Will Open Badges help to map the human knowledge?

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Author: Dr. Flavio Escribano >> @ludictador

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*This concept was presented on the Open Badges Community Project Call, October 8, 2014. Slides available here

Atomization and Fragmentation is one of the most common problems in Badge usage. On one hand because it causes a sort of epidemic by saturation/excess, on the other hand because the relativity of their value (leading to deflation in its intrinsic value). Lots of ideas come from the necessity of creating a Badge Ecosystem which places them [badges] in a classified way depending on factors such as the competency categories which certify (we must not forget that [open]badges are symbols of evaluated competencies which are previously certified and incorporated into our digital profile)

In his article  Digital Badges – A Suggested Taxonomy, Grant MacDonald is very concerned about this problem in the sense that badges are taxonomically different. For example he pointed that ‘The badges issued to staff (work) are qualitatively different to those offered to students (education). Many of the badges incorporated into learning management tools are different again’. This way of “out-of-control” badges issuing – with no location into a coherent classification system – straight attacks the main badges purpose (and Open Badges the most): To create an available knowledge map, a competency cartography that other researchers, universities and employers could use on their (re)searches, a map that could be also used to locate ourselves and help us choose the following paths of learning. Then the key question is: How to create such Badge Taxonomy?

Credentials and Badges

First things first. If a badge is a certified credential then we may start trying to shed light on what a credential is. Anne Derryberry in The Role of Badges in Alternative Credentialing exposes that any credential must be a knowledge or competency acquisition verification /certification issued by an institution or individual with some level of authority in the education hierarchy. Within the array of classic credentials we usually find: Grades, diplomas, credits, professional credentials, classic badges, etc. There are also new alternatives to classic credentials:  Latticed credentials, stackable credentials, modules for fractional credit, embedded industry certifications, credit for prior learning, etc.

Badge Ecosystem Anne Derryberry
Image 1: Badges Ecosystem. By Anne Derryberry

In most of the cases –and according to Derryberry- badges would offer advantages related to transparency, validity, reliability and portability in almost every credential types, both classic and alternative ones. According to this, badges become specially important and valuable for all students, future employees and employers. Thanks to badges it’s easy to make the match between Educational provisions and Industry needs, something very interesting for both State Education Departments and Ministries of Labour.

Is a Badges taxonomy possible?

In an attempt to create a world of badges taxonomy, Grant MacDonald suggests three main branches:

  • Achievement badges. Are issued to credential demonstration of a specific skill or achievement. An achievement badge might be issued for running 100m in 10 seconds, for being elected class captain etc. The achievement is defined in the badge and evidences are attached.
  • Skill badges. Are issued to credential expertise in an area. They include a series of criteria that need to be met. For example they might be issued to staff who demonstrate effective integration of an ICT package into their teaching. Skill badges differ from achievement badges in that they have more complex criteria and do not apply to a single achievement or event.
  • Mission badges. Are used where a person (usually a student) has embarked on a series of activities with the aim of achieving a badge. These missions are often cross curricular and involve the development of a skill followed by a culminating achievement. Mission badges occupy the area between skill and achievement badges. Not surprisingly a mission badge might be issued as the culmination of a group of related skill and achievement badges.

Furthermore Charla Long’s (Lipscomb University) approach is very helpful to link the competences they are using on their education program with badges (CORE): Knowledge, skills, dexterity an attitude (so far nothing different from classic education programs). The interesting point here is that there are different levels of expertise evaluation on each competence, in turn, divided into seven categories: Communication, conceptualization, contextualization, interpersonal skills, leadership, management and personalization.

Badge Anatomy (Lipscomb University)
Image 2: CORE Program Badge Anatomy. By Charla Long (Lipscomb University)

That means thanks to a future kind of open badge (within the required metadata) we could evaluate a concrete competence level (knowledge) in a particular curriculum area (maths) and in a specific category (communication). I.E.  One Student’s capacity of communicate a kind of knowledge within a specific area could become  a particular badge, a badge with an anatomy capable of reflecting (graphically and in its code) every of these parameters in an official way.

Cartography of Badges: BadgeRank (Coordinates) and BadgeScore (Status)

We’re glad to find more references in line with the necessity of facing the “badges’ fragmentation”, the excessive atomization of the world of badges. According to MacDonald unclassified badges prevent us to build valuable structures for further proof of knowledge and competences acquisitions.

In our previous article BadgeRank and BadgeScore: OpenBadges value we pointed an introduction about the possibility of creating an useful approach against badges fragmentation thanks to the setting of both two different indexes in order to help the badge receiver to: visualize the inherited value of the badge within the badges ecosystem, check the specific value of the badge acquisition within her own learning life and, finally, to decide about her future learning pathways. For badges issuers our proposed system would provide also information about: badge’s weight in the education program related to the whole ecosystem, how many potential earners could be interested on, the job demand related to, etc. The benefits are almost similar for employers.

During our Open Badges Research + Badge System Design Cal participation we reiterated (again) about the necessity of generating both recognition patterns (badgerank and badgescore) -as we pointed first time on the article mentioned above– but adding that: first, Badgerank could be used as part of a coordinates system for badge location within the whole badges ecosystem and second, Badgescore could be used as an adder index to increase the receiver status.

BadgeScore Status Flavio Escribano
Image 3: Badge Score and Status. By Flavio Escribano (GECON.es)

After acquiring an Open Badge with BadgeRank and BadgeScore data, the receiver status would be modified/increased in the open badges user’s ecosystem and, at the same time, the earned badge would be set into a concrete location into the badges ecosystem. Such a location will be also useful for the receiver in the way he would be able to know which alternate learning pathways are available in the badges ecosystem. All this information should be integrated into the open badges metadata at the same time the open badges platform should be capable of making the badges-receiver matches in order to communicate the receiver how is the badge score modifying his status value. In addition, the badges ecosystem would be capable to communicate the receiver the most convenient offers – that means- to guide him through the learning pathway.

OpenBadge como estándar para representar la adquisición de Competencias y Categorías en determinadas Áreas por Flavio Escribano
Image 4: OpenBadge as a standar to visualize competences and categories acquisition on several knowledge areas. By Flavio Escribano (GECON.es)

Taking into account Charla Long’s badges system as a valuable reference to certify competences and as categories in certain areas, we would like to propose an Open Badges’ taxonomy approach within a future (an ideal) universal system of knowledge (see image 4). Any receiver could be located on a concrete knowledge space thanks to a proper badge’s metadata visualization, certifying specific competences and its features and also with both intrinsic value (within the system, that we could call by name Rank) and extrinsic one (depending of the user who is represented by), that we could call Score).


Become increasingly the number of scholars, educators and researchers who are worried about the necessity of a unique and useful approach in order to avoid the badge’s fragmentation. Open Badges appears as the unique and serious alternative capable to create a badge’s metadata standard which allows an official. This is a very important first step on the very much important alternatives and evolution of certifications on both education and professional fields, the next step should be the creation of an Open Badge’s cartography/taxonomy system (maybe thanks to our BadgeScore and BadgeRank approach) of all these certification within the multidimensional human knowledge map which, would become into great benefits for all issuers, receivers and employers.

A Badge Ecosystem/Cartography will also mean to generate that map of human knowledge (and its equivalence to digital credential) and also a map of its agents. At the same time it should be needed to create an algorithm which, in an impartial and equitable way, shall locate on the map and give weight to every badge in the system, both of them (location and weight) related to system agent’s actions and relationships. We might be in front of the first serious, real and universal way to establish a kind of map of human knowledge thanks to these digital interconnected digital credentials.