What is SURFnet?
In the Netherlands, a collaborative organization of over 100 institutions operates as the National Research and Education Network, known as SURFnet. SURFnet focuses on ICT Research and offers over 750,000 students, lecturers, and scientists access to high-speed Internet and research facilities. As part of its mission to drive innovation in the Dutch higher education system, SURFnet spearheaded an open badges pilot with Badgr that allowed sixteen institutions to create and issue digital badges.
A National Solution to a National Challenge
“To make this work, a vision on flexible education is essential above all else, both at the level of education and the institution and with regards to the educational system as a whole,” said Alexander Blanc, Product Manager at SURFnet.
As more individuals and organizations began to gain awareness and understanding of digital badges as a skills-embedded currency that leads to career advancement, the next challenge for SURFnet was to gain widespread adoption and national implementation at scale.
With Badgr, SURFnet saw an unprecedented opportunity to scale the adoption of best practices and policies. Badgr’s leadership in the development of open standards allowed SURFnet to build open public infrastructure to serve as a foundation for a next-generation, skills-driven labor market.
This collaboration, known as Edubadges, has made the Netherlands a worldwide pioneer in the field of portable micro-credentials.
An Edubadge is a secure, electronically issued digital certification of skill and/or competence awarded by a verified issuing organization, like a university. Equipped with Edubadges, learners have the ability to communicate the skills and knowledge that they have demonstrated in regular accredited study programs as well as during non-formal and non-traditional settings. Furthermore, each Edubadge is linked to a new institution-wide identity, eduID, which continues to maintain it’s validity after a learner has graduated - these awards are designed to last a lifetime.
SURFnet has developed a shared platform for issuing Edubadges that enables each participating institution to determine which technologies and standards are needed to award Edubadges to their unique learners.
How does it work?
An Edubadge enables students and/or employees to show that they have demonstrated a particular skill or competency or obtained a certain set of knowledge. Although each Edubadge is independently developed by participating institutions, they all generally conform to this workflow:
→ First, each institution develops its own Edubadges to meet the needs of their learning community.
→ Next, the university provides learners with all of the information they need to apply for the award.
→ Then, a teacher or member of the university administrative staff assesses the Edubadge application, and the Edubadge is issued if the learner has met the rubric criteria.
→ Finally, learners receive their digital badge and have the option to save their award in a personal Edubadge backpack and share their achievements with employers or institutions.
→ After a learner has shared their Edubadge, any external party, such as employers and institutions can verify the authenticity of the badge and view the details of the award.
Edubadges can be used for many different purposes in higher education and educational institutions are free to choose how and for what purpose they would like to issue badges. Because each digital badge is embedded with metadata, institutions now have the ability to capture learning outcomes while connecting those experiences with additional context - like evidence. For example, Edubadges may be used to recognize the completion of an internship or community service project.
“The digital learning environment of the future will be an interconnected whole of services and applications that support students and teachers in their learning and teaching activities. We chose Badgr for this project because it is open source, based upon open standards, and is well suited for integration into a larger landscape of learning technologies.” - Frans Ward, SURFnet.
Pulling Learning into Focus - Visual Alignment
Deploying digital badges across a nation comes with many challenges. One often overlooked aspect is a cohesive set of design standards that draw visual connections between badges and “stacks” of related awards.
Among the many lessons learned by the SURFnet team, the need for a common style guide emerged as a necessary catalyst for widespread adoption. Establishing these visual guidelines helped each participating institution collaborate with one another and communicate the value and currency of their badges to a student at-a-glance.
Their work was driven by four key considerations:
While Open Badges support a maximum of 400 pixels by 400 pixels, Edubadges should be a minimum of 90 pixels by 90 pixels, with a file size no larger than 256 kilobytes.
Edubadges are encouraged to be hexagonal in shape, to imply their stackability, but this was not enforced as a requirement.
Some digital badge issuers are tempted to include a logo, a badge name, or other forms of descriptive text in the badge image. However, each digital badge issuer was encouraged to think carefully about the text they wished to display.
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Wageningen University University & Research collaborated on their digital badge design. Rather than display their logos, they opted to include the names of their institutions in the metadata of the badges. The main objective of this strategy was to ensure interchangeability across institutions within the country.
Badges on the Rise Globally
Tens of thousands of organizations, educational institutions, and companies issue digital badges around the world. The appeal of digital badges is driven by the interoperability of the underlying technology, allowing each digital badge to be expressed in a common format. The utility of portable, skills-aligned micro-credentials is appealing to governments around the world that seek to build and expand a competitive workforce in a 21st-century economy.
Open Badges make competencies and proficiencies portable for learners and workers. With Badgr-powered micro-credentials, a skill developed in one job can follow a worker throughout their professional career, including future roles and educational settings. The Edubadges program is a premier example of a national approach to workforce development focused on helping learners connect the dots between what skills they have demonstrated and which skills they need to unlock the next stage in their career.