The Open Badges for Education Extensions (OBEE) Initiative

Institutional experience and surveys consistently indicate that prospective employers’ knowledge and understanding of the value of digital badges is still much lower than we would hope. While many are intrigued by the potential of having more information, the majority have neither heard of digital badging nor understand how badges can augment their current means of collecting data on potential hires. So, the question remains: How do we increase the visibility and enhance the value of digital badges in the minds of employers?

With that question in mind, in the Summer of 2015 the IMS Global Learning Consortium began work on the Digital Credentials Currency Framework. The goal of this initiative was to augment the contents of badges by defining a structure that communicates value and aids consumer comparison. For example, if digital badges are to have the kind of visibility and value that an academic transcript has accrued over the years, then the idea is that the metadata they carry needs to provide the information necessary to demonstrate that the badge earner’s knowledge/skills attained to achieve the badge in the first place were rigorously assessed by a reputable badge issuer.

To pursue this idea, IMS Global formed a working group focused on developing Open Badge Extensions for Education (OBEE). The charter of the working group has been to identify, define, and develop the framework, common language, and supporting interoperability specifications necessary to clearly transmit the meaning and value of post-secondary digital credentials to the employment community. In other words, the Open Badges for Education Extensions (OBEE) initiative is aimed at advancing understanding and adoption of Open Badges in the education sector through extensions to the specification, demonstration projects and pilots. This working group has been in close collaboration with designers of Open Badges to ensure the Extensions proposed are implemented in a wholly consistent way with the open badge standards.

In the first phase of the project, the group identified the following priorities:

1. Badge Category to augment badge meaning — A badge classification to signal valuable information about the credentialing institution, the criteria, evidence, or assessment characteristics — by defining 2–3 “rules” that will be consistently applied to OBEE badges.

2. Embedded Data and Analytics — Explore and document existing badge analytics and develop a proposal to embed meaningful metrics into a compliant badge which, over time will help improve available information and badge currency.

3. Discoverability, Human and Machine — Determine how the badge consumer, such as an employer, will quickly discern a compliant badge and therefore trust in what is being represented. Determine the metadata that should be used for OBEE badge types.

4. Conformance Certification — Implement a conformance certification process similar to IMS’s existing standards certifications, to evaluate and certify compliance with Open Badge and Open Badge Extensions for Education for issuer and displayer platforms.

In 2016 the group’s work centered around exploring how the addition of “Issuer Accreditation” and “Assessment” extensions to the Open Badges specification might help communicate the rigor with which badge earners’ activities were scrutinized before a decision was made by the badge issuer to award the badge. The Issuer Accreditation extension will provide a reference to a single or multiple accreditation bodies that certifies the badge issuer. The Assessment extension will provide information about single or multiple assessments that may have been required as part of the badge issuance process.

With work underway with Credly and Badgr to implement a prototype of these OBEE extensions to the Open Badges standard, the task force is also planning to work with employers on understanding more about the potential value of badges to communicate badge earners’ skills as well as identifying where there are additional gaps that OBEE extensions might fill. Data from this research is expected to be available in mid- to late-2017. The team, as part of the IMS Global Digital Credentials & CBE Community of Practice, is hoping both to validate the current approach as well as get guidance from employers on next steps for the OBEE work. In this way, the OBEE effort is attempting to refine and focus communication of the earners’ capabilities, to continue building momentum behind badges as a 21st century credentialing instrument.

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