A Personal History of #OpenBadges in 50+ Articles (2013 to the Present)

November 17th was declared International Day of Badges, accompanied by several excellent presentations, each of which highlight current or promising practices with open badges. As a way to recognize the day, following is a short history of work and thinking on badges.

1/16/13 – 10 Gamificaton Challenges for Educators 

Despite the fact that I later sought to separate badges from the conversation about gamification, one of my first public references to badges was in the context of an article about gamification. However, what I really wrote is that badges might be able to serve as a valuable alternative to letter grades at some point.

2/13/13 – Un bund led Education 

Much of my thinking about badges started with the epiphany that we can deconstruct various elements of a what was traditionally a package educational deal. I saw badges as a lever for such a change.

5/7/13 – Cheat MOOC

By this point I was ready to experiment with badges. So, I created an academic integrity MOOC that issued badges like the cheating psychologist, cheating philosopher, and just plain cheater for contributing to the conversation in various units of the course. These were not competency-based badges. They recognized contributions to a cause but they gave me a chance to experiment with badges in a practical way. Thanks to the team of Credly for helping make that a reality.

7/15/13 – Is the Letter Grade System an Outdated Technology?

A theme is starting to emerge. My early conceptions of badges related to their affordances as superior to and a future replacement for the antiquated letter grade system.

9/12/13 – If you could wave a magic wand, what technologies would you have in your classroom?

In yet another article, I take a few more jabs at the letter grade system, arguing for competency-based badges as a potential alternative.

9/13/13 – Re-imagining the Educational Technology Known as the Report Card – 5 Alternatives

Okay, so we clearly have a pattern now. In yet another article, I set up badges within my broader experimentation with and exploration of assessment innovations as a way to promote broader educational innovation. Assessment, I came to believe, is a load bearing wall that must be carefully but systematically remodeled to make room for some of the most promising educational innovations.

10/5/13 – Digital Badges for Learning

This was my first article devoted entirely to exploring the affordances of badges within the broader conversation of assessment innovation. This article was written as part of my second MOOC, Learning Beyond Letter Grades.

10/8/13 – Reflection on the First Two Days of The Beyond Letter Grades MOOC

As such, in this follow-up, I explain my first public experiment with using competency-based badges to create a narrative feedback and masterly learning approach to teaching people about various aspects of assessment innovation.

11/11/13 – Free Online Degrees? A Glimpse into the Future of Higher Education

At this point, I was ready to start diving into my future predictions (or at least desires) for the role of badges in education. Add democratized credentials, competency-based education, open education, and the unbundling of education and we get a receipt for a possible free college degree. I’m still working on this, and I have a new twist on it that I’ve not yet made entirely public.

11/13/13 – Assessment Design Tips for MOOCs and other Open Courses

Having experimented with badges in a couple of MOOCs, here is where I provided a vision of the possibilities for other MOOC designers, opening up MOOCs in a new way through assessment innovation.

1/27/14 – How Will Badges and Micro-Credentialing Change Education?

In one of my more candid articles, I spell out ten specific ways that we can use badges to effect significant change in education, especially around the theme of democratizing education. At this point, I was starting to help many others conceptualize badge systems to promote assessment and broader educational innovation.

2/14/14 – 10 Lessons & Reminders from The Open Badges Summit

An incredible event, a gathering of some of the early badge pioneers, I share my own take aways and musings from this invitation only event.

2/18/14 – 10 Trends That are Transforming Homeschooling in the Digital Age

Not only about badges, but here is where I start to take the idea of badges as an assessment and credentialing innovation and show how they can be used in a variety of domains. This was one of many such domains that I later explored. It wasn’t just about homeschooling. It was about unbundling the credential from any specific learning pathway.

2/23/14 – Democratizing Academic Credentials with Open Badges

My theme of democratization grew increasingly strong over the first two years of my writing and thinking about badges. I continue to see this as a powerful possibility but there are certainly competing visions that may well win the day. No worries though because democratization is an integrated affordances of badges and efforts in contrast to this can still be easily overthrown in time.

2/24/14 – How Digital Badges Can Bolster the Aging System of Grades & Transcripts

Now my thinking is starting to mature even more and I have a clearer sense of how badges will impact things like transcripts in the future. Of course, there are plenty of people working hard on that one at the moment in the CBE clan.

