Open Badges are about trust and identity

Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases

The opening chapter of Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases is a piece written by Sheryl Grant entitled, ‘History and Context of Open Badges’. There’s a great section of this that I wanted to share:

In the relatively static infrastructure of twentieth-century education, we are wed to a system of accreditation and endorsement to measure what is good. Our traditional institutions of learning also use grades, degrees, diplomas, licenses, and certificates to determine whois good. To gauge the quality of this “goodness”, a small but influential cottage industry has, for better or for worse, sprung up to measure and rank schools and universities based on a combination of hard data, peer assessment, and intangibles, such as faculty dedication to teaching. While the obvious purview for both students and schools is to teach and learn, the overarching system described above blends different systems of assessment and reputation in order to determine what it means to be good – or competent, or proficient, or even masterful – in the eyes of others.

Open digital badges arise from the same human urge, which is to instill a degree of trust that people are who they say they are and can do what they claim to do. Badges also reflect a desire to resolve a peculiar and novel problem in the digital age: To whom does reputation belong online. Only on the Internet can reputation be tethered to a proprietary system. For example, eBay, which implemented one of the first peer-to-peer evaluation systems, prevented Amazon from importing customer reputation to its own platofrm (Resnick, Kuwabara, Zeckhauser, & Friedman, 2000). The idea that our reputations could belong to anyone other that us is a recent phenomenon that applies equally to learning platforms like Khan Academy or massive open online courses (MOOCs) where people earn badges that can only be displayed within the technical system whether they were awarded. The badges are thus only visible to those who are logged into the system, which limits the value and portability of the reputation to outside audiences. Open digital badges, however, contain standard technical specifications, and these open standards (not to be confused with academic standards) help foster a digital medium of exchange for credentials that previously did not exist, allowing learners to collect, keep, and share the reputation they have built across different platforms.”

I particularly like the way that Sheryl frames badges in terms of trust and identity on the web. I think this is a good way to improve messaging around Open Badges more generally.