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The DML competition and conference came and went earlier this year at the end of February/early March in San Francisco, CA.

For those unfamiliar with the DML competition, here’s a brief recap: Having built out the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI), the plumbing to support a larger open badges ecosystem, we at Mozilla along with the MacArthur foundation and HASTAC felt it would be important to seed the ecosystem with high quality badges to kickstart the badges movement. Thereby, we made an open call for badge system submissions about a year ago where we had over 600 entries which got whittled down to 90 finalists who came to San Francisco earlier this year to pitch their badge systems to a panel of judges. Of those 90, 30 were selected as funded winners who now have a year to build out their badge systems that will integrate with the OBI.

More information on the DML competition can be found here

For reflections after the DML competition, definitely check out the blog post written by our Sr. Director of Learning, Erin Knight which can be found here.

5 months later, it’s worth taking a gut check on where we are and what lies ahead.

Now that the emotional highs and lows of the competition and conference are behind us and the dust has settled, the winning grantee teams are getting to work on building out their badge systems or badge platforms and we at Mozilla in conjunction with HASTAC and MacArthur are ensuring that the teams have the support and guidance they need to successfully do so.

As part of this effort, Sheryl Grant from HASTAC and I conducted a round of outreach conversations with each of the winning grantee teams. Coordination with 30 winning grantee teams, frequently comprised of multiple team members, traversing different timezones was no trivial task, but it was well worth our time and energy.

Similar to how I put together a partner breakdown report a few weeks back, I thought it’d be a worth while exercise to examine our own grantee projects in a similar manner but within the context of the DML competition.

Here are some of our findings from this first wave of outreach conversations:

OBI Familiarity

OBI familiarity

11 out of the 30 teams have had some contact with the Mozilla Open Badges team and/or have had checked out the available resources out there and thus were somewhat familiar with the integration process. During the course of outreach, Sheryl and I made sure all the grantees knew who to contact (me!) when they were ready to start issuing badges that integrate with the OBI as well as the pointers to the resources readily available for them.

Tech Platforms

The breakdown of the tech platforms utilized by each grantee team is as follows:

tech platform

With 6 grantee teams, .net is the most used tech platform among the grantee teams, closely followed by drupal. There are still 5 teams that are weighing the different tech platform options and 5 teams that are building their badge system on top of existing badge issuing platforms.

COPPA Compliance

COPPA stands for Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, in which a “child” is defined as an individual under the age of 13. The details get much trickier but the general idea is that a website operator who collects personal information from children under 13 must seek verifiable consent from a parent or legal guardian. We wanted to know for whom among the grantee teams, COPPA was a concern.

COPPA concern

The breakdown falls smack down the middle; 15 teams are concerned about COPPA compliance and 15 teams are not.

The current public beta release of the Mozilla reference implementation of the backpack does not support children under 13. This was a deliberate choice as accommodating for COPPA would have delayed our release rather significantly. We will be creating a parallel backpack with limited sharing capabilities that will be COPPA compliant for the 15 DML grantee teams and their community of under 13 badge earners by early next year.

More information on COPPA can be found here:

Reoccurring themes

There were several themes that came up over and over again during the course the outreach conversations. Most common ones were as follows:

  • Common Core alignment: How to ensure the alignment of badges and its associated content with common core standards. 
  • COPPA compliance: How to develop a badge system mindful of protecting children’s online privacy and complying with the law. 
  • Wider badges adoption: After these badge systems are developed, how to ensure these badges scale and reach a wider audience? 
  • Assessment thinking: How to ensure badges have well designed assessment rubrics behind them. 
  • Employer consumption of badges: Related to wider badges adoption, how to ensure badges are consumed by important stakeholders like employers and college admissions offices to assess potential candidates? 
  • Working within existing entrenched systems: While badge systems are emerging, they are operating within existing, established models of pedagogy and assessment. How to make badge systems work with the system rather than against it? 
  • Badge validation: How to ensure the badge system is valuable and represents real learning in the eyes of those who will likely consume the badges such as employers.
  • Designing a badge system: How to design a meaningful badge system that captures the right granularity of badges, that encompasses an assessment model that resonates with the community of learners, that will generate currency in the larger badges ecosystem. 

All of these are HUGE themes in and of themselves that deserve a lot of attention and careful thinking around them. And none of them are discreet or isolated but relate to, depend on or validate one another.

Following up on these outreach conversations, in September we are holding a face-to-face workshop for the grantees to take place at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. We hope to learn more on the progress made by the grantees and how we can collectively work through and tackle these higher level themes. I’ll have more to share after the workshops.