Mozilla’s Continued Commitment to Open Badges

Mark Surman

At Mozilla, we’re devoted to empowering individuals on the Web. This means creating tools and communities that teach important digital-age skills. It also means helping to build a technical ecosystem for recognizing and showcasing these skills.

In 2011, Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation set out to create exactly this. We collaborated to build the Open Badges project, which developed an approach to reward learners with digital badges for their efforts. It’s an ambitious task: the Open Badges project aimed to spark a transformation of how we recognize learning.

The project has come a long way. Since 2011, Open Badges has developed a devoted and international community, attracted partners from around the world and demonstrated the possibilities of an open credentialing ecosystem.

The road to create an Open Badges ecosystem has also been challenging, and we’ve learned valuable lessons. Perhaps no surprise to some, we learned badges cannot exist in a vacuum — to flourish, they need active communities and compelling educational content. And we learned that building a technical infrastructure for a universal badge network is a complex task. Mozilla’s place in Open Badges is not in operating the core services that make up this infrastructure. Instead, Mozilla’s best contribution to the growing ecosystem is to play a smaller, committed role as one of many players.

It’s important to reflect on the progress we’ve made since launching the initiative.

In 2011, Mozilla and MacArthur engaged with over 300 nonprofit organizations, government agencies and others about informal learning, breaking down education monopolies and fuelling individual motivation. We also created the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) public beta, a technical framework for the collection and sharing of badges. Much of this work was guided by “Open Badges for Lifelong Learning,” an early working paper we created with the MacArthur Foundation. Badges became an important part of what people worked on at MozFest, as well.

In 2012, we launched Open Badges 1.0, an improved ecosystem for badges. We also partnered with the City of Chicago to launch The Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL), a badges initiative to keep local youth ages four to 24 active and engaged during the summer. Institutions and organizations like Purdue University, MOUSE and the U.K.-based DigitalME adopted badges, and we saw international interest in badging programs from Australia and Italy to China and Scotland.

In 2013, over 1,450 organizations were issuing badges. Our partnership with Chicago had grown into the Cities of Learning Initiative, an opportunity to apply CSOL’s success across the country. We also began to develop a fully functional badge system at Mozilla via our Hive Learning Networks.

In 2014, we launched The Badge Alliance, a network of organizations and individuals committed to building the open badging ecosystem and advancing the Open Badges specification. Founding members include Mozilla, the MacArthur Foundation, DigitalME, Sprout Fund, National Writing Project, Blackboard and others. More than 650 organizations from six continents had signed up through the Badge Alliance to contribute to the Open Badges ecosystem.

Open Badges has continued to evolve. In mid-2015, the Badge Alliance spun out and became a part of Collective Shift, a nonprofit devoted to redesigning social systems for a connected world. The Badge Alliance will work in concert with another Collective Shift project, LRNG, which is creating a global ecosystem of in-school, out-of-school, employer-based and online learning that includes a technology platform for badges. With continuing support for the Badge Alliance and LRNG’s push to make badges part of connected learning experiences for youth, the Open Badges community remains active and growing. Nate Otto, Director of the Badge Alliance, leads standard development efforts, while a growing band of implementers cooperate to improve the options for using Open Badges to recognize learning across many environments.

What’s Ahead

In 2016, Mozilla will continue to support the Open Badges ecosystem we helped seed. We’re taking on a smaller role, and working alongside several players, but remain committed to the initiative. We’ll also apply what we learned: Open Badges can evolve best as a collaborative, community-driven effort. Its future is brightest when the community comes together to carry it forward.

Mozilla will continue to collaborate with the Badge Alliance and the rest of the Open Badges community. Mark Surman, Mozilla’s Executive Director, serves on the Badge Alliance Steering Committee alongside Connie Yowell and Rob Abel. Mozilla will also pass control of openbadges.org to the Badge Alliance, who will update the resource. Mozilla and the Badge Alliance will also collaborate to plan for the future of BadgeKit.org.

We will also reconsider the role of the Badge Backpack. Mozilla will continue to host user data in the Backpack, and ensure that data is appropriately protected. But the Backpack was never intended to be the central hub for Open Badges — it was a prototype, and the hope has forever been a more federated and user-controlled model. Getting there will take time: the Backpack houses user data, and privacy and security are paramount to Mozilla. We need to get the next iteration of Backpack just right. We are seeking a capable person to help facilitate this effort and participate in the badges technical community. Of course, we welcome code contributions to the Backpack; a great example is the work done by DigitalMe.

We want this to be an open and productive process. Over the next few months, we’ll be writing more, and listening, about the future of badges. We look forward to your ideas, thoughts and feedback.

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  1. Don Presant wrote on ::

    Hi Mark:

    Thanks for this update and reassurance about Mozilla’s ongoing role in the future of Open Badges. And I agree about it taking a village to raise a brainchild.

    I do have a couple of questions about the governance of Badge Alliance:

    At one point you said that “the Badge Alliance spun out and became a part of Collective Shift”, and later you said that you’re part of “the Badge Alliance Steering Committee alongside Connie Yowell and Rob Abel”…

    So:

    Is Badge Alliance now a part of Collective Shift, i.e. on their payroll?

    What is the role of the Steering Committee compared to other reporting lines that BA may have?

    Rob Abel is still part of the steering committee and I remember that some BA people left earlier to go to IMS Global. What is IMS Global’s ongoing role with Open Badges?

    From a committed fan seeking clarity.

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