Monthly Archives: October 2015

The slow but steady growth of digital badges

Digital badges are one of the most exciting innovations in educational technology in recent years. A badge is a kind of certification showing that you have completed an educational activity, project, or course. However, unlike traditional certifications, they are designed to be live digital items that can be displayed anywhere and contain metadata on the issuer, learning activities undertaken, and standard that has been reached (Gibson, Ostashewski, Flintoff, & Knight, 2013). This makes them instantly verifiable, and the open badging infrastructure allows a wide array of institutions and organizations to issue them (Ahn, Pellicone, & Butler, 2014). The concept was developed in 2011, and the Mozilla Open Badges project became one of the leading badge issuers (Gibson et al., 2013). Badging was instantly recognized as a technology with the potential to revolutionize—or perhaps undermine—traditional systems of certification and credentialing (Young, 2012). Since then, badging, both in terms of acceptance of badging and in the prevalence of it and the infrastructure behind it, has been growing steadily. What makes badges more valuable than traditional certifications? According to a report from American Institutes for Research (Finkelstein, Knight, & Manning, 2013, p. 2):

“Some of the characteristics that are unique to digital badges include their ongoing connection to sources that can validate their issue; some form of evidence of the achievements they denote; and an emerging, consistent standard regarding what constitutes a badge, making it possible for these digital representations of accomplishment to be portable and displayed side by side with badges received from a range of sources.”

Educause started its badging program in 2013, and saw significant growth from 2013 to 2014 (Hart, 2015). There is a strong interest in the potential of badging from many large and prestigious non-profits and foundations. The MacArthur Foundation and Purdue University, to name just two, both have badging initiatives. Groups like Badge Alliance have also attracted corporate partners from Blackboard and Acclaim (“Badge Alliance,” n.d.).

open badge example image

A badge from Mozilla Open Badges

The research on badging is mixed. The very different contexts of different badge programs makes it difficult to assess the concept as a whole or make an generalized statements (Ahn et al., 2014). Badging within a course, as part of gamification of the course, has been shown to be a significant motivator for some, but not all students (Fanfarelli & Mcdaniel, 2015). Open badges on technical subjects that serve as a sort of mini-technical certification have become wide-spread, but there’s a dearth of research on their impact and prevalence (Ahn et al., 2014). There is a movement to implement a badging system in the context of adult continuing and vocational education (Finkelstein et al., 2013). Badges might be particularly useful in this context because they would be serving a population that has little access to formal learning credentials like diplomas and degrees.

More than MOOCs or other components of “open education,” badges can offer a real, verifiable credential, which makes them an essential tool in the decentralization of education (Ma, 2015). Although badging’s impacts on learners, communities, and traditional education institutions are not yet well understood, the future impact of badging may be transformational on a large scale (Ahn et al., 2014; Gibson et al., 2013).


Instructional Designer K. Anthony’s website lists the badges they’ve earned from online learning platform Treehouse. You can see them here:


Ahn, J., Pellicone, A., & Butler, B. S. (2014). Open badges for education: what are the implications at the intersection of open systems and badging?. Research in Learning Technology, 22. Retrieved from

Badge Alliance > About. (n.d.) Badge Alliance. Retrieved from

Fanfarelli, J. R., & McDaniel, R. (2015). Individual Differences in Digital Badging: Do Learner Characteristics Matter?. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 43(4), 403-428.
Chicago. Retrieved from

Finkelstein, J., Knight, E., & Manning, S. (2013). American Institutes for Research. The potential and value of using digital badges for adult learners. Retrieved from

Gibson, D., Ostashewski, N., Flintoff, K., Grant, S., & Knight, E. (2013). Digital badges in education. Education and Information Technologies, 20(2), 403-410. Retrieved from

Hart, M. (2015, 14 January). Badges: A New Measure of Professional Development. Campus Technology. Retrieved from

Ma, X. (2015, April). Evaluating the Implication of Open Badges in an Open Learning Environment to Higher Education. 2015 International Conference on Education Reform and Modern Management. Atlantis Press.

Young, J. R. (2012). “Badges” Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

A Brief Intro to the Open Educational Resources Movement

The term Open Educational Resources (OERs) was coined in 2002 at a UNESCO education conference (“2012 Paris”, 2012). In the thirteen years since, many individuals and institutions have come on board and the movement continues to grow.

cover of college algebra textbook

You can get the openstax OER College Algebra textbook for free right now

The concept behind OERs is simple. Instead of having textbook companies pay various authors to write a dozen competing textbooks and then charge students hundreds of dollars to access them, why not have a university or public foundation pay to have one really good textbook written, and then put it on the internet, for free?

OERs are free both in the sense of free speech and free beer. That is, they are free to use and usually free to modify, and there is no cost for students to access them. (Some OER groups do charge a price for a printed version of their book to cover the cost of printing and binding, but make the online version available for free [Douglas-Gabriel, 2015]). They are usually protected by a some-rights-reserved license, such as one of the creative commons licenses.

An increasing number of colleges and universities are encouraging or even requiring instructors to make use of OERs. University of Maryland University College recently made the news for eliminating textbooks and requiring total use of OERs and other no-cost resources (Mulhere, 2015). This movement has been spurred on by by concern over the rising prices of textbooks and also by an increasing urge to take advantage of the internet to make learning and knowledge accessible to all.

The cost of textbooks has, indeed, been spiraling out of control in recent years, becoming a significant burden for students in Canada and the US (Jerema, 2010; Weissmann, 2013).

OER initiatives have, in some cases, been shown to help reduce this cost sharply. For example, at UMass Amherst, “the university spent $60,000 on faculty grants to produce open textbooks and students saved roughly $1 million” (Mulhere, 2015).

One of the biggest challenges in the OER movement is quality assessment and assurance (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007). If an instructor is simply plucking a textbook off the internet, how are they to know that it is accurate and useful? The current best solutions are institutional backing and post-publication third-party review. By having OER projects housed under prestigious universities (such as OpenStax at Rice) and by encouraging the development of platforms for experts to rate, review, and revise OERs, concerns about quality can be allayed (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007; Douglas-Gabriel, 2015)

Critics and even proponents of OERs also ask: how will OERs be sustained? (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007) It’s easy to condemn textbook publishers for greed, but at least educational institutions can count of the profit motive to keep them making textbooks. Many OER sources are run by non-profits or grants, or out of university programs. If they lose funding, what happens then? They need to be hosted, maintained, and updated over time. So far, there doesn’t seem to be a unified answer to this problem (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007).



2012 Paris OER Declaration. (2012, June 22). UNESCO. Retrieved from

Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S., & Hammond, A. L. (2007). A review of the open educational resources (OER) movement: Achievements, challenges, and new opportunities (pp. 1-84). Creative common. Chicago. Retrieved from

Douglas-Gabriel, D. (2015, August 17). How college students can save money on pricey textbooks. Washington Post. Retrieved from 

Jerema, C. (2010, June 18). Why textbooks are so expensive. Maclean’s. Retrieved from

Mulhere, K. (2015, September 21). Is This the Solution to Crazy High Textbook Prices? Time. Retrieved from

Weissmann, J. (2013, January 3). Why Are College Textbooks So Absurdly Expensive? The Atlantic. Retrieved from