Badges at the CETIS conference 2012

Mozilla open badges that is.

Simon and I organised a session “Are open badges the future for recognition of skills?” for the CETIS conference last week, with more than a little help from Doug Belshaw. As described in more detail on the session’s wiki page, the programme was simple: presentations from Doug and Simon followed by discussion structured around a SWOT analysis for the use of badges in two scenarios.

Doug’s conference blog has his slides, audio recording and his own reflections. One of the highlights for me was almost incidental to badges: I hadn’t come across the idea of “stealth assessment” before. Simply put, stealth assessment involves monitoring what people achieve and then telling them what it qualifies them for. So a young child might be told that they have just swum 10m and now qualify for an achievement badge (kinder than putting children through the stress of pre-arranged assessments).

If Doug’s presentation was about “why?” Simon’s was about “how?”. His presented some requirements for badge systems, which also considers how close the Mozilla open badge framework comes to fulfilling these requirements.

The second half of the session was spent in group discussion structured around a SWOT analysis of two scenarios outlined by the groups:

Scenario 1, formative assessment in a high stakes field (medical education)


  • Assessment can be continuous, accreditation expires if not renewed.
  • Badges are machine processable as well as human readable.
  • Cumulative, can show progress being made towards degree


  • New, and therefore not trusted


  • Works well with highly competitive students (e.g. medics)
  • Could be transferred between institutions


  • Perception of being trivial
  • Unwelcome addition to current systems

Scenario 2, within a community of practice


  • Recognition by community of practice
  • Transferability to other communities


  • Lack of context (range, scope etc.)
  • People unwilling to dig into detail provided
  • Unclear governance
  • Proliferation


  • Currency outside the community
  • Could include qualifications
  • Branding opportunities
  • Invitation to examine evidence in detail


  • Over simplification
  • Brand recognition dominates quality
  • Issued by inappropriate bodies

There was a lot of discussion, and I can’t really do it justice here; I shall mention only a couple of comments. First one reported on Doug’s blog:

“We’re sick to death of hearing that X, Y or Z is going to change the world. Accept that it isn’t and move on.”

Hmm, yes, that may be a fair point. OTOH sometimes something does change the world, or at least parts of it, and it is important to keep a watch for the things that might, so I’ve no regrets about being involved in this session on that count.

The other comment came in the form of of tweets from Lawrie Phipps:

Edging toward believing that "badges" may be a solution to a problem we've almost fixed with other things #cetis12

thinking about open badges, surely once they're accepted by everyone, they bcome institutionalised, and look like something we have now?

Sentiments that I have some sympathy with, however it has happened that you think you have solved a problem locally only for some external solution to come along and get adopted widely enough to be significant. So, while we don’t have an answer to the question we posed in the session title, I think open badges are looking relevant enough for it to be important that CETIS keep a watching brief on them.