“Or Equivalent”

My colleague and friend Gideon Burton (of silva rhetoricae fame among other things) and I have been discussing badges lately. To date the open education movement has focused almost exclusively on the production and sharing of content. Significant opportunities exist to reform or reinvent other, non-content portions of the education ecosystem with the support of open content.

One of the areas ripest for innovation is alternative certification of informal learning. Hence, the recent excitement about badges. Badges have incredible potential for providing a viable alternative to the traditional system of credits most universities are tied to by accreditors. It seems to me that there is a critical need for someone to demonstrate that badges are a viable alternative to the traditional accreditation process.

There will doubtless be thousands of badges dedicated to pseudo-academic, hobby-like learning (stargazing, pie making, amateur radio). However, because the gold standard for learning credentials is acceptability by employers, any meaningful badges demonstration project will have to operate in this space. And of course, open content has an important role to play in supporting the widespread adoption of badges as officially accepted credentials.

We are considering a badge demonstration project comprised of three stages. The high-level vision of the project is this: Many job descriptions include a requirement like “BA or BS in EE/CS/CE or equivalent experience.” We want to create a collection of badges that a top employer, like Google, will publicly recognize as “equivalent experience.” This goes straight for the jugular, demonstrating that badges are a viable alternative to formal university education. The timeline below uses Google as an example, but we would be happy to work with any high-profile employer. We haven’t yet reached out to Google or any other employer. Let me repeat, WE’RE NOT CURRENTLY WORKING WITH GOOGLE, THEY’RE JUST INCLUDED BELOW AS AN EXAMPLE.

I’m posting what we’re thinking to get your overall feedback and see if you can suggest any big name employers who might be willing to partner with us.

Stage One – Planning Stage

– Work with Google HR and other Google employees to identify a core set of competencies that would qualify a person to work at Google (e.g., many network engineering positions include the “or equivalent” language).

– Create one or more badges corresponding to each of the competencies identified through conversations with Google.

– Establish and fund an advisory board of recognized experts in the selected area and forward-thinking psychometricians to help create and validate performance assessments and grading rubrics aligned with each badge.

– Review the badges, competencies, performance assessments, and grading rubrics with the team at Google. Secure a commitment from Google to hold this collection of badges as “equivalent” to a BS for purposes of hiring.

– Go / no go decision for moving on to stage two.

Stage Two – Pilot Period

– Hire and train a pool of qualified graders who are capable of quickly and accurately marking the performance assessments. Train these individuals (and refine rubrics as necessary) until achieving acceptable levels of inter-rater reliability in grading of the performance assessments is achieved.

– Stand up the necessary technical infrastructure for awarding badges to successful applicants (in partnership with Mozilla?).

– Launch a website with:
– The official statement from Google regarding their willingness to review applicants submitting these badges as credentials
– The complete list of badges, related competencies, performance assessments, and grading rubrics (all openly licensed)
– Names and affiliations of advisers and partners
– A clear / simple process for submitting performance assessments
– An initial list of OER (e.g., OLI courses) and Q/A services (e.g., StackOverflow.com or OpenStudy) which will help individuals develop the skills necessary to obtain the badges

– Provide a mechanism (wiki?) for allowing users to contribute links to new OER and online communities aligned to specific badges
– Scholarship the first X individuals who apply for badges (very minimal nuisance fee (e.g., $5) to the individual to have their assessment graded)

– Evaluate the success of stage two (e.g., number of applicants, success rates in achieving badges, sanity check costs for providing the assessment service, evaluate the success of applicants in Google’s application process).

– Go / no go decision for moving to stage three.

Stage Three – Implementation

– Establish a sustainable financial model for charging as-small-as-possible fees for marking assessments and awarding badges. Begin exploring crowd-sourced, non-game-able models for marking assessments in order to bring costs down further.

– Expand pool of partner employers (e.g., Microsoft, Apple) and explore the option of having employees of partners mark the assessments. This insures quality on their side and eliminates cost on ours.

– Establish advertising partnerships with colleges offering relevant online courses for students who need extra help earning badges (perhaps an adapted WGU model?) to support core infrastructure over the long term

– Combine these and other business models to generate enough revenue so that (1) the marking service can be free in addition to all the badge related materials being openly licensed and (2) employers will respect and recognize the badges resulting from the process.

The bolded items above really represent one version (and certainly not the only one) of the complete package – open content, open learning support, and open badges that help you demonstrate competence to an employer.

Anyway, thoughts? Feedback? Ideas about who would want to partner?