Monthly Archives: January 2015

Digital badges – the display problem

For all the promise of digital badges, the fact that they still can’t easily be displayed and shared is a significant failing.

If we look at three of the four main types of digital badges that I have discussed recently – accredited, work skills and community – it seems reasonable to assume that a key function of these badges is a visual representation of a badge earner’s skills, achievements and participation in their field of interest.

While there is going to be a measure of personal satisfaction for the badge earner in simply having any of these badges, the ability to share these badges and let the world know who you are and what you can do seems like a vital feature.

Following from this, you would reasonably assume that sharing these badges in your online footprint would be a matter of a couple of clicks. Given the ubiquity of options to easily share every other aspect of our lives online, from where we are to how quickly we ran to get there, it doesn’t strike me that this is a technological issue.

Obviously some aspects of this are outside the control of badge systems such as Mozilla Open Badges, Credly and the like. Ideally – and this is something that I have been telling my teachers for some time now in the process of trying to sell them on badges – platforms like LinkedIn will add fields that make adding badges to your profile simple. At the very least however, it should be a simple thing to get html embed code from the Open Badges backpack that allows us to add our badges directly to any website or service that supports this function.

As it stands, the best we can do currently is add a link to a badge collection – like cavemen from 2009 had to do. Until adding a badge to your digital profile becomes as simple as tweeting or adding something to Tumblr, breaking through with badges is going to be a struggle.

But maybe I’ve missed something – is there an easier or better way?

A hierarchy of digital badges – level 4 Classroom

The final level of digital badges (in education at least) is Classroom badges. Now in keeping with the let’s-not-get-caught-up-on-semantics theme of this series of posts, it applies equally to the training room, the tutorial group and so on – the name ultimately doesn’t matter, it’s the function that counts.

Classroom badges I would consider to be the most informal of all badges, used primarily to add fun to learning and to give recognition to learn progress through a subject as well as to acknowledge notable contributions to class. This might be in an online forum or class discussion, for punctuality or courtesy or in dozens of other intangible ways.

These aren’t generally going to be badges that learners would attach to their e-portfolios or online presence but they can still be valuable tools to enhance motivation and engagement.

Classroom badges are closely tied to gamification, which is simply about taking game mechanics (e.g. instant feedback, competition/leader boards, collection quests, unlocking levels) and applying them to new contexts. Gamification is facing a not-unjustified backlash because it is possible to doing it quite badly and many gamification evangelists take an oversimplistic approach that involves copy-pasting concepts that work in advertising.

Used in education, gamification can drive intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivators take the form of external rewards – physical prizes obviously but also unlocking access to new content and particularly peer respect. This can be incredibly effective in the short term but you run a serious risk that learners engage more with the rewards than the learning and when the rewards dry up, motivation plummets. Intrinsic motivators tap into a learner’s own desires and their reasons for undertaking the study. These often focus on recognition of progress and achievement, curiousity and personal interests. These can be more difficult to design but are far more valuable in sustained engagement.

It’s certainly possible to find the right balance of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators in a gamified approach using classroom badges, it just requires a little more consideration.

I’m currently working with the head of our Year 12 program (final year of secondary education) on a badge based approach to encouraging at-risk youth to complete their studies. It is currently largely driven by extrinsic motivators – get enough badges during the year and we will put on an end-of-year BBQ that you can come to – but we will also include some subtler drivers.

Lee Sheldon, in his fantastic “The Multiplayer Classroom” book notes some examples of teachers that also got learners to design and issue classroom badges (a limited amount to increase their value) to their peers for certain achievements such as explaining a concept in class in such a way that they were able to understand something for the first time. Peer based badging opens a whole new door to this approach that is well worth taking further.

So this is what I consider to be the four levels of digital badging in education. Maybe I’ve missed some, maybe the terminology needs some work and maybe creating a hierarchy is redundant (as different people have different needs of badges) but I think this is a decent start.

I’d really quite like to hear your thoughts on this – and particularly where we go next.


A hierarchy of digital badges – level 3 Community

In addition to accredited study and work skills, digital badges can provide rich insights into a person’s wider interests and their engagement with their professional community.

While this doesn’t seem to be happening widely yet, I can see value in digital badges for attending and particularly presenting at conferences and workshops, membership of professional organisations or communities of practice and other activities which showcase someone’s interests and experiences.

