Want to issue open badges? Here are some options.

As I’ve written a bit about micro-credentials and digital badges this year, I have a growing number of people asking me about how they can start designing and issuing badges. While I like getting into the strategic planning part of things, most of these questions are just about what tools and technologies exist to issue badges. So, this post is my initial answer to that question.

Of course, one’s decision depends upon a number of factors: goals, desired features, essential features, reporting requirements, technical acumen, financial resources, whether there is need for long-term record-keeping, whether the badges are part of a formal academic offering, etc. Nonetheless, here is my rough draft list of some current options for badge design and issuing solutions. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does introduce you to a variety of current possibilities.

My one criterion for including an option is that it is compliant with the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure. If it is just a closed badging system, I’m leaving it off the list for now (my apologies to groups like Schoology). This is a fast-moving time in the badge world, so new players are likely to emerge. For this reason, as you look through this list, you will see that many of these are still in beta. That is also something to keep in mind as you consider your options.

Like everything I write on this blog, this is a rough draft. So, I would appreciate help expanding and improving it. If you have any more commentary on one of these options (including if you are from one of the companies mentioned in the list), please consider including a suggested description or revision in the comment area. I will review the comments occasionally and use them to update the article. Also, if you know or learn about other badge issuing solutions, please consider listing and describing them in the comment area. I will incorporate them granted that they meet my one criterion. Finally, I have a couple of emails out to some companies on this list, asking for help describing their product, especially those that I was not able to try out for myself. I will use their replies to improve the list also.

Acclaim Open Badges – This solution from Pearson allows trusted Universities, schools and organizations the chance to issue badges, while also giving the recipient a, “secure way to share online that they have achieved something important. They focus on working with clients that are “high-stakes credentialing organizations and academic institutions.

Achievery – This is a robust stand-alone or integrated solution for creating, issuing and displaying badges. If you are an academic institution or organization, you can sign up to participate in their public beta. Like most betas, know that there is no guarantee that it will continue to be free or even come out of beta.

BadgeForge – This is yet another beta that allows you to design, create, review submissions, and issue badges. It also includes options for badge earners to “set their own goals and earn their own recognition in the form of badges.” As such, this is a promising model for self-directed and student-centered project-based learning educational settings.

BadgeOS – This free WordPress plug-in from LearningTimes (connected to Credly) allows you to design, review submissions, and issue badges right through your WordPress blog. I love how this plug-in allows for easy submission of evidence and a means of reviewing and having a text-based conversation with the submitter through a private comment tool. There is a growing number of free or inexpensive extensions that allow added features like leaderboards and reports.

BadgeKit – This kit of tools from Mozilla provides a solution for “creating, designing, assessing, and issuing badges.” Right now, this option is a private beta, but if you the technical acumen, you can download the open source code from GitHub and run it on your own server.

Blackboard Learn – If your organization uses Blackboard for an LMS, then you are ready to issue badges. Simply use the “achievements” tool to design, review submissions and  issue badges.

Canvas + BadgeSafe - Canvas, another increasingly well-known LMS, also has the option of designing, reviewing and issuing badges using BadgeSafe.

Credly – This is a user-friendly and robust solution for people or organizations interested in creating and issuing badges. You can use their tools to build simple visual designs or you can upload badges that you designed on your own. They have a number of existing integrations with everything from WordPress to Salesforce, along with an API that gives you the option of integrating it into other systems as well. I used Credly for my first two MOOCs. While there was not an integration with the LMS that I was using at the time, it was as easy as uploading a batch file each week and sending out the badges.

Drupal Modules – There are a few projects underway to refine modules that allow you to create and/or issuing badges through Drupal, a popular open source content management system. I’m far less familiar with these options, but you and check them out here.

ForAllBadges - This is a stand-alone solution for designing, managing, and issuing badges, with a focus on K-12 education. They recently combined this service with ForAllRubrics, allowing for a nice rubric interface for reviewing badges.

Moodle Open Badges – Like other Learning Management Systems, Moodle has the option of designing, reviewing submissions, and issuing badges. You have the option of building site-wide or course-specific badges. If you are a Moodle user, you can enable open badges in the “advanced features” section of the “site administration.”

Open Badge Factory – While issuing badges through built-in features of a Learning Management System is an option, there are some downsides, and Open Badge Factory offers an external solution that integrates with a few LMSs. You can integrate OBF with an LMS like Moodle (as well as Totara and Optima). You can design, create, manage, and issue badges with this solution. Plus it allows you to generate reports. This is a pilot through December of 2014, but you can contact the developers to see if you can participate in the pilot.

OpenBadges.me – Okay, so this one is not a platform for issuing badges, but it is a user-friendly tool for the graphic design part of building your badge. It includes a simple step-by-step process to create a badge. Then you can download it to your computer and upload it to whichever tool you choose for issuing.

WPBadger - This simple and light-weight WordPress plug-ins allow you to issue badges from from your WordPress blog.

