Over 2 Millions Types of #OpenBadges ! Don’t you think that’s wonderful?

(I should probably add the subtitle: And less than 10 types of ePortfolios!)

One of Badge Europe‘s intellectual outputs (yuck! I can’t use this “concept” without cringing!) is a discussion paper on quality and Open Badges.

Intellectual Output: a term contributed to the Newspeak Dictionary edited by the European Commission, to replace deliverable, a perfectly decent and understandable term, as if any deliverable did not involve some kind of intellectual effort, implying therefore that the work produced by previous European projects could be partly the result of machines, automata or idiots — I won’t comment on the last one!

This discussion paper on quality and Open Badges should raise a number of interesting issues that I addressed in a previous post (ePortfolios & Open Badges at the Service of Learning eQuality) which refers to a presentation I made last year at a meeting of the Fédération Interuniversitaire de l’Enseignement à Distance (FIED).

One of the problems I have with frameworks such as “quality in eLearning” is that they tend to convey the message that it is possible to have such a thing as “good eLearning” on top of poor or archaic models. They do not use quality as a transformative force, but rather as a normative model, and extension of the old model, stifling innovation and creativity.

In the discussion paper, one of the risks is the mechanistic application of traditional quality models to the Open Badge ecosystem. And if there is something we do not need it is any kind of “quality framework” that would curb or smother the innovation born out of Open Badges. If Open Badges are not used to transform education, social inclusion and employment, then who cares for their “quality?”

Working from the initial document, I decided to explore the different components of an Open Badge environment as the underpinning elements for establishing a taxonomy. What will a taxonomy of Open Badges look like? What will the main types of Open Badges be? To this question, one could use the initial definition of Open Badges given by Mozilla:

  • Achievements
  • Skills
  • Interests
  • Affiliations
  • Roles

Achievement Badges are different from Skill (or competency) Badges, that are themselves different from Affiliation Badges. This was a start. The next step of my work was an attempt at mapping the main terms related to Open Badges. I did it by creating a mindmap.

Mapping Open Badge terms (using MindMup)

From the mindmap I decided to create a metagroup comprising Initiator / Designer / Issuer /Earner / Audience. I called that metagroup InDIEA. So for example I/I/I/I/W would represent a badge initiated / designed / issued / earned by an individual with the goal to be visible to the rest of the World. Changing one of the InDIEA elements would create a different type of Badge.

I agree that the variations between different Open Badge types might be less significant than others, but the value attributed to the differences will depend on the context and the actors. For example, looking at affiliation badges, someone could consider that there is no significant difference whether the badge is I/O/C/I/W or I/O/C/I/C, but for the person holding the badge, it could be seen as an entirely different type of badge.

Considering 6 main stakeholders (individual, community, educational institution, employer, service & good provider, the world) and accepting the idea that anyone of them could be an initiator / Designer / Issuer / Earner / Audience, the number of InDIEA combinations would be approximately  6^5, = 7,776. Even if we reduced InDIEA to IEA (Issuer/Earner/Audience) we would still have 216  combinations. To that, we need to add the combinations of Goal/Recognition/Scope/Range, so the initial 216 combinations would be multiplied by a factor 5*7*5*2 = 350 -> 75,600 1 combinations — 2,721,600 combinations without the reduction of  InDIEA to IEA! If we have already over 2 millions badge types with a rough mapping of Open Badge terms, how many shall we find with an extensive mapping? 100 millions? More?

What does this mean? First, it is an opportunity to recognise that there are many types of badges and it is precisely that diversity which makes Open Badges exciting —to a number of us, at least. Second, any attempt to limit their numbers, to “standardise” them into a limited set of categories would simply impoverish their ability to describe the complexity of the world we are living in. It is because badges are simple that they able to deal with complexity, and to do it in a nice way. That’s one of their beauties.

If millions of badge types sounds overwhelming to some, if reducing the categories to a reasonable number was imperative to the success of Open Badges, why not reduce it to one? Why not accept once and for all that Open Badges are tokens of trust? Trust can take on many different shades, certainly more than 50!

Looking forward to feedback and suggestions.

PS: I’ve been using FreeMind with great pleasure for many years. When I wanted to export the map to create a dynamic display to be shared online, FreeMind had a bug. Looking for a resolution, and not for another tool (I am already familiar with  Mindmeister) I discovered  MindMup, which imports FreeMind maps, tried it and adopted it!

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