A speculation on the possible use of badges for learning at the UK Open University


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There has recently been a flurry of interest in supporting the idea of using ‘badges’ to recognise learning, particularly due to the Mozilla Open Badges project (http://openbadges.org/) and the funding channelled through the 2012 Digital Medial and Learning Competition (http://www.dmlcompetition.net/). Badges offer the potential of rewarding informal learning and reaching non-traditional learners.
This paper speculates on ways in which badges for learning could fit into the offering of the UK Open University, and exposes some of the tensions that badges raise.

[Paper presented at European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) conference, Cyprus, 27-28 Sept 2012]

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  • I’m going to start by showing how one of our projects, iSpot, which already has a well developed badge system, encourages people like Alice. Alice has spotted a bird she doesn’t recognise and taken a photograph of it.
  • She uploads her photograph to create an observation on iSpot. If she can, Alice adds an initial identification, others in the community can suggest an alternative. But how does Alice know which identification to trust? At this point badges come into play. Every iSpot member is accompanied by badges which reflect their expertise. In this case several people have agreed with the identification. Bob is a beginner – shown by a single bird icon; others have more icons showing more expertise. Charlie is special – he is an expert member – his gold badge is vouched for by a natural history society. So you can judge the quality of the identification by the badges of those who support it.
  • Alice now has a reliable name for her plant/animal; this is the key that unlocks learning about that species and its ecology. On iSpot it provides other observations of the same species; and creates links to information elsewhere on the web such as the Encyclopedia of Life or distribution data from the UK National Biodiversity Network. Alice can now take her first steps on a learning journey.
  • As Alice makes identifications that the community agree with, her expertise grows and this is reflected in additional badges as she passes milestones. She can offer agreements and identifications to other users, and engage in comment and discussion around observations. These contributions are also reflected in badges. Alice may also start to collect observations of plants; but Alice’s new expertise in identifying birds doesn’t mean she is an expert in plants. iSpot therefore tracks expertise separately in eight different biological groups: plants, birds, invertebrates and so on.
  • iSpot is an informal learning community but we do recognize people’s achievements in more formal learning. For example, students on some Open University modules get a distinctive badge on iSpot We’ve seen expert badges. They are vouched for by one of our partner natural history societies, and the affiliation badges link back to the society’s web site. We hope that some iSpot members will be encouraged to join these natural history societies and become part of the community of amateur naturalists. In the UK especially, our knowledge of national biodiversity is largely provided by expert amateurs. So iSpot supports people as they embark on learning journey about natural history, helping to foster a new generation of naturalists. I know that the same vision underpins all the projects who are collaborating in this bid.
  • This describes what we currently have on iSpot – we’d now like to move iSpot and our collaborator sites to the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure. Firstly, our badges become portable – users can start displaying them on Facebook and other social networking sites. It also means that a user who is active on both iNaturalist and iSpot can display their iNat badges on their iSpot profile and vice versa; and the same for our other collaborators. To make sense of that, we need to redesign our badges so that there is coherence and consistency across our projects – we want them to make sense to anyone viewing them. It also opens opportunities for badge exchange. Currently we issue iSpot expert badges on behalf of natural history societies – in the long term they could be responsible for issuing badges; we would just accept them. Equally, badges issued on iSpot could have value elsewhere. EOL (Encyclopedia of Life) have a curator role which will be badged. EOL are planning to accept iSpot expert badges as equivalent: an iSpot expert will get curator privileges on EOL.
  • Given all this variation, our badges will have to be designed as composites. This means we can have many different badges but they are easily understood. We still need some professional graphic design! They’ll have a difficult job. I’ve said that our badges must still be branded by the issuer But on the other hand we want some consistency across our collaborators so that there is some common understanding of levels and domains, so some common elements of design are also required. And they need to be small enough to work in crowded interfaces!
  • This isn’t going to be easy! There isn’t going to be a single badge for ‘Natural History’ because that covers too much ground. We are going to need a set of badges – and they will need to be coherent and make sense to users while still matching the different activities in our projects. I’m going to unpick these in some more detail.
  • The collaborators in our proposal all share the theme of citizen science for biodiversity – but they focus on and reward a range of different skills.
  • Also, we’ve seen that skill in identification is restricted by biological group.
  • We may also need to issue badges for some defined area – perhaps continents or bio-geographical regions.
  • We also know from experience that we need to retain strong branding for the issuer. These are the partner badges you can already see on iSpot which recognise the hugely import contribution of our expert community who volunteer on behalf of their natural history societies. The badges we issue will need to retain a strong branding – we think that this is really important to maintain the social dynamic of our sites.
  • This is an exciting time, a renaissance of citizen science. Badges for learning would reward participation and engagement, and our international collaboration will allow our users to carry their skills from one project to another, encouraging a global community of citizen scientists. Thank you.
  • This shows how EOL will accept an iSpot expert badge and use it to give curator privileges.
  • A speculation on the possible use of badges for learning at the UK Open University