5/27/14 – Beware of Badges as Biscuits

Of of the most read articles that I’ve written on badges, here is where I explicitly separate badges from some of the more simplistic gamification approaches to them. At the same time, I will confess now that it is more complicated than what I represented in this article.

6/1/14 – 10 Promising Practices & Possibilities for Using Digital Badges in Your Courses

At this point, I’m ready to encourage others to start adopting badges in their individual classes, and I give some tips here. This led to wonderful interactions with dozens of educators around the world who took the challenge, some of whom ended up leading the charge for larger badge efforts in their organization.

6/7/14 – 7 Amazing Education Books You Don’t Get to Read This Summer

In this playful review of seven books that don’t exist, I gave a glimpse into a book that I still intend to either write or edit: The Why, How and What of Digital Badges in Education.  There has yet to be a definitive work and practical guide in the form of a book.

6/16/14 – Udacity & the Future of Nanodegrees

Here I expand from badges to micro-credentials, a theme that is driving much of my current work and thinking…re-imagining learning pathways across formal programs, continuing education and self-directed learning.

7/8/14 –Digital Badges as Curricular Building Blocks

I still consider this to be one of my most important contributions to the badge community, a model for how competency-based badges can guide us into a new approach to instructional design and curriculum development. Of course, this was also my cryptic way of hinting at a first in the world program that I was soon to announce.

7/16/14 – 7 Modern Mutations of Universal Free Higher Education: It is Coming to the US Sooner Than you Think

Here I juxtapose micro-credentials, democratization of education and the free college movement; providing yet another way in which the concepts of badges or unbundled and democratized credentials are driving innovation in education.

7/27/14 – Micro-credentials & Alternate Routes to Skilled Employment

Here is one of the first articles where I explicitly connect workforce development and open badges…yet another application of the concept to a critical issue in education and society.

7/27/14 – Want to issue open badges? Here are some options.

It was a common question, how do I issue badges? So, I put this article together to serve as a guide.

7/31/13 – Are Open Badges Like Boy Scout Badges? Yes…and No

The comparison of open badges to Boy Scout Badges is enough to start a bar fight among the hard care badge aficionados, so I decided to see if I could find some common ground while clearly showing how open badges are very different.

8/4/14 – Earning, Learning & the Currency of Schools

This is an early version of my musing about badges as a form of academic currency.

8/16/14 – Open Vs. Closed Badging Systems

Now all badges are open badges. People were getting confused about this important point, so I explained it.

8/21/14 – 6 Elements of Democratizing Education

Need I say more? The democratizing theme was at the core of my thinking at this point.

8/25/14 – Digital Badges & Academic Credentials for Homeschoolers

Using homeschoolers and unschoolers as a case, I demonstrated how badges might play out in the future. I might even have a national/international project in the works around a closely related topic.

9/4/14 – 15 Reasons Why People are Using Digital Badges

At this point, badge experimentation had grown enough for a little overview how why people are interested.

9/6/14 – 10 Reasons Why People are NOT Using Open Badges

Of course, I had to give the other side as well.

9/7/14 – You Can Now Earn a Master’s Degree in #EdTech Through Competency-Based Digital Badges

And this was one of those big moments for me…when I announced the first master’s degree program in the world built around competency-based digital badges. We’ve learned a ton of lessons. It is still in place. Yet, we are launching with a new partner and system in the next month or two with some fun additions. This has also morphed into one of my latest programs. Now that we have a graduate program built around competency-based badges, it is time to disrupt that program! Stay tuned.

9/23/14 – Credentials, Trust Networks & the Future of Badges

The idea of trust networks has been and continues to be a big deal in badges, so I started writing about it at this point. Who cares if you have a badge? What value does it have in the broader world?

9/27/14 – Helping Post-Traditional Learners With Badges & Progressive Credentialing

This is another huge aha for me that I finally shared in an article, how badges can help with an incredibly powerful concept known as progressive credentialing.

10/6/14 – 10 Possibilities: Badges for Progressive Credentialing in Academic Programs

I was so excited about the possibilities that I had to expand on that first article.

10/18/14 – How is your credential vocabulary?

At this point I also saw need to expand the conversation about badges by studying the broader world of credentialing. This article represents that exploration.

10/28/14 – What Gives a Credential Value?

Yet again, I grapple with trust networks and value among new credentials like badges.

