data: I created videos of students reading online that I allow others to use
  • Using hyperlinks to access a range of resources on the web- I try to find and share links to open education resources such as this one. I was looking for OER sources on the web, and put out a call on Twitter. This link came back to me.
  • Reading, evaluating, and manipulating URLs I wrote a dissertation on differences in searching and evaluating online sources.
  • Recognizing the visual cues in everyday web services- I make online minilessons to teach students how to search the internet and research ways to teach credibility.


  • Using keywords, search operators, and keyboard shortcuts to make web searches more efficient –My  dissertation research focused on improving search results.
  • Finding real-time or time-sensitive information using a range of search techniques- I write about the need to teach and read socially complex texts.


  • Researching authorship and ownership of websites and their content- I create online materials to teach students to focus on authorship.


  • I use my brain as my virus and phishing detector.


Composing for the web

  • Inserting hyperlinks into a web page-  This post
  • Embedding multimedia content into a web page-I can embed multimedia into posts.
  • Creating web resources in ways appropriate to the medium/genre- I write in a variety of places using the norms of thos sites such as Medium.
  • Identifying and using HTML tags- I used the comment tags so people could track the revision history on this post.


  • Identifying and using openly-licensed work- The image I remixed for the header on this post used two openly licensed images.
  • Combining multimedia resources and Creating something new on the web using existing resources- I make remixes using popcorn.

Design and Accessibility

  • Iterating on a design after feedback from a target audience– I got feedback from Doug and then revised this post. This website is the rough draft of my life
  • Improving the accessibility of a web page by modifying its color scheme and markup- I try hard to choose color schemes that allow those with red/green color blindness to differentiate.
  • Demonstrating the difference between inline, embedded and external CSS- I spent this semester trying to use Thimble to teach myself CSS. I have created my first page that no longer uses HTML tables but relies on CSS containers. The actual page isn’t live yet (Department website but containers work

Coding and Scripting

  • Composing working loops and arrays and Using a script framework- I dabbled in javascript when creating a simulated web environment. I do not know java but if I can stare at code long enough I see patterns, kind of like poetry, and can then edit the code. I made changes to the timing and feedback loops.



  • Tracking changes made to co-created web resources– This is the first collaborative story I wrote in Gdocs with my 6th graders.
  • Co-creating web resources- Ian and I edit the digital texts and tools page. Please join us and add your stuff.
  • Configuring notifications to keep up to date with community spaces and interactions– Much to my wife’s chagrin as things chirp and beep all day long.
  • Using synchronous and asynchronous tools to communicate with web communities, networks and groups– I use asychnronous and synchronous chat in my teaching.


  • Encouraging participation in web communities– I encourage folks to be digital residences.

Community Participation

  • Using constructive criticism in a group or community setting -I use online communities on Google+ for Feedback.
  • Defining different terminology used within online communities- I use the discourse of specific affinity spaces and use these spaces for learning.


  • Identifying rights retained and removed through user agreements– I added the Creative Commons plug in to this site.


  • Distinguishing between open and closed licensing- I use only open lecensed images on this site.

As we live online we navigate a sea of myriad rivers merging. Those who use the web literacy map can guide multiple streams of information.

As educators we need to draw a map (of the territory such as the Web Literacy Map) using creativity and all means available to you. To [further] illustrate this point, when even the roads are unknown, enter the online spaces, and familiarize yourself with the languages and practices. Determine which areas have steep learning curves, which areas are wide open, and measure the width of roads to understanding.

Bansenshukai. Ninpo.com. 

Last week faculty asked me to present some ideas I had on using portfolios in our Liberal Education Program (commonly referred to as general education classes at other institutions). I went into the meeting and discussed that badges and not portfolios made more sense.  I believe when we want a competency based program, such as ours,  we need to think more in terms of online presence rather than online portfolios.

So instead I discussed why Open Badges makes more sense for our University rather than a proprietary portfolio system.

Our Liberal Education Program

Calling our LEP classes, general ed, does a disservice to our students and those committed faculty who designed the program. Yes they are classes every student must take but the LEP builds on a foundational belief in the importance of liberal studies. The program contains 24 separate goals over three tiers of classes (click here for more information).  These goals are broken into competencies, knowledge and values.

Screenshot 2014-04-28 at 7.55.06 PM

As a rough summary tier one classes include competencies, tier two include focus on knowledge and values,  and tier three integrates all three elements into a final outcome.

Our tier one competencies briefly introduce the Areas of Knowledge and  Experience and Discussions of Values while maintaining a focus on the development of intellectual skills, or competencies.

I volunteer on the technology fluency committee which is a core competency. In this tier students have to:

1. Common Tasks – Solving problems, accessing information, and  communicating information and ideas using appropriate technologies

A. Students will be able to engage in electronic collaboration.

B. Students will be able to use and create structured electronic documents.

C. Students will be able to do technology-enhanced presentations.

D. Students will be able to use databases to manage information.

E. Students will be able to use spreadsheets to manage information.

F. Students will be able to use graphical and multimedia technologies. 

2. Focus – Using emergent or recently developed technologies (hardware orsoftware) to address specialized tasks

A. Students will have the ability to perform basic operations in at least on ecurrent technology platform, or

B. Students will acquire advanced level skills in three out of six of the Common Tasks listed in (1).

3. Future Technological Change – Navigating and adapting to futuretechnological developments

A. Students will be able to use electronic tools to navigate, to compare orcontrast, to research and to know enough to evaluate the technology as a tool.

