Mozilla's Open Badges Poised to Disrupt Higher Ed

Mozilla's Open Badges are poised to augment or even replace traditional degrees and diplomas. This is great news for students struggling to pay for college, or to balance school with jobs and families - but how does it really work? talked to Carla Casilli of Mozilla about how Open Badges are helping students lower costs and access education today, and how she expects their reach and influence to grow in the future. Read on to find out how to make Open Badges work for you! Can you start by just giving an overview of what Mozilla's Open Badges project is?


Carla Casilli: The Open Badges project developed out of the idea that learning happens everywhere, and it happens in both formal and informal settings. There has been kind of a lock on what it means to get credentials for both education and for jobs. And so, the Open Badge infrastructure was designed to address that idea. They can fill in for areas that are currently unrecognized, as well as address formal and informal learning. They can also ask people to completely reconsider the idea of assessment.

The Open Badge infrastructure is Mozilla's software effort to make that a reality. There are three primary aspects to the Open Badge ecosystem. Issuers, recipients and displayers. Issuers are the organizations, groups, individuals and institutions interested in developing badges or badge systems that represent a series of learning, skills or competencies.

The second aspect is the recipient or the learner, and these are the people who actually earn the badges. They have control over the badges at all times. Displayers are organizations like InsideJobs, LinkedIn or that can present badges that have been pushed into the Open Badge Infrastructure. Badges can be displayed through these sorts of displayers but they can also be displayed on personal sites, Facebook or blogs like Wordpress. Those are the kind of three primary areas that we can see right now as the ecosystem.

Further down the line we're working on adding endorsers to the Open Badge ecosystem. Those will be organizations, groups or individuals that might not necessarily create or develop their own badges but, in effect, would be signing and endorsing badges that are already in existence. I can see our student readers asking right now: Well, how can the badges help me, because they're not going to give me credit, and they're maybe not widely recognized? What would be your answer to them?

CC: We believe that the ecosystem will arise organically. Many of the extent alternative assessment ideas may work well with badges.

Badges can recognize both technical skills and human or soft skills. The technical skills are things that can already be easily tested. But the personal or human skills are what most organizations, when they're hiring, are seeking. They're the things that make people really good friends, really good partners, and really good employees. There's sort of a universal assumption that people will understand the technical skills, so, of course, we'd like to see those represented in badges. Soft skills present an opportunity for increased recognition. For instance, some people excel at traditional test-taking, and some people excel at everything but traditional test taking.

Consequently, in addition to things like diplomas, degrees, and certificates, badges can act as adjuncts to them or they can completely disrupt the traditional understanding of higher education - or really any education. People can start to represent themselves in broader, more representative ways. I know that you've worked with Peer-to-Peer University on badges. Can you talk a little bit about that project?

P2PU School of Webcraft

CC: Erin Knight was the project lead and she was the one who was working directly with Peer-to-Peer University. Mozilla worked in conjunction with P2PU on the School of Webcraft. The School of Webcraft was an initial effort in understanding how badges might work in recognizing web making skills. Mozilla is interested in keeping the Web open and making sure that people are developing software with open source in mind. And so, the School of Webcraft is essentially trying to develop a class and a badge system that would recognize people's efforts towards learning HTML and learning what it means to be a Web developer.

We piloted, I believe, in January and April of 2011. The School of Webcraft was our first experiment in imagining what it meant to develop assessment criteria in the shape of a class that awards badges as recognition of achievement--hard skills plus peer-assessed, community-oriented skills. What would be the one thing that you would want our audience, which is primarily comprised of students and potential students, to know about Open Badges?

CC: We welcome involvement. If people want to get involved, that is something that we are always happy to encourage. Feel free to check out our website. Check out the current Digital Media and Learning competition: Badges for Lifelong Learning, and join our Google group, which is Badge-Lab. We very much want to open the conversation about what it means to have learning and skills and competencies the way that they're represented.

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