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Educator Development

How dynamic badging could change Educator Development

Why new visualizations of digital badging could greatly affect educators

By Kerri Lemoie and Lucas Blair

Building upon the systematic approach to tackling the world’s biggest problems laid out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations issued the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as another 15-year strategy to address environmental, social and economic sustainability. The SDGs serve as the perfect framework for building global connections and competencies. They are focused on addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions including income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion. Concurrently, they promote gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.

Participate is encouraging the teaching of Sustainable Development Goals in every classroom. We collaborated with the #TeachSDGs community to host 30 minute Twitter chats on World Water Day and Earth Day to connect educators and share classroom resources, and are in the process of creating mini courses, with badge earning opportunities, about all 17 goals.

Dynamic badging: Digital badges that evolve in response to the learner's activity or mastery of certain skills and concepts.

The Sustainable Development Goals courses provide a perfect opportunity to prototype one of the dynamic badging features that Participate will be releasing incrementally in the coming months. We envision badge images that change dynamically in response to earner activities and criteria determined by the badge creator.

Open Badge images are typically static visual representations of the metadata inside them. The image is designed to represent the description of the criteria and the branding of the issuer, not the earner’s specific achievements. We aim to increase the value of the badge by visually describing the data, reflecting the unique experiences of educators.

Metadata: Describes something for purposes such as discovery and identification. It can include elements such as title, description, author and keywords.

Dynamic badge images can represent an earner’s evidence being re-submitted, an evolving understanding or progress toward a larger goal. Numerous micro-credentials can also be represented in a single dynamic badge to show completion or progression. In the case of the Sustainable Development Goals badges, an overarching container badge will visually adapt to represent the learner’s progress toward mastery of the 17 SDGs (in addition to the badges issued for each course). The badge image then becomes more than a static graphic—it represents each stage of unique educator learning.

As earners complete badges, they will also fulfill the requirements for higher level badges that represent a more complete understanding of a subject or specialization in a specific topic area. Progress toward a higher level SVG badge is presented in the graphic above.

How does it work?

Originally, only Portable Network Graphics (PNG) images were included in the Open Badges baking specification that defines how the badge data is embedded into an image. A few years later, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) was added to the specification. SVG is an image format based on XML, a markup language that describes data. SVGs use XML to describe an image’s appearance and behavior, such as animations—this makes it possible for software to generate the badge image. It’s a perfect fit for linked data based digital credentials, especially considering SVG files are text that can be searched and indexed.

Considerations

This is a new way of thinking about badge images. We’re suggesting that badge images can be unique per issued badge, and that the evidence property of earned badges can be expanded after badge issuance while maintaining an accurate record. These concepts have not been been fully explored in Open Badges yet, and we recognize there may be challenges along the way.

How to visually represent achievement components will be an ongoing consideration. In the case of the Sustainable Development Goals badges, the United Nations provided a colorful graphic that lends itself to representing course completions, but this is not always the case—imagery can be subjective. The design of SVG badge visuals must also take into account the interaction between multiple changing visual elements instead of a single static image that represents a single achievement.

Another consideration is the use of evidence as part of the badge image. Previously, the evidence property referenced a single link/URL, but going forward, there may be a variety of URLs in an evidence property. We believe that a badge should remain static once issued so that data may be verified. Now that the evidence property is an array in v2.0, it seems plausible to append new evidence post-issuance. This way, badges can evolve with earners’ experiences and be more accurate reflections of their personal growth.

Benefits to earners (the educators)

Dynamic badges will have several benefits to earners that exceed what digital badges currently provide. Because of the modular nature of dynamic badges, earners will have incentives and clearer paths to setting long term goals. Ideally, goal setting will happen early in the earners’ experiences. In some cases, though, earners may be unaware of the “bigger picture” while earning lower level badges for other purposes. The visualization of earned badges, when shown in the context of other related but unearned badges, could act as a guide that encourages exploration of similar experiences or goal setting beyond what the earner may have attempted on their own. Once goals have been set, tracking progress toward them is much easier because of the badge visuals.

This progress may also be visible to peers, creating opportunities for collaboration when shared goals align. Earners who completed many increments on the way to larger goals, or those who have chosen to specialize in certain areas, could be immediately recognized by their peers based on the shared visual language around the modular badges.

The benefits to issuers

Dynamic badging will also make Participate’s internal content and credential creation process more efficient, as well as streamline the process of incorporating client and partner content into participate.com. Art assets, for example, will no longer be created at a 1:1 for each new badge class added to the system—after an initial investment of creating visual representations for individual accomplishments, they can be combined in many different combinations. These distinct visual components will be added, moved or highlighted only when certain criteria have been met. This will free up designers to create more complex combinations to represent larger accomplishments and progression.

The modularity and component parts of dynamic badges also build toward a greater goal: to facilitating discussions around the difficulty between incremental badges, and competencies required for specialization within a single container badge.

The benefits to consumers

Open Badges contain data that is both human and machine readable, as defined by the specification. The intention of the specification is to make it is possible for the data to be understood and consumed. Consumers could be HR departments, employers, web applications, even other badges issuers and earners. Since badges are a relatively new concept, the software or capability to access the data isn’t easily available yet. More software packages will become available to those looking to consume or understand the data but, in the meantime, a unique visual representation for each earned badge makes it possible for the consumer to view the image and understand the achievement. It could also be possible to present some (or all) of the badge data that’s inside the badge on the outside to literally represent the achievement.

What's next

Open Badges 2.0 provides new opportunities to improve the digital badge experience, ultimately increasing adoption. While the highlighted challenges are not inconsequential, we are confident in our ability to help the Open Badges community demonstrate the value of this type of badge recognition. That’s what it comes down to: what value and importance does someone place on something like badges? What about the Sustainable Development Goals?

We will keep the community updated on our progress as we work toward our adventures in dynamic badging. The SDGs reveal opportunities for all of us to work toward making the world a better place. You don't have to wait for dynamic badges before you take action—join the cause, involve your students and teach the SDGS!

Kerri is the CEO/CTO of OpenWorks Group, co-founder @BadgeChain, Open Source Web Technologist, Data Enthusiast and an Open Badges Contributor. Lucas is the founder and creative director of Little Bird Games, which offers game design and development, and badge-based curriculum design.