4. Broader Implications – Being cognizant of ethical and social implications of revolutionary technologies, including but not limited to their impact on security, privacy, censorship, intellectual property, and the reliability of information

A. Students will be familiar with major legal, ethical, privacy and security issues in information technology.

The purpose of tier one classes is to introduce and teach these competencies. They are then reinforced in tier two and tier three classes. This spiral of complexity in the curriculum design makes badging a better assessment system than portfolios.

Why Badges

The tech fluency and the embedded competency of information fluency represent a broad goal. To establish and display competency students need more than a GPA. Having a B in a class tells me nothing. Yet if I can look at a meta-level badge and know student earned badges in the three areas of tech fluency I can build off of that learning in my tier two classes.

So the badging system would involve different levels of badges. Students would have to earn the common task badge (I know need a better name) would have to point to urls that document each of the common tasks.

They could then submit requisite materials for the other three badges. Once those are all submitted the students could apply for the meta level tech fluency badge.

I believe the badges will then support the tier two classes. Teachers trying to put a larger focus on general knowledge, can look back at the badges students collected in tier one and cater projects to individual students.

Why Open Badges over Portfolios

Portfolios do not seem to work at our University. We make students buy into a program called TK20, but this is not in the support of learning. Its just a way to generate pretty tables for NCATE. At the end of the semester students upload the prerequisite documents, educators grade them, and there they sit collecting digital dust until we need the artifacts for NCATE.

Portfolios are often proprietary. We could use the system embedded into our overpriced LMS but why not ensure assessments  are owned by students and our 100% portable.

Presence matters more than portfolios. Learning is a social event. I do not want to silo off engagement into a system. I would rather students be able to document their education where ever they learn.

Open badges would allow students to document learning in lieu of class. We have many students, especially in tech fluency, that believe they meet the requirements all ready. If we had an open badge system students could then submit documents, without being in a proprietary system, that demonstrate their competencies. If they could earn the meta level technology fluency badge they would not have to complete the course.

Next Steps

First I have to convince a slew of committees open badges makes sense and explain how it could be implemented into our liberal education program.

Then we would have create the road map of competencies for each badge.

We would hten design the layout of the badges.

Finally for this to work open badges require the help from our great IT team on building the back end support so we can use the open API.


The competency based liberal education program and badges make sense. We want to document students abilities for life long learning. Why not create a system that reflects these values in both practice and theory?

This past week I helped all of us celebrate Open Education Week. I joined Teachers Talking Teachers, participated in the Mozilla webmaker challenges, joined the Teacher badges Alliance, and engaged with many of you on social media.

I am left with one overarching theme. You cannot have Open Ed without community. You cannot have open web standards without community. You cannot have Open Educational Resources without community.

In many ways you cannot have education without community.

Community of  Writers

CC 3.0 UX Designs as Communities of Practice. murdocke23. flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/murdocke/7356625068
CC 3.0 UX Designs as Communities of Practice. murdocke23. flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/murdocke/7356625068

I first celebrated Open Ed by lurking, possibly even trolling, during the ConnectLearning.tv event on #DS106. For those who do not know #DS106 is an open format class on digital storytelling. It exists mainly because a community emerged around a digital hub and then spread like weeds through different social networks.

I stress the role of community for my teacher candidates when we discuss the teaching of writing. I explain that the best writing spaces I have seen  have a shared vision, experts and novices, and recognized practices that support developing writers.

The same holds true for Open Learning and Open Educational Resources. One of the greatest writing projects I contributed to this year (and only on the peripheral) was the development of Mozilla’s Web Literacy standards. The initiative, lead by Doug Belshaw, not only epitomizes how open ed works but resulted in the best thinking designed to prepare online research and media skills.

Community Necessary for Assessment

CC 2.0 Badges and Assessment. DML Competition. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmlcomp/4980762084/sizes/m/
CC 2.0 Badges and Assessment. DML Competition. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmlcomp/4980762084/sizes/m/

I realized among all the talk of assessment and badging during the Teachers Badges Network Hangout on Air that community needs to come before competencies. Christina Cantrill, of the National Writing Project, stressed this point over and over again.

Badging will never be about rigor. Badging is about relevance. There has to be a community around a specific credentialing system in order for badging to succeed. This community would then help to establish skill trees. They might decide what constitutes the criteria and  evidence  for a badge.

Plus, maybe most importantly, a community would recognize the value of a badge once it has been awarded.

Community Necessary in the Workforce


Those that understand the role of community will have marketable skills. Gina Trapani, an open source advocate and co-founder of Think -Up recently commented on the importance of community on the latest episode of TWIG. She stated that in looking for potential employers and mentees that being a developer goes beyond coding.

Gina, noted that most importantly Think-Up looks for those who understand how different communities work. Only then can they provide insights to users. She also noted that developers need to break from the mindset that you need to know code. Instead the act of developing, takes quality writers, designers, and thinkers. As someone who quit coding in 1989 when I was in 6th grade, this idea resonated with me. We need emergent leaders and thinkers who work collaboratively if we want students to be college and career ready.

So What is Open Ed?

I wonder if I am any closer to answering this question than when I was a week ago.  I have learned while playing in so many new spaces this week that Open Ed, if not a set of principles, is a shared mindset that cuts across so many different communities.

I want my students to learn in the open. I want to model what it means to think, fail, and reflect in the open. I want to try and use OER in my teaching. Maybe, just maybe, I am contributing a little back to the Open Ed community.


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