Let’s Make More Backpacks
School is starting, which makes me think about school supplies. We use some school supplies as metaphors in the Open Badges world, the Mozilla Backpack is the place you can store your Open Badges. The current backpack stores open badges, organizes them and displays them. It’s really more of a portfolio than a backpack, a collection of achievements instead of something you need while you’re learning day-to-day.
The core functionality of what makes an open badges backpack valid supports the broken metaphor. A backpack (in the open badges sense) is a place to store badges. It validates the badges. It displays them. Maybe it organizes them, but that’s not a requirement. It’s just a filesystem with stuff in it.
So, should we change the name? Should we ditch the backpack metaphor and start calling it a ‘badge storage system’ (gag) or something? No, we shouldn’t, we should let the metaphor guide the development of what an open badges backpack is.
Backpack as Personal Expression
Ask my six year old about his school backpack. He’ll tell you all about it. It’s big, but not too big. It has Marvel super heroes on it. It has a special flap that let’s you choose between two different sets of super heroes, so he can change it up day-to-day. It has a single pocket, nothing fancy to get in the way of the essential nature of what a six year old needs, a place to put his lunch and a small amount of homework.
Ask me about my backpack, it’s biggish, but has these straps that make it small. It’s full of pockets that are easy to get to, some of which have a soft lining for electronic devices. It has a stiff back so that protects my laptop. It’s flat black and emphasizes utility and comfort. My last bag was a courier style bag with snazzy materials. It had a big single pocket that was easy to get to, and the design would impress people who were impressed by that sort of thing. I like both of these bags, but they’re very different and I use them for different reasons.
See what I’m getting at here? Real backpacks serve different purposes. They’re indicative of who we are and express ourselves in different ways. My bag won’t work for my son, his bag won’t work for me. Sometimes I use my utilitarian bag, sometimes I use my fancy bag.
Real backpacks as open badges backpacks lesson one – one size doesn’t fit all, open badges backpacks should be as various as real backpacks. Sometimes you need more than one backpack for different situations.
Backpacks with Constraints
Some schools have requirements about what their kids can use as a backpack. The most common is that they are clear, so teachers and staff can see inside them at any time. It’s not the greatest thing for student privacy or personalization, but as a constraint – it exists.
Lesson 2 – institutions will put constraints on the open badges backpack that won’t apply to all users. We need to accommodate them.
You’re lost without your backpack
Did you ever forget your backpack at home? Or your laptop bag? Your stomach flip-flops, it’s borderline terrifying. In a learning situation, you’re lost without your backpack.
That isn’t the case with the current Mozilla Open Badges Backpack. The backpack is an after thought in a learning experience. It’s the place you push the results of your learning, not the place you’re actively planning your learning. It’s the equivalent of forgetting your report card at home. Who cares?
Which leads to lesson 3 – let’s make our open badges backpacks more useful, part of your day, essential to the way you learn. The badge backpack isn’t a trophy case, it shouldn’t just be a portfolio, it absolutely isn’t a report card. The backpack is where you go to track your progress, reflect on what you’ve learned, discover new paths you can take to get where you want to go. It’s your learning GPS, something essential to your learning.
What’s Mozilla Doing About It?
Yeah, so – backpacks can be cooler. What’s Mozilla doing about it? Three things:
There’s only one real open badges backpack today. If you press the button “push this badge to your open badges backpack” on any issuer’s site, it really means “push this to your Mozilla Open Badges Backpack located at http://backpack.openbadges.org” That’s what the world of badging needed to get started. It needed a single backpack, to prove the concept and bootstrap issuing.
Now that we have a healthy issuer ecosystem, it’s time to bootstrap a healthy backpack ecosystem. We’re working on extensions to the Open Badges Infrastructure that will allow a user to choose their backpack and push their badges there. There isn’t any burden on the issuer, they’ll still integrate a single button served by Mozilla, but the button will be 17% more magical. Once a user can push their badges wherever they want, they’ll want choices.
This feature has been on our roadmap for a while under the unintentionally obfuscated title “Federation.” It makes sense to us, but it’s hard to explain to the community. We’re working on better language (and could use your opinion, get involved in the mailing list) regardless of the name, the result of the feature is clear, learners get to choose their backpacks.
Mozilla Backpack 2.0
After a fair amount of soul-searching, we’ve decided to refactor the existing Mozilla Open Badges Backpack. We’ll do the work alongside support of the current 1.0 backpack. We’re not planning any significant features in the 2.0 backpack, it’s mostly a feature for feature replacement of the existing backpack. We’ll rework the UX, make branding changes to get the backpack in line with the current branding of Open Badges, but will mostly mirror the existing 1.0 backpack.
Why do it? There’s a significant amount of boiler plate functionality that makes up an open badges compliant backpack (which in itself is a moving target, we haven’t actually declared the requirements of a backpack yet, we will, so keep your ears peeled). If we want to encourage a diversity of backpacks, we’d like to offer a solid starting point. A collection of code that allows for easy extension of the backpack concept. If you have an itch to scratch backpack-wise, you can do it in a few days, or hours, you won’t have to recreate yet another storage system for assertions, or validation against the spec. Fork our code and focus on what you should, providing an awesome experience for your users.
Finally, Jess, Andrew and Emily are leading the charge towards a new vision of an open badges backpack. They’re working on backpack 3.0, or backpack 3000, or Badgeopolis. A backpack prototype that’s as important to you as that backpack with the flippy cover so you can show whatever super hero you want to. It will be a concept car like experience that will help guide future backpack crafters and seed the world of post it-just-stores-badges backpack thinking.
We hope so. Open Badges is taking off. We’ve proven to issuers that they can use open badges to guide their learning communities. Let’s get the same level of innovation applied to tools for the learners. Let’s make open badges backpacks as diverse and personalized as real world backpacks. Why settle for badge storage? You’re way cooler than that.