Micro-credentials & Alternate Routes to Skilled Employment

If you don’t have a ticket, you don’t get in. That is how it works at the movie theater and it is a reality for many seeking skilled employment. Whether you stole it, bought it, earned it, or it was offered to you as a gift; you need to have it in your possession if you want to get through the door. That ticket is often a formal credential like a college degree. Yet, there are simultaneous developments coming together to give us a glimpse of another way. Self-blended learning, connected learning, the unbundling of formal education and micro-credentials are starting to combine in a way that we might soon see an alternative to the diploma, what we can think of as the bitcoins of the credentialing world (look for another article playing with that comparison in the near future).

Defining Blended Learning

In Classifying K-12 Blended Learning,” Heather Staker and Michael Horn define blended learning as, “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” and “at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.”

There are several important observations in this definition. First, note that it is defined as a “formal education program.” As such, they are choosing a definition for blended learning that does not include the rapidly expanding world of informal, self-directed learning, and what I often refer to as self-blended learning (This is in contrast Staker and Horn’s reference to a type of self-blended learning that is still largely teacher-directed.). By noting that part of the learning takes place online and part takes place “at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home,” this seems to rule out homeschooling and unschooling, despite the fact that many in such settings consistently embrace and leverage the rest of the this definition of blended learning (a blend of face-to-face and online; and increased learner control over time, place, pace, and path). At the same time, the definition is broad enough to leave ample room for emerging and alternate learning contexts. For example, there is no explicit mention of a teacher in this definition. While a teacher may fill the role of shaping the “formal education program”, “instruction”, partial “control”, and supervision; the definition would also fit in a context where many people (or resources) played one or more of these roles.

One of the more fascinating parts of this definition compared to other definitions of blended learning is the part about increased student control over time, place, pace and pathway. It is certainly possible to create instruction that blends online and face-to-face but does not give learners more control over time, place, pace and/or path. As a result, this is not only a descriptive definition, but one that promotes a certain approach to the blending of face-to-face and online.

Self Blended Learning

Looking at the essay from Staker and Horn, one can see reference to self-blended learning. However, there are at least two working definitions for this term. In fact, compare the visual representation of the four types of blended learning in the previously mentioned article with the similar image here. You will notice that “self-blended” is replaced with “a-la-carte”, which is used to refer to a situation where learners choose a combination of face-to-face courses and online course to make up their overall formal schooling experience.

There is a different working definition for self-blended learning that I favor, one that seems more directly connected to the words “self” and “blended.” For more detail, see my articles on Beyond Blended Teaching to Self-Blended Learning and 5 Example of Self-blended Learning. Here and elsewhere I define self-blended learning as the combination of self-directed learning and blended learning. As such, self-blended learning is where a learner takes the initiative to blend face-to-face and online experiences to enhance learning in a traditional course, or to design an altogether new learning experience that is self-organized.

With this second definition in mind, self-blended learning encompasses the power of personal learning networks and the massive growth of formal and informal self-directed learning through online communities, social media, open courses, educational apps, and other aspects of a networked world.

Self-Directed Learning Limitations

With the growth of this movement toward self-blended and self-directed learning in the digital world, there is a growing clash between the people with increased knowledge and skill developed through self-blending that is often un-credentialed, and those who study in formal learning organizations and conclude with a credentials like a certification or diploma. Given that many skilled jobs list formal credentials as requirements for unemployment, we are beginning to see a growing number of people who likely have the knowledge, skills, and disposition to thrive in a given job, but they are excluded from consideration because they lack the credential. At the same time, due to the fact that these traditional credentials are often not trustworthy evidence of one’s qualifications for a given job, some credentialed but unqualified people make it further in the application process than the highly qualified but un-credentialed. This is not a new phenomena, as many scholars from the 1970s have rich insights into the stratification of society through education credentials (For a brilliant read on the subject, see Randall Collins’s 1979 book, The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. I plan to write more about this and related texts in the near future). What is different today is that the Internet has rapidly opened and democratized learning resources, communities, and opportunities; but frequently without formal credentials. Credentials remain the least open and democratized part of contemporary education, even as we see many other aspects of education beginning to unbundle.

We certainly have ample examples of self-taught and self-directed people without formal credentials who found their way into significant positions, ones that are often limited to people with formal credentials. Many of them did so in new, emerging and less regulated jobs (startups, programming and other computer-related work, social media, sales and marketing, etc.). However, there are also a few like Joi Ito, who serves as Director of the MIT Media Lab. While not having a college degree, his record of accomplishments was significant enough for people to make an exception. Joi is clearly brilliant, but there are likely hundreds of thousands, even millions of people who are equally qualified for various jobs, but they lack the credential and are never considered for them. Consider a local sales job that requires a minimum of a college degree, but a self-taught person lives blocks away and may well be far more skilled at sales than any nearby college applicants.

The Credentialed or the Competent? 

