HPC Badges: XSEDE Enters the Micro-Certification Arena
Micro-certification is a means by which professionals may demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a particular field and, if successful, receive a low-cost credential without having to complete an expensive and time-consuming degree program. In particular, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are becoming a popular way of obtaining micro-certification because of their low-cost and their availability, and MOOCs such as Coursera, EdX, Udemy, Lynda and many others are finding ways to make micro-certification a profitable endeavor.
Courses typically require somewhere between a few hours to a few weeks to complete. Courses are often offered for free, with the option of paying a reasonably-affordable fee to obtain a credential upon course completion. Because most micro-certification courses are delivered online, means for assessing expertise are typically done with multi-question exams which may be assessed either fully- or semi-automatically. Assessments requiring the learner to demonstrate practical hands-on applications are less common since they typically require the involvement of an expert to adequately assess the learner’s performance. However, a ‘peer review’ approach, in which fellow classmates are tasked with performing the assessment based on a provided rubric, is becoming more viable as a means of assessing performance for hundreds or thousands of students at a time.
The concept of offering a ‘badge’ as a preferred form of micro-certification derives from the popularity of badges in a variety of organizations and professions. Most of us are familiar with earning badges as children through organizations such as the Girl or Boy Scouts. Badges are also becoming more familiar and appealing to younger generations who played video games in which badges are offered as a reward for completing a quest or challenge. In fact, badges are part of a larger movement in organizational performance improvement called “gamification”. Badges are also common at the professional level as a way of encouraging respect and acknowledgement of an individual’s authority, such as in law enforcement (e.g. a Sheriff’s badge) and the military (e.g. a ‘badge of honor’).
As such, badges are finding a place within the corporation or professional organization as a way of more effectively engaging employees. Badges are often used as a way of ‘on-boarding’ for new employees, and as a way of certifying staff for having completed employee training programs such as ethics in the workplace or cybersecurity training.
XSEDE (eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) is the latest incarnation of a more than 30-year old high-performance computing (HPC) community whose mission is to “substantially enhance the productivity of a growing community of scholars, researchers, and engineers through access to advanced digital services that support open research and coordinate and add significant value to the leading cyberinfrastructure resources funded by the NSF and other agencies.” XSEDE has identified the need to offer micro-certification with badging for a variety of technical areas within HPC.
Currently, XSEDE offers badge certification for OpenACC, MPI, OpenMP, Data Visualization, and Data Science. These badges are based on tutorial material from a series of XSEDE webinars consisting of 1-2 day online presentations including a considerable amount of hands-on content. XSEDE badges offer micro-certification for three different skill levels, Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The Beginner level typically consists of a low-stakes multiple-question assessment offering multiple attempts and no time limit. The Intermediate and Advanced levels will include a more challenging assessment consisting of 10-15 questions with a limited number of attempts and a time limit plus a practical assessment based on ‘real-world’ applications in that particular technical field.
The XSEDE HPC Badges are offered through the Mozilla Open Badges program. The Open Badges “Backpack” currently hosts nearly one million badges earned from professionals around the world. However, the process of submitting a Badge for inclusion in the Mozilla Open Badges can be difficult and and time-consuming so XSEDE has chosen to offer its badges using the Moodle learning management system which provides Open Badge support built-in to their interface. To date, badges have been awarded to dozens of users within the XSEDE community, and the process of determining how these badges might serve to validate the learner’s competence when looking for employment is currently being evaluated. You may attempt an XSEDE HPC Badge by visiting the XSEDE HPC Training Portal.