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

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 ( and the funding channelled through the 2012 Digital Medial and Learning Competition ( 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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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. A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any environment h
  3. 3.
  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
  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?
  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?
  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 regions
  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. A badge is a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any environment
  31. 31. Mozilla badge infrastructure