Many point to schooling as the remedy to social ills and issues, as a rescue from poverty, unemployment and incarceration, but part of that is generated by how we value credentials more than competence. Is it getting the credential that keeps one out of jail and poverty, or is it something else that society just happens to attach to a degree? When people talk about the importance of getting an education, is it really focused on getting educated, acquiring important knowledge and skills? Or is it instead about earning a credential that serves as a ticket into more exclusive aspects of society? Is it the knowledge and skill that opens the door or the credential?

While school is one way to gain new knowledge and skill, it is not the only way. Yet, much of society is set up as if the credential itself was critical. Why, for example, don’t more job postings simply list the required competencies for consideration, regardless of one’s credentials? Is it because many in society have come to trust that the credential truly does further qualify one person over another? Or is there something else going on under the surface of our collective consciousness? Why do we trust the abstraction of a credential over more concrete measures of competence for many employment purposes?

The Role of Micro-Credentials and Competency-based Education

Over the last few years, we’ve seen growing interest and development in both alternate credentials and competency-based education. Much competency-based education is still closely tied to traditional schooling and credentialing structures, but this movement has begun to help us recognize the weakness or limitations in many of our models. Competency-based education (CBE) challenges us to question the validity of forcing the marriage of learner progress or accomplishment with required seat time in a class, the number of days or hours in a school building, or the number of credits earned. Instead, competency-based education focuses on outcomes. The concept of CBE leaves room to recognize the significance of part of the earlier definition of blended learning, that of giving learner at least some control over time (how long it takes), pace (when to go quickly and when to go slowly), place and learning pathway (how to achieve a given learning goal or demonstrate a given competency). At its essence, CBE is agnostic to the length and how of learning as long as one demonstrates the competency at the end. Of course, all formal CBE programs that I’ve reviewed so far do place some restrictions on learner control of these four features.

Add this essential aspect of competency-based education to one potential use of open badges. A badge is a digital symbol plus associated meta-data that can be issued and received as a result of some skill or achievement. Consider the possibility of establishing online collections of competency-based badges or micro-credentials that parallel the knowledge and skill acquired as one progresses toward getting a traditional credential or diploma.

Imagine that these badges have clearly stated criteria and a careful review process, one that ensures competence of the learner as well or better than what is done in traditional schooling. What would it look like to establish collections of these badges in the open, allowing people to suggest or provide both free and fee-based resources to help one reach the necessary competence to earn a given badge. Such a model has the possibility of creating a credentialing system that could potentially give an alternate route to skilled employment for the growing number of self-directed learners, especially those who do not elect to go through the sometimes bureaucratic hoops of a more traditional degree program.

This would challenge traditional schooling, but it would not replace it. What it would do is decrease the credential as the primary and culminating benefit of school. Instead, to justify the expense, a school would need to place even more attention on helping learners become increasingly competent and confident (and the social and extracurricular aspect of schools would maintain value among many). Of course, most schools would continue to issue traditional diplomas, but what if these micro-credentials gained enough social trust and recognition that they genuinely were accepted along with a college degree or separate from one? Some would still go to college. Others might piece together their own self-directed route to the same or a comparable credential.

Many opportunities would be made possible for such a model. It would create even more opportunities for new education startups and open source communities. And it would give learners even more choice and access to personalized and customized pathways to desired professional and life goals. One could freely blended learning resources from multiple schools, organizations, on the job training, online communities, life experiences and personal study to help gain the competencies desired or required for one or more career aspirations. It would even allow for easier retooling and retraining as a person aspires to move from one career track to another.

There is a massive “what if” in what I am writing. I am casting a potential vision for what could be more than what will be. Yet, the possibility for such a model exists now, and we are already seeing small version of it with the development of Udacity’s nanodegrees, people exploring open badges for employment, systems that promote and offer badges as a form of high-stakes credentialing, and companies like DuoLingo challenging trusted credentials like TOEFL by providing their own free or very low-cost (as in $20) certification program. Badges are gaining more traction for professional development purposes, as supplements to formal schooling, and in community education efforts. Yet, each of these efforts are increasing awareness and acceptance of badges. I am beginning to see increased promise for this proposed vision as I continue to watch more badge efforts develop, as public awareness continues to grow, and as people begin to recognize the possibilities for badges as a tool for further democratizing education. This may help to create a more open and authentic route to skilled employment, just as it appears to be speeding the unbundling of the education system.

This alternate form of credentials is not needed by everyone who chooses a less conventional educational route. See my article on Uncollege for another possibility. Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work is yet another option, where people learn to manage their online identity and build connections around their work and interests. These connections might even lead to jobs for which they do not even need to directly apply. The self-employed, freelance, and entrepreneurial options are often less restricted by the required entry tickets of traditional credentials. For other forms of skilled employment, the lack a formal credential is a barrier. Without that socially trusted abstract representation of one’s ability, options are limited. It is for these self-directed learners that micro-credentialing seems to offer new possibilities and increased opportunity.

