I have been collecting definitions of Open Badges, the online credentialing technology developed by Mozilla. My own current definition is this:
Open badges are web-enabled tokens that recognize achievement, like merit badges you might have received in the real world. Anyone can issue a badge, receive one, verify that a badge is real, or see detailed evidence from the issuer. Badges can be displayed on websites, social media, and special badge backpacks. Earners can use badges to tell a verifiable story about their accomplishments.
However, I keep feeling an urge to think about badges more in the abstract. Even my own definition defines badges in terms of accomplishments or achievements. The Open Badges technology in its most basic sense has nothing to do with defining what a badge means.
This diagram shows the basic three-party relationship inherent to the badge ecosystem: (1) Issuers define badges, decide who earns them, and issue them out. (2) Earners may then display their badges to interested parties. (3) Those audiences may then check with the badges’ original issuers to determine whether or not the badges are valid.
On the web, we are used to two-party relationships. When we view a webpage, we take part in one of these familiar arrangements.
- Browser: REQUEST
- Server: RESPONSE
We can see this with badges, say, when an audience member requests to view a badge by clicking a link to an earner’s backpack. The backpack responds by displaying the badge. Request, response. I’ve named this relationship “displaying badges.” But the web is getting more connected, and badges represent one of the most powerful emerging technologies, precisely because they expand on this traditional structure.
The triangle relationship of an open badge across the issuer, earner and audience encompasses three two-way relationships. The powerful thing about the Open Badges specification is that by viewing and verifying the badge, the audience can understand the third relationship, the one they are not party to. That third relationship is the badge.
An Open Badge defines a relationship with an image and metadata. A badge can be used to show how an authority recognizes an earner’s achievement, for example, but the important thing is that it describes the relationship between these entities such that the audience can discern its value.
That is the core reason why I’m attracted to the Open Badges technology. When I think about badge system design, I like to remember that we are building relationships and creating artifacts that describe those relationships. Badges, to me, are part of a culture of relationship growth, and the learning networks that have latched onto badges are on the leading edge of building networks for learning and sharing skills.