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May 6, 2015 by Robin Englebright   

I got my first Open Badge at Mozfest 2013, and was delighted by the opportunity to have sweet little dinosaurs linked to me.

At Brighton Katie Piatt and Emma Illingsworth had run a small pilot which combined badges and gamification to encourage a more enaging library induction, which proved successful but the awards weren’t transferable.


Encouraged by The University of Southampton who shared their experience awarding badges for Student Digital Champions , we outlined a trial which would use Open Badges to reward non-curriculum activity, curriculum activity already rewarded through module credits.
Badges would be unlocked for activities already completed by the students, based on what has been done not a value judgment on how well it was done.
Mozilla were promoting their Open Badge infrastructure, and their “back-pack” had emerged as the defacto solution for surfacing badges issued elsewhere.
The Mozilla hosted badge issuing server solution “badgekit” was available as a closed beta, with indications that the service would be opened in October 2014. The code base was available on Github in two components which ran on a Node.js server, and was available as a development tool in the form of a Vagrant VM.
It seemed prudent to investigate the Mozilla route first, as it was Open Source, allowing us to review the code base and APIs, and adapt it to better fit our needs. The lure of a Mozilla offering a hosted solution was quite strong – removing the requirement to administer yet another server (at the time we were trying to rationalise the number of servicesand servers we supported as a team) – and building into the active Mozilla community

Unfortunately we couldn’t get the VM or code to run consistently, and the activity log on the Github repo showed some things were not being actively developed. Whilst we waited for the October release of the hosted solution we thought it would make sense to look at the tools built in to Blackboard. We had just upgraded from Blackboard Learn 9.1.6 to Blackboard Learn April2014 bringing a wealth of new (to us) functionality, including “Achievements”

The Blackboard tool has a few fairly top level settings:
Issuing Organisation – University of Brighton,
Issuer-course or Org – We opted for Course level- as we don’t do much with organisations- however Organisations may be a more useful home for the achievemnts in many use cases,
Issuer name – University of Brighton,
Issuer URL (which seems preset),
Issuer contact email – we created a functional account to handle any queries,
Verifcation code- a long GUID,
and publish to Mozilla- yes/no.

The My Achivements tool shows only badges generated within Blackboard, though BB generated badges can be displayed in Mozilla Backpack IF the user email registered in Blackboard is the same as that registered with the Mozilla Backpack.

At the Achievement delivery point the user can “publish to backpack”
Critically for our trial was the ability to surface the badges in the users mahara portfolio – studentfolio. This was possible, but required some hoop jumping that seemed out of proprtion to the reward.  The user has to gain the Achievement in Blackboard, publish it to a Mozilla Backpack using the same email address, then surface it in Mozilla using the open badge displayer plugin.
Alternatively the badges can be added to a public collection which can can been shown in the mahara portfolio by emedding a link in an iFrame, this method is supported in the mahara docs.

To test the Achievements tool we awarded badges to a completing cohort of PASS leaders and PASS Ambassadors.

We set up a shell course and enrolled the users.
The Achievements tool requires a triggering event, which is linked to the grade centre, and takes a little finessing to render useful information back to the badge recipient.
Some fields have limted characters, or only partially render depending on where the badge is viewed… In the my achievements area you get about 3 short words….

limited space for description details

Deeper down you can get away with slightly longer descriptions, but the text is still limited.

badge details

Sara did a sterling job refining the descriptions to around 20 words, which from trial and error we established was an effective limit.

PASS Leader description: Facilitated Peer Assisted Study Sessions with first year students. This included lesson planning and leading sessions on discipline-specific knowledge skills.

PASS Ambassador description: Co-coordinate Peer Assisted Study Sessions within their course. This involved liaising with academic supervisors, supporting leaders, and aiding in delivery.

Another limitation is that however you provide the badge to Blackboard, it converts it to a 90×90 png, which tends to spoil the look of the badge, their compression algorithm gives the badges jagged edges, and I’d foolishly put too much detail in the badges, and used too delicate a font.

The award of a badge produces a useful notification flash for the recipient when they log into the course area, and through Global Navigation notifications.
However if the course area is a shell as in our testing, there is little to encourage users to visit the area, and this reason may make the use of the higher level Organisations as the awarding unit more effective.
Another possible problem is that once Achievements has been enabled, anyone with edit rights on a module can authorise badges, which has the potential to devalue badge awarding. We needed a policy for badge issuing and I joined an international effort to draft a policy document with the Badge Alliance  –

Whilst the process was instructive the result was slightly too high level for our immediate needs which were closer to a guidance doc for those planning to use it, to ensure they are aware of what they are doing.

Just when we were about to go live we ran into another glitch with the Blackboard setup which threw errors when publishing to Mozilla-

"Remote assertion must match local assertion".

This was documented in Blackboard Article No: 000039381 and scheduled for a fix in the April 2015 update (Blackboard have moved to a bi-yearly update cycle in April and October -unfortunately testing and stability concerns mean we run an update cycle out of sync with this cycle)

The experience of issuing badges in Blackboard was slightly disappointing, it offered a solution, but the snags and glitches proved to be deal breakers, particularly the need to bind the badge to a common email address, and the poor quality copy of the original badge graphic.
We decided to maintain the Achievements tool for internal use, and investigate an alternative for surfacing badges in external locations.
We discussed our findings with Anne Hole at the University of Sussex who use Open Badges as a way of accrediting staff CPD activity.
Their solution was to use Credly which seemed to have several benefits for the end user, specifically that the badges can be surfaced in Linked-in profiles  which aligns well with our employability strategy.

old fashioned badge linking in Linked-in

old fashioned badge linking in Linked-in


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