I have to admit that even my badge backpack is pretty bare but one badge that I’m happy to display is one that marks me as a signatory of the Serious e-Learning Manifesto (because who doesn’t like a good manifesto after all). It’s really just a statement of principles around good eLearning design but as I scan the web, I sometimes get a little solidarity jolt when I see someone else with this badge and maybe I pay just a little more attention to what they have to say.

serious eLearning manifesto signatory badge(I’m just going to put aside for now the fact that I’ve just spent an hour trying to figure out how to embed this badge from my Mozilla Backpack into this blog post and save that for a greater discussion on displaying badges)

Anyway, digital badges can provide badge readers with an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of a badge holder and their interests and passions beyond the acquisition of work skills and knowledge.

Have you come across digital badges being used in this way? What else might we be able to do with them? I quite like the idea of being able to click on a badge to find a list of all the other people that hold that badge.

A hierarchy of digital badges – Level 2 Work skills

In my last post on this topic, I discussed why I think it helps to identify different types of digital badges and looked at more formal badges that are linked directly to accredited qualifications.

The next level of badges I’d say would be those that denote particular skills or knowledge in the badge-holder without necessarily having the same degree of accountability or rigour in the evidence gathering process.

These badges should certainly still be designed around specific, well defined capabilities/competencies that a badge issuer needs to evaluate but by disconnecting this level of badges from formal institutional systems and processes, we can support a wider range of badge issuers and support more flexible and responsive badge programs operating in much shorter time-frames.

Two particular examples of these kinds of badges spring to mind.

The Insignia Project at the Australian National University (ANU), driven by Dr Inger Mewburn, Dr Kim Blackmore, Dr Katie Freund and Emily Rutherford (all people I know and respect) was created last year to explore the use of Open Badges in Research Education. It ties to ANU’s “compulsory, yet non credit bearing, research integrity course.”

So here we have a training program that is designed to equip students with vital skills that should serve them throughout their studies and into careers in academia but which isn’t considered a part of formal study. The skills addressed by these badges include Research Integrity, Library Searching and the use of Endnote, valuable additions to a CV but not necessarily something that you would receive a qualification for.

Similarly, the Mozilla Foundation has a huge open access education program designed to teach people web development skills. The Webmaker project covers skills including html, javascript, web development and digital literacy and offers badges both to people developing these skills and to those teaching them.

The conditions for these badges are fairly clearly set out and they would certainly enhance the online presence of someone that you might be looking for with these skills – whether for work or collaboration.

Neither of these projects tie to formal qualifications but depending on the provider / badge issuer, it’s easy to see that these may hold more value to badge readers that accredited ones.  This is clearly a question of validity and credibility, which is one of the greatest issues with digital badges and one deserving its own discussion.

A hierarchy of digital badges – Level 1 Accredited

Part of me thinks it’s a really dumb idea to try to identify a hierarchy for digital badges and particular to try to name them. Because the people out there that don’t get badges are often the same kinds of people that get fixated on names for things and let the names blind them to the function or purpose of the thing. (This is why we start getting things called micro-credentials and nano-degrees. Personally I would’ve called them chazzwozzers but that’s just me)

Maybe hierarchy isn’t even the right term – taxonomy could work just as well but I do actually believe that some badges have greater value than others – determined by the depth and rigour of their metadata and their credibility with an audience. (Which isn’t to say that some educators mightn’t find classroom/gamified badges far more valuable in their own practice).

In the discussions that I’ve seen of digital badges, advocates tend to focus on the kinds of badges that suit their own needs. Quite understandable of course but it does feel as though this might be slowing down progress by setting up distracting side-debates about what a valid badge even is.

Here is a quick overview of the badge types that I have come across so far. If I’ve missed something, please let me know.

Level 1 – Accredited 

Accredited badges recognise the attainment of specific skills and/or knowledge that has the highest level of accountability. The required elements of these skills are identified in fine detail, multiple auditable assessments are conducted (and ideally reviewed) and supporting evidence of the badge recipient’s skill/knowledge is readily available.

I work in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector in Australia, where every single qualification offered is built on a competency based education framework. Each qualification is comprised of at least 8 different Units of Competency, which are generally broken down into 4 or 5 elements that describe highly specific job skills.

VET is a national system meaning that a person undertaking a Certificate Level 4 in Hairdressing is required to demonstrate the same competence in a specific set of skills anywhere in the country. The system is very tightly regulated and the standards for evidence of competence are high. Obviously, other education sectors have similarly high standards attached to their formal qualifications.

Tying the attainment of a Level 1 badge to an existing accredited education/training program seems like a no-brainer really. The question of trust in the badge is addressed by incorporating the rigour applied to the attainment of the existing qualification and having a very clearly defined set of achieved skills/knowledge offers the badge reader clarity about the badge earner’s abilities.

E.G. A badge for Apply graduated haircut structures could easily be awarded to a hairdressing apprentice on completion of that Unit of Competency in the Certificate III in Hairdressing. It would include the full details of the Unit of Competency in the badge metadata, which could also include a link to evidence (photos/video/teacher reports) in the learner’s ePortfolio.

