Open Badges are digital tokens of accomplishment used to recognize many types of achievements around the world. By some estimates, there have been over 10 million Open Badges awarded by thousands of issuers across hundreds of platforms and software.
Today, each Open Badge has a description and a link to detailed criteria that describes what it takes for a recipient to earn the badge. Each awarded badge (the so-called Assertion) has the ability to link to evidence of what its recipient did to meet that criteria. As expressive as this information can be, and even as powerful as this will become when issuers and display platforms incorporate support for the embedded criteria and evidence now part of the Open Badges Specification v2.0, this metadata is not proof that a particular badge has any currency in the real world. How can earners and consumers understand which credentials are good representations of the skills and experiences that are valuable to their community of practice or discipline?
Open Pathways bridge that gap and give practitioners the ability to publish a map of the learning landscape in their community that links together badges from many providers. This is the layer of "glue" necessary to understand the connection between specific badges and the skills needed by employers.
Concentric Sky and several partners are leading the way to define a simple data vocabulary that can describe competencies, experiences, program requirements, or any other landmark on a learning map that is an important element of developing or understanding expertise in a field. Once an Open Pathway is defined, Open Badges can be markers of specific experience relative to that pathway.
Badgr launched its Pathways features in October 2016 after months of testing and development with a set of beta partners. This release, which allowed Open Badges issuers to define Pathways, is the first stage in a plan to advance the idea of an open system for defining and using Open Pathways across the distributed Open Badges ecosystem.
Open Pathways map the learning landscape
A learning pathway is an organized set of educational goals shared in a community. It is the connection between specific digital credentials and a community's understanding of what people have accomplished, in terms of requirements, competencies, or other "real-world" objectives. While we are starting with the concept implemented in Badgr, the goal is to allow publishing and consumption of learning pathways distributed across multiple services much like Open Badges themselves function.
The goal of Open Pathways is to create a lightweight conceptual model that can link various specialized competency frameworks, degree maps, job skill profiles and more. This model can be published as a reusable vocabulary, a method of standardizing data formats across stakeholders, that is compatible with a number of other representations of more specific concepts like a Competency.
Pathway publishers define Pathways in order to organize a set of objectives into a comprehensible structure and to link to badge definitions that are a known fit for specific objectives, whether or not the Pathway publisher is the Issuer of those badges.
Case Study: Pacific Science Center Discovery Corps
The Pacific Science Center was one of the beta partners Concentric Sky worked with to test Badgr's Open Pathways features in 2016 as part of a collaboration with the University of Washington Information School to add digital badges to recognize student achievements and progress in the Discovery Corps youth development program.
Discovery Corps is a paid internship opportunity for high-school age youth who gain science and job skills as they work on the front lines of the Science Center's operations. Youth in the program come from all around the Seattle area and from a range of diverse backgrounds. Corps members serve in many of the day to day operational roles in the museum and are a key part of its mission to ignite science-based curiosity in its young visitors.
The program's administrators worked with youth and a team led by Katie Davis of the UW iSchool to translate the achievements and job roles that made up the program into Open Badges aligned to a "Career Ladder" pathway and complementary Science and Soft Skills pathway. Students start at the Discovery Corps Assistant level, doing what is for many of them their first public-facing job with basic responsibilities like greeting visitors to exhibits. They move up through three more levels of increasing responsibility, gaining Open Badges as tokens of authorization that they have checked off on the requirements for each role. As students gain more experience and science knowledge, they not only gain the ability to take on more responsibility in the museum, they get badges that recognize their science knowledge and career-ready soft skills.
Concentric Sky built a custom web application for the Discovery Corps that lets students and program administrators track progress through the program. Badges are awarded from within the free Badgr.io service, and students use the Discovery Core site to view and share their progress. Pathways serve several roles for the Discovery Corps:
Wayfinding: Students can see what they've done and what they need to do next. They can see which badges correspond to each level of achievement and see their choices for how to complete each level and get authorized to serve at the exhibits they are most interested in. Program staff can view a student's progress and advise them on how to proceed.
Understanding Progress: Students and staff can see the progress of other students in the program. This allows students to see what specializations their peers have chosen and staff to plan for scheduling and to optimize training opportunities by scheduling them for the right students at the right times.
Sharing Achievements: In 2016, 100% of the students who graduated from the program applied to college. Open Pathways give students an ability to share their achievements, not as a flat list of badge awards that an admissions officer would be unlikely to understand, but as a view of their progress embedded in the story of their progression through the four levels of the career ladder and three levels of each customer service skill.
The progress tracking and sharing features that Concentric Sky prototyped for the Pacific Science Center web app are coming to Badgr in early 2017 to enhance the existing Pathway authorship tools that are already in place.
Toward a better badge currency
Our work the Pacific Science Center shows one way to use learning pathways -- to organize objectives within a defined learning program where all badges are awarded by the program -- but there are many other possibilities.
For example, Pathway authors can set-up automated meta-badges awarded upon completion of specific sets of other requirements based on badges they might earn from other organizations. Concentric Sky might award its internal Database Skills badge based on completion of either an internal training course or 2 specific badges from an external training provider. Badges from any Open Badges compliant system can be added to a pathway.
The data for how one organization includes the badges issued by another into its pathways is a valuable signal to understand the currency of a badge. With Open Pathways, we are moving toward a future where we can better understand people's varied learning journeys and the deep expertise that experts develop in their disciplines through these journeys. Good strong data about how badges are being used will combine with the expressive metadata that can be embedded in Open Badges to break open the black boxes of today's degrees and certificates and help learners and employers navigate through a rapidly growing map of learning opportunities.