There is a dark side to this. There is the possibility that micro-credentials will amplify or at least perpetuate the already significant problem of credentialism in contemporary society (look for a couple of posts on this topic as well). That is why the “open” part of the open badge movement is so significant. What I am writing here has both a realist and idealist side to it. The realist in me recognizes that credentialism is deeply rooted in much of contemporary society. However, I also see that is excludes when it does not need to do so. Concern about this issue is what drives the idealist in me, the part that resonates with the open education movement, and that sees the possibility of blending open education with a credential mindset that can open employment opportunities by further democratizing credentials, and challenge what some refer to as the current monopolization of skilled employment. That is my hope for micro-credentials.

Notes, Quotes & Reflections about Geoffrey Canada’s Keynote at #BbWorld14

Geoffrey Canada, educator and activist took the closing keynote spot at Blackboard World 2014 last week. You might know him from his engaging TED Talk on “Our Failing Schools: Enough is Enough!” Perhaps you know him for his inspiring work with Harlem Children’s Zone or by watching Waiting for Superman. Or maybe you read one of his books: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence or Reaching Up For Manhood. For those at BBWorld2014 who never heard of him, maybe they will remember him for a compelling, passionate, provocative closing keynote.

This was his first public appearance since retiring after 31 years with the Harlem Children’s Zone, and he started with a short reflection on the way his work has spread and influenced education. “All I ever wanted to do was save my kids…but the ‘my’ kept getting larger and larger,” he explained. Then he got into it, launching his main talk with the following quote:

“I’m convinced that if we don’t do something radically different, we’re going to preside over the decline of our country.”

“When I stared, I went to Detroit and found out that it was worse than Harlem.” And as he learned more, he wondered, “How big is this problem?” “I discovered that as a nation, we’ve developed a strategy”…a toxic one, designing a system where many kids don’t get an education. What do we do when places produce kids who are unemployable? “We lock up all the guys.” ‘We incarcerate more people per capita than any place in the world bar none.” “We created an industry around incarceration in our country that is rivaling education.”

What does it take to education kids coming from poverty? He explained that it is difficult, but we can do it. We invest in kids from the beginning, carefully measuring how they are doing so that we can do something to help them. We stay with them through high school and college. Canada claims that this will cost $5000 per child above what we already spend on education. Right now, Canada pointed out that the average cost per child is $30,000 per year, but in some places it is $60,000 to over $100,000. He described this to argue that, when put in perspective, this $5000 is not that much. “People scoff at this modest investment, but we don’t seem to worry that the cost of incarceration is so much more.”

“We see an American tragedy unfolding, and those of us in education are part of the problem.” Canada used a couple of illustrations to explain that we see problems elsewhere and don’t think they will impact us. Perhaps it is a problem in another part of the country or with a different demographic. Yet, Canada argued that this education problem “is an American problem.” He saw a report that 75% of American kids can’t qualify for the military. 30% of the kids don’t graduate high school. 30% can’t pass the entrance exam. 27% are so obese that they can’t qualify. “We let this happen to our kids.”

Canada then went on to explain a few things that need to change.

1. “If you are a teacher and you can’t teach, you should probably find another job.” and “If you are a barber and you can’t cut hear, get another job.”

2. Canada argued that we should expect of each kid what we would or do expect of our own. If we want our kids to graduate high school and go to college, what about having that goal for every kid? “When you walk around Harlem, almost every kid in my zone goes to college, ” Canada explained. “This is about normative behavior.”

3. “Let’s stop teaching to the middle and start teaching to the student.”

4. “We need to hold everyone accountable for the work they do, and we need to use real data. While this is controversial for some, this is how you improve things in education.”

5. Kevin ended his talk by reciting one of his poems, “Don’t Blame Me”, a poem that calls us to take responsibility and take action to address this crisis in education…not to piont the finger at someone else, but to do something.


11 Features of Learning Organizations That Nurture Learner-Leaders

I seem to be reading more school mission statements stating that part of their purpose is to nurture young leaders. What does that look like? What does it take to do this? What does it mean for a school, community or learning organization to honor the learner, to hold students in high regard? I had a one-year executive leadership fellowship a few years ago that was transformational. The ideas, relationships, community, and coaching were all significant in my formation as a leader. As I think back on the experience, there was one feature that was more striking than anything else. I felt deep respect and honor from the mentors and coaches. They did not tout or highlight their expertise (although they had ample) or draw attention to the fact that they likely had superior wisdom on matters of leadership (although they certainly had more than at least one fellow). They had clear and high expectations, but there was also a refreshing openness to each of us taking our own paths.  In fact, it was communicated that this was the only way to become a leader. Great leaders know humility and followership, but there is also a part of leadership that requires the confidence to take steps on one’s own, even when there are voices of dissent.

So what about young people? How do we begin to nurture compassionate, humble, confident young leaders? What are the traits of an education that empowers learner-leaders? What sort of “features” lead to such development? I’m sure that there are many, but here are eleven to consider, things that we want to make a part of any learning organization that aspires to help with the growth and development of learner-leaders.


