What Happens When You Create and Issue Badges to Yourself?

Badge newcomers ask wonderful questions. There is something to be said for paying keen attention to the questions, comments, and ideas of people new to digital badges. That was the case with a session that I attended at the 2015 US Distance Learning Association Conference. The session was entitled, Creative Credentials: The Power of CBE and Digital Badges; a solid and well-done presentation and introduction to badges. Near the end, a gentleman in the audience shared that, from his perspective, there seemed to be two types of badges. There are badges that an organization or entity creates and issues. There there are badges that an individual can create and issue to him/herself. A presenter rightly responded by explaining that the standard approach to badges is the former. In fact badge issuing services are typically set up with the idea that one person/organization is issuing a badge to a different person; although it is indeed possible for one person to issue a badge to him/herself, granted there are two accounts…representing two different roles.

When I heard this question from the person in the crowd, I was compelled to pull up a new window and start writing this post. Realize it or not, this attendee asked a brilliant question, one that hacks the common thoughts about how badges work, but one that also offers us a chance to think about badges in a more novel way. In fact, his question fist nicely into the broader conversation about the democratization of credentials. Can you imagine a context or time when self-designed and self-issued badges gained broader acceptance and external value? While that does not seem to be the direction of many in the badge community, I see this as a valuable perspective. Yes, the credibility of the issuer plays an important role for many as they think about how they might grow as a more acceptable form of credentialing currency.

The idea of someone self-issuing a credential also sparks concerns about deception and credibility. I can’t, for example, take a class from myself and then give myself a grade at the University where I work. We usually divide the role of instructor and student, learner and the role that assesses/verifies. Nonetheless, what would it look like to blur these lines? Can you think of contexts where this might have merit, where it might gain a measure of acceptance? I welcome your thoughts in the comment area, on Twitter, or wherever else you opt to extend the conversation.

Posted in badges, blog, digital badges, education | Tagged , ,

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.

6 Replies to “What Happens When You Create and Issue Badges to Yourself?”

  1. ottonomy

    Thanks for another interesting post, Bernard. I agree with the other folks who have already chimed in that there are some potentially cool opportunities for self-issued badges, but also some pitfalls.

    Some areas where I see self-issued badges as promising:
    * Converting an achievement that is not issued using the Open Badges to an Open Badge, with appropriate evidence
    * Self-assessed progress along learning pathways
    * (slightly different) Endorsing & annotating someone has earned to attach evidence or additional information not included by the issuer. I was pleased to see Open Badge Passport introducing a feature to let badge recipients add evidence to pages within their badge-display pages. This would be interesting to roll into the specification, and I don’t think it would be difficult.

    I think that implementing self-issued badges well is a matter of ensuring that badge consumers understand 1) that it is a self-issued badge and 2) the meaning and intent of the badge being self-issued are clear.

    You’re right to suggest that self-issued badges raises issues around deceptions, particularly with the current state of validation for consumers in Open Badges infrastructure. But, I see signs that problems in this area are recognized and solutions are coming.

    Problems remain: For example, the Mozilla Backpack shows no indication to users that either of the badges in this collection have any problem:
    http://backpack.openbadges.org/share/e40291b7b32e9c2a8dd3a3113615abdb/

    Open Badge Passport has a similar problem: https://openbadgepassport.com/badges/badge_info/169/53 (but a representative claims a fix to display something to the viewer when this problem occurs is in the works)

    In the new integrity verifier Concentric Sky is set to release soon after the v1.1 OBI Specification update, these problems will be displayed as warnings for consumers to investigate further. I’m happy to see Open Badge Passport taking this seriously, and I hope future platforms continue on a trajectory of making sure that badge consumers have the right information to assess the badges’ validity. The problems with these badges (domain mismatches between different badge components) don’t always indicate invalidity but point to possible problems.

  2. sergeravet

    A Badge of Honour to the person who asked the right question! Yes, there is a place (mainly unexploited) for self-issued badges. There are already plenty of “self-issued badges by proxy”: it is the case when a teacher delivers a badge to a student which contains the implicit statement: “by delivering you that badge, I trust that I did a good job as a teacher.” The badge might be delivered to another person, but it is a teacher self-congratulation.

    If we think of competencies, it is clear that they can be issued by either oneself or a third party. If issued by oneself then, as mentioned by Jade, the endorsement mechanism is the way through which it will gain value in the community. I can create my badge as a plumber and ask the people who have seen and appreciated my work to endorse my badge. I could also go to the crafts chamber and pass a practical test to get an official badge. The self-issued badge rests on the *informal* recognition of informal learning (largely ignored by the academic community), while the crafts chamber badge is about the *formal* recognition of informal learning. The self-issued badge is one of the possible triggers for an informal recognition process.

    We could go one step further and ask whether there are certain badges that have to be self-issued, badges that cannot be issued by a third party or would feel unauthentic if they were. I will suggest one, but I imagine that many more could fall under the same category: a gender badge. There are already a few countries where citizens can decide by themselves which gender they belong to. There are other countries where gender is defined by the state and the consequences range from suicide (in ‘civilised’ countries) to murder (in ‘less civilised’ countries). To take a less controversial examples, how about ‘value’ badges, “teaching philosophy” badges or “reflective rebel” badges?

  3. Doug Belshaw

    As Jade says, there’s been some great thinking around this already – for example by Chloe Varelidi who talked about ‘triangulating’ competencies/skills through self/peer/expert-issued badges. 🙂

    I’ll have to try and find the discussion!

  4. dawblack

    Perhaps some sort of public portfolio might be a part of some self-assigned badge — something where the question of credibility is offset by the public nature of the work.

  5. Jade Forester (@jade_forester)

    Another great and thoughtful post! This has been part of the open badges narrative from the beginning – in instances where, for example, specialized skills and competencies have been learned in informal settings without any kind of recognition, someone can create what is essentially a portfolio of evidence-based statements (badges) detailing the what, where, when, and how of their skills, knowledge and competencies. This is also an area where endorsement becomes interesting – if someone can create and issue a badge to themselves and get it endorsed by a third party in the relevant field or industry, we can build value and validity into the statements we make about ourselves in public and professional spaces.

    • Bernard Bull Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Jade. Yes, this is certainly in line with some of the earliest visions of openness with badges. I love that a person in the crowd,who is brand new to badges, so naturally thought about this usage scenario, even when the presentation did not focus on that aspect. It leads me to suspect that the intended affordance of openness is truly a part of the technology’s “bones.”

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