I use a VET example because that’s what I know best (and because it seems a natural fit for badges) but obviously, any unit in a formal qualification would work just as well

Next post, I’ll look at Level 2 – Work skills


Developing Badge Literacy – an ongoing discussion

Sarah Thorneycroft, (@sthcrft), who I mentioned the other day, has been thinking about where we get started in spreading awareness of the value of digital badges and who some of the key players are when badges get discussed in education.

Her post, Badge Literacy – A field guide, identifies three common camps that people fall into when badges are discussed; the Boyscout camp who see them as digital stickers for children; the fence sitters who tend to be ambivalent at best; and the gamification camp, which often doesn’t find the best fit for use of badges.

This is a decent starting point for a discussion but I think we need to go further. The blessing and curse of badges is that even the most advanced of users (and there are plenty of them out there) are still trying to figure out exactly what badges can do and why we want them.

There is definitely still a big cohort in the boyscout camp – I’m dealing with a few of these human roadblocks myself. While a digital badge and a student’s testamur or transcript might contain exactly the same information (badges arguably more) and in effect be subject to the same degree of rigour in accreditation, this camp seems incapable of making this connection. They don’t get that it’s possible (and necessary) to have a hierarchy of badge types that encompass everything from informal “fun” classroom motivators to micro-credentials. (This is a post for another time soon)

The fence sitters will always be there and they at least have some understandably well-grounded concerns about yet another faddish new technology that should be listened to as we set about making digital badges a sustainable system.

I’m probably more sympathetic to the gamification camp but there are more than enough hucksters and band-wagon jumpers in that bunch that pushed this approach into Gartner’s Trough of Disillusionment in record time and they aren’t helping the idea of badges in the least.

But all of these camps are within the institutions.

When I think about Badge Literacy, I think about the people who will ultimately drive the value of these badges – employers and the learners/badge earners themselves.

It can be satisfying and motivating for a learner to have their achievements and progress recognised – real achievements and the development of real skills and knowledge, not just showing up to every lecture – but I’d argue that the greatest value of digital badges comes from the status that they can give you amongst your peers and prospective employers.

The trick here is that they can’t just replicate the existing system of qualifications and grades and lines on a CV, they need to offer something extra. Otherwise, why bother? Fortunately they do. Digital badges offer easy to read information about the recipient, with rich, validated metadata behind it. Ideally, direct links in this metadata to the evidence used to earn it. This is what can make a digital badge worthwhile.

Firstly though, there needs to be a critical mass of people who understand how they work and why they are better. This can take us to the point where an employer might look for specific badges in your online profile or drill down to see what’s in your ePortfolio and learners can track their learning progress and see at a glance what their knowledge gaps are.

It’s important for us to be working out the myriad of other issues relating to badges but I’d argue that, as with all other media, we have to know who our audience is first of all and if they can’t “read” the badges, what is our purpose?



Teaching with Moodle – the Moodle for beginners MOOC

I’ve been using Moodle for 3-4 years now but as a big part of my job is to train our teachers in it, it seemed wise to sign up for the new Teaching with Moodle MOOC being offered by Moodle.

It’s run by Mary Cooch (@moodlefairy) and her deep knowledge of the tool and the pedagogical approaches that work with it are on display from the get go.

This MOOC is aimed at beginner users but I have to admit I still picked up some handy tips – the ability to show one topic/section per page – and there is already a rich bank of posts and questions on the discussion board about user experiences around the world.

Teaching with Moodle only started on Sunday this week so there is plenty of time to get up to speed. I was able to whip through the activities and resources for the week in a bit over an hour. As with all MOOCs, it does suffer from the overwhelming weight of numbers in some of the discussions (1500+ introduction posts) but this is a minor quibble.

screenshot of moodle mooc course

Rejigging professional development training for teachers – Sarah Thorneycroft

Sarah Thorneycroft (@sthcrft) from the University of New England (Australia) often impresses with her thoughtful presentations about dragging academics and teaching staff into the 21st century when it comes to professional development in online teaching and learning.

This paper that she presented at Ascilite 2014 showcases her work in shifting from conventional workshops to webinars and “coffeecourses”. Teachers being teachers, the results were mixed (why can’t we learn about online teaching in a face to face workshop) but the signs are encouraging nonetheless.

The video runs to 19:23 but is well worth checking out.

ePortfolio grading rubric

Here’s a useful assessment rubric created by the University of Wisconsin – Stout that can be applied to ePortfolios. I would consider adding links within the criteria to exemplars of best practice but I think it provides a solid basis for evaluating student work.

screenshot of eportfolio assessing rubric