There is a time is listen and learn, but there is also need to develop and discover one’s own distinct voice. Too many strict rules, regulations, and instructions; and it makes it hard for a learner to discover or develop that voice.

Steven Covey shared four questions that lead to the defining of one’s voice: 1) What are you good at? 2) What do you love doing? 3) What needs can you serve? 4) What gives your life meaning and purpose…and what do you think you should be doing?

Learning organizations that honor the emerging learner-leader create space and opportunity to explore these questions. This often means teachers who are confident enough in their own voice that they don’t feel a need to constantly use it or let it dominate the learning space. It means inviting learners to have, develop and use their voice within the learning community…as much or more than the teachers.


It is hard to learn the consequences of your choices if you don’t have any choices. Not only is choice a great way to help learners see and take ownership in their own learning, but it is the only way to develop a sense of true responsibility. How can you be responsible when you have no choice in the matter? That is less about responsibility and more about compliance.  With this in mind, learning organizations committed to the learner-leader are places where learners have significant choice in the how, what, when, and why of learning.  This doesn’t mean that teachers fail to provide advice, redirect, point out some of the realistic non-negotiables in some contexts, and offer words of wisdom. It does mean that learners are becoming increasingly empowered to make important choices about their life and learning.


There is time to work on addressing one’s weaknesses, especially when they are holding us back from doing that which we believe we are called to do. However, great leaders build on their strengths. They are often surprisingly lopsided people. We certainly want to address or protect any Achilles heels before going into “battle”, but discovering, refining, and learning to use one’s strengths is a central part of schools interested in helping nurture leaders. Kids need to know, have humility, but also take pride in their strengths and those of others. As it stands, many learning organizations only value a select set of strengths, leaving out the chance to celebrate and nurture many strengths that are great assets in the rest of life.

Authentic Feedback

If we are really about nurturing true leadership, then we need to get at things that are authentic. Math can’t just be about taking tests and solving abstract problems. It has to also be about solving problems in the world with math. The same is true about writing, speaking, studying history and social studies, and the like. When learners are working on authentic problems and issues in the world, then feedback can become more authentic as well. Feedback is not just about grading someone, but it about helping them accomplish goals that are important to them and/or others in the world…helping them to refine and improve their work because they want to do so.


In most schools, failure is something to be avoided at all costs. Failing on an assignment is a character flaw. It is something to hide or about which one must be perpetually embarrassed. What about the importance of failure, the blessing of failure, and even failure as a badge of honor in some places like startup communities? A person who failed at a startup is sometimes seen as a great asset, not someone with a dark cloud or curse on them. Failure has to be completely reconsidered and reimagined in places that want to nurture strong leaders. Otherwise we risk developing people who spend hours trying to cover their tracks, point fingers, and not be able to suck the wonderfully nutritious lessons out of that wonderful and terrible gift called failure.


Many teachers note that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and yet there is rarely room to formulate, ponder, explore and answer personally developed questions in learning communities. Leaders learn to ask, consider and passionately pursue answers to questions. Where do we have space to nurture this in learners?

Behind the Curtain

Teaching and learning is not a show for students to watch. It is a participatory event. Why not invite students behind the curtains, involving them in everything from lesson planning to assessment, curriculum design and development to space design. Let them not only be audience members but actors, producers, directors, stagehands, and playwrights.


We are talking about young people. Education without patience is little more than a strategy to strain out those who can most benefit from it. I am referring to patience with learners who are struggling, growing, exploring, experimenting, not getting it, regressing, finding their way through awkward changes, messing up, trying to figure out the rapid changes in themselves and the world, testing boundaries, and trying on roles. This doesn’t mean tolerating anarchy or not setting up boundaries, but it does mean recognizing that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Different learners will develop different knowledge, skills and character traits in different ways and at different times.


The 45-minute course schedule has to go if we are going to be serious about this. School is almost the only place in life where all our life activities are carefully broken up into small chunks. The only time to actually go deep into something is outside of the learning organization. Leaders must discover what it is like to go deep into something, to spend hours, days and weeks lost in a question, project, or problem. This helps develop perseverance and character. Survey learning doesn’t have the ability to nurture these same traits.

One of the more important insights of a leader is to know what is important and what is not, and to invest one’s time and energy heavily in the things that are most important. Why not give learner-leaders a chance to practice this?


The freedom to act on one’s own,­ not just by compulsion, is critical for leaders. This does not need to mean that one ignores all authority, but it does mean empowering people to see themselves as having the freedom and capacity to take responsibility for their own life and choices. Without this we might have compliant followers, but we don’t get leaders.

Leadership and Followership Opportunities

Of course, there is an important eleventh trait as well. These learning organizations that are committed to nurturing leadership provide chances for them to experience what it is like to follow and lead, taking time to reflect and debrief these experiences. Amid this, they experience each of the other ten traits as well.