    1. 1. A speculation on the possible use ofbadges for learning at the UK OpenUniversityJon RosewellDept of Communications and Systems,Faculty of Maths Computing and Technology,The Open University, UK
    2. 2. http://scouts.org.uk/ A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any environment http://www.dmlcompetition.net/oMtt h
    3. 3. www.iSpot.org.uk
    4. 4. Building Citizen Science
    5. 5. …with Open Badges Infrastructure
    6. 6. Informal or formal learning?• Badges fit well with informal learning – eg via OpenLearn, iTunes U, YouTube… – Rise of MOOCs…• Badges offer less to formal learning which has awards – but students would like ‘course survivor’ badges • recognise success on their learning journey• Badges could bridge informal  formal – earned by completion of preparatory work – collection of badges = evidence of learning = APEL
    7. 7. Badgeprogression http://www.sta.co.uk/swimming-teaching/badge-scheme/supporting-awards
    8. 8. Audience• Who will be motivated to acquire badges – existing students or the general public?• Can badges provide a route for access to higher education, offering low-stakes tasters that will encourage prospective students to embark on higher education?• Do badges offer a way of encouraging lifelong learning?
    9. 9. Types of material• What types of material might promote engagement and motivate people to earn badges?• Acquisition of content vs social learning• Badges and reputation systems – badges reify reputation (iSpot, eBay, StackOverflow) – motivations: human/social capital, progression, privileges
    10. 10. Value• What is the perceived value of badges to learners?• Will badges also be perceived to have value to others? – friends and family – peers – employers?
    11. 11. Readability• How will people ‘read’ the meaning of a badge?• What does it represent: – subject – level – amount of study/learning?
    12. 12. Readability• Issuer: the OU OU-related project eg iSpot• Subject: broadly: arts, science, maths… detail: English literature 1500-1700• Level: OU level: (0), 1, 2, 3, 4, national qualification frameworks• Extent: hours of study: 1, 10, 100… credit points: 1, 2, 10…
    13. 13. OU badge recipe Issuing project Subject & level Label
    14. 14. Radical or conventional?• Can badges, by escaping the constraints of traditional syllabuses and quality assurance frameworks, support radically different educational experiences?• Or will they be used simply to recognise smaller chunks of otherwise conventional study?
    15. 15. Granularity• What should the granularity of a badge be? – should it reward a small chunk of learning, perhaps the equivalent of a few hours of study? – or the hundreds of hours of study required for a traditional university module? – or come in different denominations? http://www.fleur-de-coin.com/eurocoins/introduction.asp
    16. 16. Assessment• What level of assessment is appropriate for a badge?• Is it the case that a badge requires a less rigorous assessment than credit-bearing modules that lead to formal qualifications?• Can methods of assessment be offered at sufficiently low cost to form an effective partner to open education resources?• What forms of assessment could offer this low-cost basis: what place should there be for learner analytics, computer-marked assessment, peer assessment or
    17. 17. Brand and reputation• How could branding and reputation work in an ecosystem where an institution offers both formal study leading to qualifications and informal study that leads to badges?
    18. 18. Questions?J.P.Rosewell@open.ac.uk
    19. 19. Issues!• How to design a coherent badge system to cover varying: – Skills – Biological group – Geographical region – Level – Issuer
    20. 20. Skills• Identification skills• Data contributor• Science skills• Eco-tourism, environmental policies• Content curation
    21. 21. Biological groups
    22. 22. Geographical regionshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ecozones.svg
    23. 23. BrandingBadges need to show theidentity of the issuer
    24. 24. Building Citizen Science:A Natural History Badge Ecosystem
    25. 25. • Skills – identification – data contributor – curation• Strong geographic focus• Possible badges for ‘first observer’
    26. 26. INBio / Cyberhives• Earn points for contributions: – Postings in forums – Participation in training sessions – Uploading and sharing images – Survey contribution – Uploading and sharing documents – Participation in webinars with experts – Field trips to wild areas – Final presentation of research project• Tariff: 1 = 10pts, 10 = 20pts, 30 = 30pts
    27. 27. India Biodiversity Portal• Badges: – contribution to observations – curation of species pages – peer assessment on competence in ecology and environmental policy “We believe the Open Badges program for India will truly empower learners and provide opportunities and livelihoods. We think there is an unmet need for naturalists and the badges program can fill this need very nicely.”
    28. 28. Collection managerCitizen science userVolunteerData provider
    29. 29. Building Citizen Science: A Natural History Badge EcosystemJon Rosewell, iSpot, The Open University Jeff Holmes, EOL, Harvard University
    30. 30. http://www.dmlcompetition.net/ A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any environment
    31. 31. Mozilla badge infrastructurehttp://openbadges.org