Learning Repositories, Badges, Standards and Mahara

NZMootPostImageI’ve been lucky enough to get across to the NZ Moodlemoot this week and catch up with a bunch of clever people working with Moodle, as well as the odd Mahara guru (ping Kristina Hoeppner). The first post-keynote session I saw was about the Mozilla Openbadges integration with Moodle, quickly followed by a session on the Moodle Mahara integration. During both of these I was also ruminating on the Tin Can API.

This got some cogs turning for me in relation to how these things all relate to each other, given that they are all trying to achieve something similar – giving learners a place to store their achievements.

Before the flames start, yes, I get that this is a gross simplification (even if I’m still getting my head around the nuances of both Open Badges and Tin Can), so I’ll do my best to give a definition of all three – please feel free to correct me in the comments if I’ve messed anything up.

  • Mahara – is an ePortfolio (and social networking and group collaboration and blogging) tool that allows learners to keep almost any kind of artefact, and re-use it in Pages that can be shared with the world (or a subset thereof), and that supports the LEAP2A standard for importing and exporting data.
  • Mozilla Open Badges – is a project which includes a place (called a Backpack) where users can collect online badges from other badge provider systems, and then share these badges with other systems as evidence of achievement. The badges are images which contain metadata that define a bunch of information about the badge and its issuer.
  • The Tin Can API – is a set of standards that define learning events that a learner can have sent to a Learning Record Store (LRS) which can record their achievements or activities. Anyone could set up an LRS provided it meets the Experience API standard. Learning activities are simple statements such as ‘Mark authored a blog post in his Moodle course’ or ‘Mark completed Assignment 1 in his Moodle course’.

See the overlap? And the differences? Good – then you can explain them to me…

But seriously, my head scratchers around this current scenario are:

  1. When people talk about the Mozilla Open Badges project, they seem to talk about it in the sense that it will be there forever. I’ve not heard one person yet talk about portability in the event that the Mozilla Backpack site was to disappear, and that worries me. Are badges stored in a way which will allow portability to another alternative LRS? Or is the backpack really just a simple engine to harvest Badge metadata and show it off in a nice way which could be easily replicated in something far simpler than an LRS?
  2. Why wouldn’t Mozilla and the folks at Rustici (the Tin Can people) work together to get Open Badges feeding a generic LRS? I searched, but all I could find was one vague comment in a Tin Can blog post. Or is my mental model that the Mozilla backpack is nothing more than an alternative implementation of a stripped back LRS (but without the Experience API standards to back it up) completely wrong? And in that case then my mental model of a badge completion is just one learning experience record, even if stored in a different way (metadata inside an image) wrong too?
  3. Where does Mahara fit in all this? Should Mahara be setting itself up to be an LRS that supports the Experience API standards? Or are the Open Badges standards open, and could Mahara support the storage and display of badges?

Thanks to Dr Chuck for sharing this post on the structure of badges – it helps, but I’m still not clear on just how ‘open’ the Open Badges concept is in terms of being underpinned by an open standard.

I don’t have any answers to these yet, in fact I’m still working through how these three projects interconnect – or don’t, as it would appear right now.

Would love to hear thoughts from anyone in any of these three areas who can add more light to the darkness.