11/2/14 – 5 Impending Badge Battlegrounds

I don’t often call myself a futurist, but these predictions sure seem to be coming true in full force!

11/10/14 – 12 Months to Becoming a Digital Age Educator

Here I posit that badges are a necessary part of any digital age educator’s toolbox.

11/23/14 – The Values-Laden Nature of Open Badges

Back to my roots, given the broader conversation in the field, I saw fit to return to the core concept of technological affordances and limitations, a framework that is critical for the contemporary badge movement.

12/11/14 – Credentials, Gatekeepers, & Openness in Education

All my previous work comes together in some of my newer writings like this.

12/12/14 – A Plea to Education Vendors: Please Don’t Throw Out the Badges With the Biscuits

Inspired by my lamentation that not enough new education startups are building badges into their products, I wrote this. I still don’t see enough adoption to really push the badge world forward. Instead, it is coming from a few.

12/17/14 – Badges as Verified Brand Affiliations?

This didn’t seem to resonate with many, but I still think it has far more power than people have yet to discover.

1/5/15 – Competency-based Badges for Differentiated Instruction

Here I added differentiated instruction and multiple pathways to learning to the conversation more intentionally. It was always a driver for me, but this article came from what seemed to be some confusion among badge newcomers.

2/12/15 – An Academic Who Cheers for Badges & the Demonopolization of Higher Education

There isn’t that much new, but I said it in a new way. Essentially, my work risks disrupting my work, and I’m okay with that. Academics, I contend, must kindly bite that hand that feeds them to be true to our core mission. How meta!

3/1/15 –Which Way? Direct Assessment Drive or Carnegie Unit Court?

Here I contrast two competing approaches to education, fought on the ground of an outdated innovation known as the Carnegie Unit. See the connection to competency-based badges?

3/3/15 – 7 Exciting Possibilities for Post-Industrial Democratized Open Badges

My ideas continue to mature (or at least expand) on this topic, so this represents one of a dozen or more articles where I explore the same theme from different angles.

3/4/14 – Re-imagining Learning & Credentialing in a Connected World

At this point, I also draw in the connected learning discourse into the conversation about badges. I continue to enjoy and benefit from mashups of distinct discourses in education and beyond.

3/24/15 – Will #OpenBadges Remain Open? That is up to us.

This continues to be a concern among people in the badge world, perhaps more now than when I wrote this in early 2015.

4/29/15 – What Happens When You Create and Issue Badges to Yourself?

Some thought this one verging on the absurd, but the concept is now actually another project that might well emerge as a major project for me in the near future.

5/11/15 – Badges, Self-Directed Learning, & Positive Psychology

Talk about mashups of different discourses, this is certainly one. It also happens to be one about which I am rather proud. Each of these represent personal passions and promising movements that are gaining traction. What happens when you put them together?

6/8/15 – 4 Reasons Why Credits & Credentials are Killing College

More than a few have noticed that my writing had gained more of an edge in 2015, and here is one of the more candid examples of that. This is central to my broader work about badges, but also about the importance of authentic communities of learning instead of communities of earning. Badges can help or hurt depending on how they are used. You can use an ax to build a house or declare war. The affordances for both are built into the technology. As such, it depends on the designers and wielders. The same thing is true for badges.

6/27/15 –Will LinkedIn Transform the Global Workforce?

LinkedIn full adoption of open badges…now that is a game-changer.

8/24/15 –6 Factors Impacting Micro-credential Adoption

This is a review in some ways, but it highlights some key issues or us to tackle.

9/7/15 – When Open Badges Meet Study Circles: On the Verge of a Learning Revolution

Yes, this is another mashup. This time I take a movement from decades ago and mix it with badges. I’m downright giddy about the possibilities of this one.

There is have it. That is an abbreviated history of my writing and thinking about badges. I’ve written a dozen or other pieces that are either under peer review or I wrote as white papers for specific think tanks or organizations, but what you read above represents a good measure of my thinking thus far. Woven within these are the beginnings of close to half a dozen projects that I will soon make more public as well. Let the badge revolution continue!

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is the author of Missional Moonshots, Assistant Vice President of Academics, Associate Professor of education, and a frequent keynote speaker and consultant on topics related to educational innovation and entrepreneurship, futures in education, and the intersection of education and digital culture.