Understanding digital badges

BY: Kwami Ahiabenu, II
Instead of a physical, academic certificate, passport, or driver's license, digital credentials offer verifiable digital footprint options across several applications.
Instead of a physical, academic certificate, passport, or driver's license, digital credentials offer verifiable digital footprint options across several applications.

Digital identities have become important in our information society as they offer an easy way to navigate the increasingly complicated data and information spaces we have to deal with. Thus, instead of having a physical, academic certificate, passport, or driver's license, the world of digital credentials opens the door to having verifiable digital footprint options across several applications.

Simply put, digital credentials are the electronic version of paper-based credentials showing evidence of accomplishment, clearance, qualification, or competence with sufficient in-built mechanisms to enable authentication.

Digital credentials provide information on issuing authority, its characteristics, purposes of issuance, and validity period. For example, instead of sending a paper-based certificate for a job application or school application, the digital credentials are transmitted with the same information on paper-based ones, including additional data such as the user's biometric data, which can serve a valuable purpose of fast and easy verification.

There are three types of digital credentials: digital certificates, and test-based digital certificates and digital badges (most popular type).

Digital certificates have the look and feel of traditional certificates and are issued to persons who have completed a course or workshop. Usually, digital credentials are issued after taking an exam conducted in a proctored setting. Proctored examinations occur under strict supervision under the gaze of an invigilator or by use of a webcam and block outside content from the exam's browser to prevent cheating.

Test-based digital credentials also need to be treated like digital certificates. For test-based credentials, a recipient is expected to successfully finish a course and take an exam within a proctored environment. An example of this is a driver’s license. After taking a driving course, the individual takes an exam in an environment that is fully supervised.

Digital badges are a new kid on the block, with a somewhat confusing verification mechanism. Sometimes, digital badges are awarded after completing a rigorous exam or successful completion of a course. Sometimes it is awarded to persons who sit through some hours of training without any exams. Digital Badges have a look and feel of a physical badge or medal and are issued under open badge standards, meaning they are compatible across different online platforms.

Open standards
The history of digital badges can be traced to 2011 when Peer 2 Peer University and The Mozilla Foundation jointly published a paper entitled "An Open Badge System Framework," laying the ground rules about virtual digital badges', specifying the level of skills, interest, quality, and accomplishment.

To ensure digital badges can be trusted, valuable, and verified, most entities issue them under open badge standards. The framework emphasizes the provision of a context of the badge, including its validation and justification and includes mundane information such as name, dates, and course title. The badge must provide contextual information such as "what is the value of the badge, how was it earned, the issuing authority, does it expire? when did the user earn it?" etc. In 2017, IMS Global Learning Consortium (https://www.imsglobal.org/) took complete control of the Open Badge standard, and it is now utilised by over 600 institutions including Campus Labs, Credly, Mozilla Foundation, Digitalme and hundreds of others.

How does it work?
In our COVID 19 pandemic era, with increased online learning, digital badges are becoming more popular. The basis of open digital badges is unrestricted and usually contains verifiable metadata about the context of the user's accomplishment based on verifiable metadata in line with standard data format and specifications ( https://bit.ly/3m6JcqD ). The value of an open standard means a user can pool badges from various sources. More importantly, it can be verified by any compatible system.

The badge has two constitutes; image-based design (name, issue date, course name etc) that can be read and meta-data (statement on standards adhered to, Badge Name, Badge Criteria, Evidence URL, Issue Date, Expiration Date (if applicable), Issuer (record associated with the organization issuing the badge - at least their name), recipient (an email or user account associated with the badge owner) and revocation/revocation reason if applicable" which enables verification online.

In conclusion, digital badges are efficient and give recruiting entities confidence that the recipient took related exams in a fully supervised environment. For those issuing them, the badge must include information on who earned the badge, what the badge represents, how the recipient earned it when they earned it, who issued it, and whenever possible, evidence examples of work and testing that went into achieving the badge.

Kwami Ahiabenu, II is a Technology Innovations Consultant
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