5 Predictions About Educational Credentialing in 2024

I am doing a bit of consulting later in the week, and one of my tasks is to make a few predictions about education in 2024. My part of the day is focused upon alternate and micro-credentialing. With that in mind, here are five predictions. I don’t necessarily like all these outcomes, but based upon the trends, I see many of them as highly likely, especially as they relate to adult and continuing education; and education for trades and regulated professions. What do you think? As you read this short list, you may be surprised about how much does not seem to be directly tied to credentialing. That is because, at least in much of American higher education, credentials and assessments tend to shape and direct much education practice.

I’ve always seen assessment as a bit boring until I started to recognize how it has become the most powerful aspect of many education environments. Change or add a given assessment or evaluation practice and you can quickly see a transformation in an entire system. Look at the conversations about Common Core in K-12 education. It was when the use of assessments started to take root that the debates become most intense.

Do you have any predictions of your own?

1. Unbundled Education – Education will become increasingly unbundled and aggregated across networks and contexts. This will give way to increased grass-roots educational initiatives, the capacity for learners to self-blend learning experiences from multiple sources and organizations, and cross-organizational credentials. Highly regulated sectors and those with strong centralized professional organizations and standards will be most insulated from some of this. It will lead to significant turmoil and disruption in many higher education institutions.

2. Networked Learning will become a fundamental life and work skill. While the most regulated industries will be more insulated, there will be significant conflict between democratizing and authoritarian models of education and training. Regardless, a fundamental aspect of lifelong learning will be the development, maintenance and ongoing expansion of a personal learning network. Related to this, we will see massive formal learning networks within geographic areas, specific fields and professions, and other distinct physical or virtual communities.

3. For many professions and trades, competency-based education and assessment will largely replace assessment of readiness through traditional letter grade systems, GPAs and similar measures. Systems like traditional letter grades will be phased out with the emergence of more accurate and granular measures of learner progress and competence. This will impact both initial training and continuing education.

4. Depending upon the context, alternate and micro-credentialing systems will replace or supplement letter grades, course, credits, and degrees (but the most regulated industries will be more insulated from this disruption). These emerging credentialing systems will have features like expiration dates and detailed information about the criteria met to earn the credential.

5. Educational experiences will provide significant learner control and/or learner-specific adjustments of time, place, pace and learning pathway. As part of this, adaptive learning and robust learning progression designs will replace many industrial or one-size-fits all models of education and training. For better or worse, with the maturity of adaptive learning tools, there will be a renewed and invigorated battle between the  “science of teaching and learning” and the “art of teaching and learning.” Learning analytics and big data will drive the design of high-impact, competency-based individualized learning experiences.

6 Design Experiments in a Mildly Massive Open Online Course

A little over a year ago, I led my first MOOC, Understanding Cheating in Online Courses. It got a fair amount of media attention, likely because it made for provocative article titles…things like, “MOOC Teaches How to Cheat in Online Courses With an Eye Toward Prevention.” There were also articles in the BBC News, Venture Beat and the New York Times. Those articles tell a bit about the what and why of the MOOC, but they don’t really get into the design side of things, giving you a glimpse into the design decisions that shaped this experiment. I shared a few of these thoughts at conference earlier this year, but I thought I others might be interested, so here you go.

First I should explain the goals of the MOOC. There were six of them.

  1. 1.Increase attention to academic honesty issues and have a great conversation with people about a topic that is important to me. Yes, I created a MOOC to build a community around this topic, so that I could learn more about the subject.
  2. 2.Equip people to mitigate against academic cheating, but in a way that was not all about policing and punishing.
  3. 3.Add depth to the current discussion by looking at it from an interdisciplinary perspective (the philosophy of cheating, psychology of cheating, from the perspective of the cheater, etc.).
  4. 4.Challenge existing beliefs and myths. Many talk about cheating as a simple moral issue. I tried to broaden the conversation to think of it also as a design issue.
  5. 5.Promote a design approach to academic honesty.
  6. 6.Experiment and play with the affordances of open learning.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.37.46 PMAfter meeting a number of times with my design team (a few instructional designers, a digital media specialist, and our director of online technology), we decided upon six features: collective knowledge generation, a mix of public and private spaces, live events, a design that welcomed and encouraged self-blending, pre-established but emerging schedule, and whimsical but meaningful digital badges. Each of these were selected to build community, foster a highly personalized experience and self-directed, and to honor the unique affordances of a MOOC…doing things that can’t be done with other courses as easily (like collective knowledge generation).

Collective Knowledge Generation – This is one of the affordances of a MOOC. If you have hundreds or thousands of people gathered together around a topic of shared interest, you can actually leverage that group to generate meaningful content that benefits the entire community and beyond. That is what we did. For example, we started the course with an online discussion, where participants shared cheating stories that they’ve experienced. In a matter of a week, we had probably one of the largest collections of informal cheating case studies in existence. And we learned about how students are cheating through those stories. There is no way that I or any other single instructor could have created a better and more varied collection of examples.

