Badges / Education / MOOCs / Open Educational Resources / Travel

Badges, Data, MOOCs, and Moving Forward

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral along the river Spree

…nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.

-Mark Twain, 1867


The last three months have gone by so quickly, I’ve barely had the chance to stop and breathe.  This is not to say that the next few months will be less exciting, but this is a good point for a quick summary.

I left Hawaii this past June, a fresh masters degree in hand, with the intention of making my mark in the education startup arena of the Silicon Valley.  After about three months of looking for a fitting gig, and not finding it, I left on an adventure through Europe with two of my best friends from grade-school.  This journey took our group, lovingly-named “the tripod,” through Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, before I set out on my own for the Open Knowledge Festival in Helsinki, Finland.  Before reaching Helsinki I had jumped off a cliff into the Mediterranean, sipped wine at a Chateau in Bordeaux, took a train through the Swiss Alps, eaten Greier cheese (on location), toured the Bauhaus School of Design, met the awesome people at the Berlin Mozilla Office, and set up a partnership between a researcher in Berlin and my professors at the University of Hawaii.  I was busy.

And then I went to Helsinki.  Leaving my hostel in Berlin at 5am was barely enough time to make the flight to Helsinki, walking on as the last call for passengers was being made (I have a bad habit of this).  Arriving in Helsinki, I was pleasantly-surprised to find free Wifi at the airport.  Believe it or not, free/open Wifi was widely unavailable in the few other countries with the exception of Bourdeaux, France, where there was open Wifi all along the Garonne river.  So I made it to Helsinki, took a bus to the flat I rented through the the social rent-your-house/apartment-online website AirBnB, and spent a week volunteering at OKfest.  I met some people that are involved in leading edge technology, literally guiding the future of how we use the internet.

I could go on for days about these people, but a couple of them were from Creative Commons (CC).  And I really like Creative Commons.

Billy OKfest Badge

Tuesday will be a month since I began the internship with CC, and I am assisting the Project Coordinator for Science and Data with a survey of science data repositories around the world.  The work I’m doing, and the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with so far, have already had a significant impact on my understanding of the intersection between education and technology.  From open copyright licensing policy to data-driven online teaching platforms, I see more good that tech can do for education now than ever.

Though I don’t have a helpful how-to share in this post, there are a handful of trending topics in educational technology that are worth mentioning/revisiting.  In no particular order:


Mozilla’s efforts developing the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) are really causing a stir in educationland.  We’re six months into the development of badge projects funded by the MacArthur Foundation, announced at the Digital Media and Learning conference back in March of this year.  Badges are one of those things that will be big. Really big.  As a digital way to describe and document learning and achievement, educators will begin integrating badges into their teaching practice, supplementing traditional A/B/C report cards.  Across the course of the next 5-10 years, badges will motivate students to take more control over the trajectory of their learning.  They might not be called badges by the time they are integrated into mainstream education, but positive impacts of bedges will be apparent very soon.

It’s important to mention that the Mozilla Festival (MozFest) took place a few days ago, which placed a significant focus on badges.  If you’re into badges, you should check out the list of badge-related workshops, hackathons, and talks that took place MozFest here.


Puneet Kishor, my supervisor at CC, is a rockstar.  Never one to turn down a walk through downtown Mountain View to discuss data policy, he has a charismatic way of explaining just about any science-related thing.  Puneet turned me on to the work of Tim Berners-Lee, who is the guy who invented the world wide web.  He literally coded it.  Timbl, as he’s oft referred, preaches about the importance of describing digital work in a way that everyone will be able to understand it and link it with other data.  When it becomes common practice for digital stuffs to be tagged with descriptive metadata, we’ll have an ever-improving picture of how we humans are connect to each other and to the digital content we consume/produce.  This will mean more rapid advancements in health science and medicine, accurate indicators of the impact our presence has on ecological systems, and the effectiveness of new learning strategies and technologies, among many many other things.  Ever heard of Data Journalism?  My geek factor is rising/expanding/growing on the daily now, and data is the reason for it.

Twitter Visualization

Image CC / BY Marc_Smith on Flickr

Data is also what is driving MOOCs.  Yes, I went there.  MOOCs are a hot topic at the moment, so let’s talk about them.


Massive Open Online Courses are allowing people all over the world to have access to Ivy League educational content, for free.  Coursera, Udacity, and edX have built partnerships with dozens of universities, offering up not only a look at the course materials used at prestigious universities such as Stanford, Harvard, and MIT, but also allowing students to take these courses online.  These online course delivery platforms are onto something, though sustainable business models for each of the platforms still seem to be kept quiet.  Two things are certain: 1) MOOCs still face the challenge of facilitating social learning environments, with significant dropout rates being reported despite reaching thousands of learning around the world and 2) MOOCs are collecting data about how people use their platforms, which will help inform future developments in online learning.

Keep in mind that the “Open” in MOOCs largely refers to the “gratis” definition of open, meaning you can get to the content.  Another dimension of open, “libre” describes the ability to take the educational content on these MOOCs and use/reuse/remix/redistribute it, which is not the current situation.  Udacity made a big move in the direction of being more open when they announced the new ability for learners to download their instructional videos for offline use, under a CC-BY-NC-SA license.  However slight, this does signal a move for these MOOCs to be more open, and it will be interesting to see how the other platforms besides Udacity follow suit.

Finishing Up

So yes, the last couple of months have been busy.  Exciting times are ahead!  Creative Commons 10-year anniversary of releasing the first set of open licenses is next month.  Badges are spreading.  MOOCs are all over the press.  And I’m trying to be right in the middle of it all.  Exciting times, indeed.

3 thoughts on “Badges, Data, MOOCs, and Moving Forward

  1. Pingback: Badges, Data, MOOCs, and Moving Forward | Badge Talk |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s