Open Badges to the World

An Open Badge describes a criteria– and evidence-based trust relationship between an issuer and a recipient. Criteria, evidence, issuer and recipient are represented as a set of metadata ‘baked’ into a picture, the actual visual representation of an Open Badge. What I would like to explore is how metadata could connect Open Badges to the rest of the world by making criteria easily accessible, shareable and reusable by applications and services beyond the realm of Open Badges. I will focus more precisely on badges awarded for the acquisition of competencies.

When a badge is delivered in recognition of the acquisition of a new competency or a series of competencies, the badge issuer provides the information relative to the awarding criteria via a URL. The URL points to the definition of the criteria.

Some of the questions that (should) come to mind when designing a new badge are:

  • are there existing criteria or definitions that could be used to issue this new badge? Has someone already delivered a similar badge? Is there an existing competency framework to refer to?
  • where should those definitions be stored? On the original issuer server? On a public space?
  • who else might be interested in using those definitions beyond the delivery and exploitation of Open Badges?

Today, competency frameworks are used for many different purposes:

  • designing a job description
  • hiring employees
  • finding project partners
  • planning continuing professional development
  • tagging portfolio evidence
  • tagging learning resources
  • reviewing annual performance
  • accrediting  prior learning
  • awarding a badge
  • and much more…

For example, when someone compiles a portfolio for accreditation of prior learning that will lead to the awarding of a badge, the same criteria will be used to tag evidence, narratives, xAPI statements (experience API) and Open Badges.

Narratives, evidence, xAPI statements and Open Badgesadges share competency definitions

Although competency definitions could be anywhere on the Web, Open Badges issuers tend to

  1. not reuse existing definitions, therefore
  2. host their definitions in their own space

In practice, from what I have observed, each badge issuer is hosting its own criteria definitions. There is not yet something akin to a competency registry and even less a federation of such registries. Yet if the badge is related to a competency, this competency is most likely related to other competencies within a larger competency framework. Some organisations have probably already performed a functional analysis and produced such a competency framework (in the UK, over 90% of occupations are covered by competency standards developed by sector bodies). How can we make existing competency frameworks accessible to Open Badge designers, so that standards would be used by a wider number of stakeholders?

Example of a competency framework from the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment

Sharing the same definition (URL) makes it possible to connect different worlds: the examination of a badge criteria can elicit relevant learning resources, people (with or in the process of acquiring / teaching those competencies), organisations (using, needing or training for those competencies). How can we share the same definition across many contexts to break current silos? How can we also derive or contextualise competency standards to fit the special needs of an organisation or an individual? Conversely, how can we connect locally designed criteria with more global frameworks? And how can we combine a set of criteria into groups, so that the set is accessible through the criteria URL?

Conversely, having each badge issuer hosting their own definition of awarding criteria will most likely lead to fragmentation: each badge issuer hosting its own silo of information will make it difficult, if not impossible, to compare and combine badges. The Open Badges landscape might soon become a silo of silos, which is certainly not what was the original intention.

Improving the Open Badges design process

While the high degree of autonomy offered to Open Badge designers is a major factor of it’s success, there are a number of problems (and opportunities!) associated with the freedom to define one’s own awarding criteria. For example, I am very fond of the idea of designing badges with the people (c.f. previous post) and not just for them (while both approaches have their own merits). Working with adults, pupils or students to define their own awarding criteria can be a potent learning exercise — as much as for the issuer as for the recipient. It can be also a means to elicit competencies (as a set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values) that are emerging or needed.

At the same time, my experience in the design of competency frameworks makes me wary of the consequences of mistaking task analysis for functional analysis.

Briefly, a functional analysis is a descending analytical approach to the description of competencies, which, at the level of each sector of commerce, industry or public service, begins with a definition of the key purpose of the sector.

  1. Begin with a key purpose that describes the overall purpose of the occupational area
  2. Identify main functions by asking ‘What needs to happen to achieve the key purpose?’
  3. Identify possible occupational standards titles by asking ‘What needs to happen to achieve each main function?’

Having established the principal elements of the functional map, the process continues with the construction of a detailed competency framework with set of performance standards and criteria, then the underpinning knowledge and understanding required to support the performance. Using Bloom taxonomy, it is then possible to link each competency with a level of competence (1 to 8 in the European Qualification Framework) i.e. the complexity and the level of responsibility for one’s own work and that of others.

The outcome of a functional analysis is a global map of all the activities involved to achieve the mission of a sector, function or organisation, so a person can find where she is and what she needs to do to reach a particular destination (continuing professional development, career change, etc.).

Of course, in the context of initial education, the approach must be slightly different as the goal is to generate the emancipated citizens that will be able, not just to adjust to the needs of the market, but to invent their own world. This is reflected in the use concept outcome-based learning rather than competency-based learning, that sounds to some as too connected to the world of work. Yet, we define the acquisition of key competencies or life skills as one of the main outcomes of initial education. Europe has defined 8 Key competences for lifelong learning (1) that are “necessary for personal fulfillment and development, social inclusion, active citizenship and employment.” The 8 competences are just the very first level of the functional analysis and they doe not provide anything like a set of performance criteria. Some countries have done that work, like the UK (c.f. The Key Skills Qualifications Standards and Guidance – link)

The problem with the current Open Badges design process is that some of the criteria look more like the result of a task analysis than a component of a global functional map. Every organisation tends to design its own idiosyncratic ordinance survey of a very small part of a global territory. How convenient would a journey be if you had to go through a series of unconnected, often redundant, maps using different scales and where a blue line meant a motorway on one map and a dirt road on another? Imagine if all the inhabitants of a village were creating the map of their own plot independently from the maps constructed by others?

