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An Open Can of Tin Badges

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By Andrew Downes

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People have been talking about a crossover between Open Badges and Tin Can (xAPI) since 2012. Blogs have been writtenideas shared and there’s even a Twitter account that got set up at one point! Nobody has actually come to the point of defining the details of how it would all work though. Until now.

If you’re not familiar with Open Badges, this blog from 2012 still gives a good introduction. If you are, then read on!

Today, we published an xAPI Open Badges recipe to the Registry. This recipe is the work of the xAPI Open Badges working group including people from both the Open Badges and Tin Can communities. The recipe has also been published on openbadges.org and uses openbadges.org identifiers; this is a real collaboration of both specification groups.

On today’s webinar I’ll be talking in detail about a range of problems that Tin Can has the potential to solve in the Open Badges world, but for now, let’s focus on the problem solved by this first version of the recipe: transferring earned badges between systems.

Imagine an organization that awards Open Badges to their learners, recognizing and credentialing their achievements. The learner might also earn Open Badges outside the organization from learning websites or professional bodies; how can they bring those badges into the organization to sit alongside those they have earned internally? Or as an organization with a load of Badges in your LMS, what do you do when the time comes to migrate to a new system?

Without Tin Can, Open Badges provides two mechanisms for transferring badges:

  1. Download and upload of the badge image.

  2. Integration with the Mozilla Open BackPack.

The first option is a poor user experience and a time sink, particularly if there are a lot of learners importing a lot of badges from the same source. It works, but it’s not ideal.

The second option requires the learner to register and then store their data on Mozilla’s BackPack. Again, the additional registration is a hurdle for the user. There are also security and privacy issues with storing learner data on a 3rd party system that the organization doesn’t have a contract with. Furthermore, there’s no way to associate identities within the BackPack, so earning badges with a mixture of work and personal email addresses is problematic.

The recipe published today solves this, by enabling earned Open Badges to be stored in an LRS as a Tin Can statement. These can then be shared between LRSs like any other statement, meaning earned badges can be accessed by any system capable of retrieving statements. The baked badge image (an Open Badge image containing embedded metadata) is attached to the statement and all of the badge metadata is included within the statement, allowing for easy access without having to un-bake the badge.

This is good news for systems that already implement Tin Can and/or Open Badges, and especially good news for those planning to implement Open Badges from now on. You can now use an existing LRS (get a free account on SCORM Cloud) and our open source Tin Can libraries to store badges as statements and retrieve them for display wherever you want them.

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Next Steps

We’re working on a PHP prototype that demonstrates the recipe in action. Badges are earned by clicking a button (it’s just a prototype – we kept it easy for you!) and stored as Tin Can statements.

The statements are then retrieved and the badges are displayed both as a list of earned badges and within an activity stream. There’s no need to connect to the Mozilla Backpack or a database; the full record of the badge is stored within the LRS.

Within the xAPI Open Badges working group, we’re now turning our attention to the definition of Badge Classes with Tin Can. This will enable one system to define a badge and transmit the definition to another system. This system can then compare criteria to learner records and award badges to learners as appropriate. A limited implementation of this will be included in the prototype.

Expect more on this topic in the coming months!

If you’d like to hear more about implementing Open Badges with Tin Can in your product or organization, please get in touch!

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