Then we followed that activity by making it even more personal. We had a “cheating confessional.” People had a chance to anonymously share a time when they cheated, why they, and how they cheated. It personalized the topic, reminding us that the proclivity for cheating is closer than we like to think. It didn’t condone cheating, but it did make it a bit more personal. This activity added even more cheating case studies from which to learn.

Throughout the class, we also created a cheating lexicon in Google Docs. At any point in the class, participants could add a new term that they learned in the course, also adding a definition and source. The group edited one another’s work and we developed an ever-growing lexicon of terms.

Then at the end of the class, students had the option of doing a “final project” where they came up with a proposed project or plan for mitigating against cheating in their learning organization. Those got posted to the class so we could learn from the wonderful ideas and how plans varied from one context to another.

A Blended of Private and Public

This was an open course in that anyone was welcome to join. However, it was not entirely open. First, we capped enrollment at 1000, so not everyone who wanted to attend was able. This was mostly just a limit put in place by the provider that I used. Beyond that we also elected to host some course discussions in the password-protected learning management system, where only other registered participants could read them. Given the sensitive nature of the topic, this was done to give people the freedom to share and be a bit more candid than they might want to be on the public web.

Alongside that, we had plenty of openness. There was a Twitter stream (#cheatmooc), public weekly content and live events that anyone could access…whether they were registered or not. We also made some of the collective knowledge resources public to the world (like the Cheating Lexicon).

Live Events – As a way to build rapport and to collect great lectures on the topic, we offered weekly lectures on the topic for the week, open to the world. We recorded all these and made them public to the world (in fact, all the course resources are still freely and publicly available at http://online.cuw.edu/programs/open-courses/understanding-cheating-in-online-courses .  Most of these were done using Google OnAir along with a Q & A through a simple chat tool. We encouraged the presenters to be personal…even a bit informal in the live events. They were rich with amazing content, but we tried to run them a bit more live a great living room conversation.

Now here is an amazing part of the live events. I initially planned on presenting all these myself. Then, with the great media attention, a number of amazing scholars reached out and offered to help. So, we had leading thinkers and companies in the field giving these talks (James Lang presenting on what was at the time his forthcoming book called Cheating Lesson; Tricia Bertram Galant, Teddy Fishman, Proctor U, Software Secure, TurnitIn, etc. It was a wonderful and impressive collection of people who gave us a rich and diverse look at the topic.

Plan for Self-Blending

A core affordance of a MOOC is that students don’t need to do what the instructor tells them. They are in charge of their learning. They choose what is valuable and what is now, whether to persist, when to pay attention and when to take a break, which resources to read or watch, which activities seem valuable, and when to go find or create a new resource. We designed the MOOC to honor all this, treating it as a distinct affordance of a MOOC.

As such, we took a lesson from Howard Rheingold and used co-learner language. I described myself as a co-learner and tour guide, not an instructor who calls all the shots. Resources were offered, not required. It was a buffet instead of a prepared meal. They choose what goes on their plate and what does not.

To help provide structure, each week had a provocative driving question, content that explored that question, and suggested activities/experiments that helped participants grapple with and explore that question. Amid this, we added enough resources and activity options that there were many paths to answering and exploring the driving question. The learner got to choose how to explore the question, how deep to go, etc. We also included learner contributions to these resources. So, if a learner went out and found a great resource, we edited the course to include those treasures.

A Pre-Established but Emerging Schedule

This course was a learning community, not an instructor-led dictatorship. So, we wanted the shape of the course to be informed by the interests and needs of the participants. We had pre-developed weekly learning objectives and driving questions. We had pre-developed weekly readings and resources. We had pre-developed weekly suggested learning missions and events. Yet, we revised, added, and removed based upon what students wanted. For example, two of the live events were not even planned beforehand. Students requested a topic, so I went out and found the best people I could to speak to it. Fortunately, they were willing to help us out. I also adjusted many resources and added new suggested activities by watching and listening to the learners. In a sense, this was an adaptive design.

Digital Badges

This course was my first time implementing a digital badge system. With the wonderful help of Credly.com, it was pretty easy to do. We did a ton of reading and research on the concept of digital badges and then we just gave it a try. Our badges were not competency-based. They were meant to recognize contribution to the community and conversation around a given weekly driving question. We assigned points to each suggested activity. If a learner earned 100 or more activity points in a week, they got the badge for the week. Each badge represented a “role” for the week, as students were invited to approach each week by trying on roles like philosopher, psychologist, instructional designer or cheater. We had badges like the research assistant, the cheating psychologist, the cheating philosopher, the cheating investigator, the teacher, the instructional designer, and the cheater (which had a sub-title…”this badge was not earned honestly). We tried to be whimsical but substantive in this design, and a number of people were able to use them as evidence of professional development for their employers.

As another experiment, we had an “exemplary contribution” badge that was distributed to 1-3 people each week, as surprise recognition for their wonderful addition to the community for that week.