There is an alternative: building collectively competency maps. A kind of OpenStreetMap for mapping the competency territory — and Open Badges would be a superb instrument to map the competencies of a territory; that will be the subject of another post.

Open Badges + Compedia

Just think of Wikipedia and imagine what a Competency Wikipedia could look like. Let’s call it Compedia: each competency definition has its own URL. Different language versions could be attached to a similar URL (e.g. changing en.compaedia.org/learning_design to fr.compaedia.org/design_apprentissage).  The definition could then be enriched to state that a definition is a combination of several other definitions, or a derivative from another definition. This could be done using microformats, XML, JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) or RDFa (Resource Description Framework in Attributes),

There would be no need for a central registry, but a federation of registries cross-referenced with URLs. When creating a new badge, the badge issuer could look at existing definitions, decide to use it or adapt it to its own context, then store it in its own registry while keeping the connection with the original definition it is derived from.

Competency definitions repositories could be built interactively, through a combination of top-down (functional analysis) and bottom-up approaches. Competency definition authors would have the choice to use an HTML page, a wiki, a semantic wiki or a database. The minimum specification required is that each definition is accessible through a unique resource identifier (URI, and URLs are URIs). The definition would need to provide a title and a link to a parent.

In HTML we could have something like:

<p title="Design Competency Based Learning and Assessment Strategies">
<p> - Determine client and target group needs
    - Select/adapt/generate units of competency / learning outcomes
    - Determine learning delivery methods and plan
    - Determine assessment strategies
    - Determine validation processes.
    </description>
</p>
<link rel="parent" href="http://en.compedia.org/design_learning_and_assessment" target="_blank">

Using InLOC, it would look like:

<LOCdefinition id="http://en.compedia.org/design_competency_based_learning_and_assessment">
    <title>Design Competency Based Learning and Assessment Strategies</title>
    <description>
    - Determine client and target group needs
    - Select/adapt/generate units of competency / learning outcomes
    - Determine learning delivery methods and plan
    - Determine assessment strategies
    - Determine validation processes.
    </description>
    <furtherInformation> http://en.compedia.org/design_learning_and_assessment</furtherInformation>
</LOCdefinition>

I use <furtherInformation> to explicit the link with the parent competency standard. There is a much better way to do it with inLOC using related (2) but it would require proper tools to make it easy to the Badge issuer. Using JSON (3) would be another option, but again this would require a proper user interface.

What Should the Next Steps be?

Competency Repositories & Registries

Competency Repositories & Registries

 

Use existing standards, when they exist

First, we should agree that, when designing new badges, the very first step should be to take a look at existing competency/learning outcome frameworks. If the result of the search is satisfactory, then simply make a reference to the relevant elements of the framework. If the framework is not online, check the copyrights and put it online. There are hundreds of existing standards, many of them with liberal copyrights which would make it easy to copy and paste them to a wiki.

Contribute to the competency commons

If the contents of existing standards are not satisfactory, adapt or create new definitions and criteria and connect them to relevant definitions. InLOC provides many methods to cross-reference definitions, but as we do not yet have a proper InLOC editor, this could be done using HTML and microformats. There is not yet a microformat for representing a competency framework, but it should not be too difficult to design. We might want to reuse the work done for hResume.

<div class="competency">
  <span class="title">Design Competency Based Learning and Assessment Strategies</span>
     <a class="skill" rel="tag" href="http://en.compedia.org/determine_client_and_target_group_needs> Determine client and target group needs </a>
                     ...
  <span>parent: <a class="link" href="http://en.compedia.org/design_learning_and_assessment"</a></span> 
</competency>

Of course, very few of us like to work directly in HTML, so the solution, until we have a proper competency framework editor, could be to create the content directly with a normal page editor, then switch to the html mode and add the bits or information that cannot be added with the editor. In the case above, adding the class definitions and rel=”tag” would do the trick. If it seems too complicated, then you will just have to wait for the proper tool, but in the meantime, even if you have not enriched the HTML code with the competency microformat, there would be a link to the original definition.

Cross-reference standards

Definitions have so much more value when they can be related to others, much less if they are not connected. Competencies are most relevant when connected with other competencies in a global competency map.

Conclusion (provisional): let us establish competency registries

While we should not restrict the ability to create and even store one’s own definitions, establishing competency registries (competency definition indexes) could dramatically increase the value of OpenBadges. The creation of those indexes can be obtained by trawling the web to harvest metadata or by publishing them each time a new badge is created.

 


Notes

1. Eight key competences in the European framework (link):

  • communication in the mother tongue,
  • communication in foreign languages,
  • mathematical competence
  • digital competence
  • learning to learn
  • social and civic competences
  • sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
  • cultural awareness and expression

2. The proper way to write a relationship between competencies in XML would be to use LOCassociation:

<LOCassociation type=”http://purl.org/net/inloc/LOCrel”>
<subject id=”http://en.compedia.org/design_competency_based_learning_and_assessment”></subject>
<scheme id=”http://purl.org/net/inloc/related”></scheme>
<object id=”http://en.compedia.org/design_learning_and_assessment”></object>
</LOCassociation>

3. Using JSON notation:

{"LOCstructure": {
    "id" : "http://en.compedia.org/design_competency_based_learning_and_assessment",
    "title": {
            "en": "Design Competency Based Learning and Assessment Strategies"
    },
    "description": {
            "en": "- Determine client and target group needs\n- Select/adapt/generate units of competency / learning outcomes\n- Determine learning delivery methods and plan\n- Determine assessment strategies\n- Determine validation processes."
    },
    "association": {"related": "http://en.compedia.org/design_learning_and_assessment"
    }
}}

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