Note that the entire badge design was about recognizing and encouraging contribution to he community. They were less about recognizing learning and more about celebrating an individual’s commitment to building knowledge from which others could benefit.

This was a wonderfully rewarding experiment in creative instructional design, digital age communities of practice, and how to leverage the affordances of open learning to give voice to important issues in society. It was far from perfect, but I consider the items above to be largely a success. It was a joy to see the great media attention to this important topic, countless blog posts written about it by participants, and dozens of academic integrity projects implemented in k-12 schools and Universities based on participant work in the MOOC.

Notes & Quotes from The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were in BB Learn #BbWorld14

I attended “The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were in Blackboard Learn” this morning, led by Jim Chalex (Senior Director of product Management for BB Learn). For those who have been using Learn for quite some time, perhaps much of this is familiar. For people newer to the LMS (like me), it was an impressive and helpful overview of new features and enhancements of existing features. Everything below is part of the “Learning Core” package.

10 – Date Management

When you are teaching a course for the second time, what do you do to get ready? One thing is to adjust the dates for the new term/section. Date management automates much of this process. It gives you a list of dates to review and adjust from the last term. This is much faster than if you had to recreate dates for everything.

9 – Student Preview

You know what the course looks like as a teacher. What will it look like for the students? Student Preview helps you answer that question, including a preview of what grades will look like. You can do anything that a typical student would do. You can even take a test, add discussion posts, etc. When you exit the student view, it gives you an option to keep that student data. So, if you took a test in student view, you could keep the data from it and then see how the score shows up in the teacher view.

8 – Blackboard Store

Students need materials…easily and in a timely manner. This feature integrates the text and resource purchasing process right within the context of Blackboard Learn. The student can see the required materials, and BB promises competitive pricing.

7 – Delegated Assignment Grading

What if you need more than one person to be involved in the grading of the course. What if there are teaching aids, or you want to set up peer graders, or even bring in other guests to grade or give feedback on student submissions? This tool allows you to explicitly define who will be the graders for each assignment. You can even specify which submissions they can grade (like the entire class, select students, or select groups). In addition, you have the option of making the submissions look anonymous to the graders. After all this, you have the choice of reconciling the final grade, like if you had multiple graders for the same assignment. You can even add a grader mid-stream.

6 – SafeAssign Integration

BB has had a built-in plagiarism detection tool. Now it is much more integrated in the workflow. As you create assignments, you can build in SafeAssign review as part of the submission workflow. Now rubrics and multiple assignment attempts, for example, work right in SafeAssign. In other words, SafeAssign is now a fully built-in plagiarism detection solution.

5 – Inline Grading

How do we make grading faster? Word documents and PDFs now show up right in the submission itself…no need to download (although you can still do that if you want). You can annotate the documents right in the browser, and your other feedback options show up right on the side of the submission. This sidebar works for grading pretty much anything in Learn.

4 – Test Power Features

For STEM fields, you can now develop calculated/formula questions with significant figures…important for chemistry and related disciplines. Another enhancement is test exceptions. Maybe you have a timed test. What if you need to make an exception for a single student who needs a special accommodation? Now it is extremely easy to do this. You can make feature exceptions for people or select groups.

For high stakes tests (midterms, finals, etc.), there is often a proctored environment. To support that, they added IP address filtering. You can define where a test can be taken…like only at a computer in a specific lab on campus.

Access logs are also enhanced. What if a student is taking a test and has Internet problems? The logs let you know exactly what a student did or did not do, allowing you to validate a student claim about what happened.

3 – Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio capabilities are already built-in Learn. However, the way students created the portfolio was clunky and not aesthetically pleasing.  It was also not integrated into the environment. They have redone the portfolio to make it aesthetic, easy to use, and integrated with the grading and other features. Students can also pull assignments out of a course and put them into the portfolio with ease, working well for a more program-wide portfolio instead of one just tied to a single course. In addition to this, they created a feature in assignments where you can require students to submit their portfolio in the course! All this is part of the learning core.

2 – Learn Outcome and Activity Reporting

You now have the option to define learning outcomes on a program level and align them to most anything. This can drive curriculum mapping and performance reports, reports like how students in a given class are doing in terms of meeting the program level outcomes.

There is detailed activity reporting to track group activity and drilled down student-specific activity on pretty much everything in the course.

1- The Retention Center

Everyone is taking about retention and persistence. It is a critical part of what we do. The retention center provides a straightforward way to figure out which students are struggling and need a potential intervention (or just a little nudge). It lets you see patterns of behavior (like missing due dates, not logging in, poor performance on a grade, inactivity in the course, etc.). There are default settings, but you can also adjust it to determine risks levels of different students. And when you find an at-risk student, you can also connect with the student right from the same screen.

0 – Publisher Integration

Learn is working hard to make it really easy to integrate resources from publishers like Wiley, Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw Hill…all deeply integrated with single sign-on.