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Badge MOOC Challenge 6: Building a Successful Badge System

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Well, this is it!  We are in the final week of  the #OpenBadgesMOOC, and this is the last post (for badge purposes anyway) from Mozilla's #OpenBadgesMOOC. As with previous blog posts in this series I am brainstorming about including badges in an #ESLMOOC that I am thinking of designing, developing, implementing and them studying for a potential PhD.  With this week's materials we are tackling the Badge System.  Since this brainstorming is all theoretical and planning, I will most likely have some assumptions that underlie this brainstorming session.  As with previous weeks, we have the prompt (from the MOOC site) followed by my brainstorming on the topic.

Challenge Assignment 6: Building a Successful Badge System
  • Verification
  • Authentication
In order for Open Badges to gain full acceptance, extra precautions must be in place to ensure transparency in and confidence about the badging process.  This involves authenticating that the badge holder is indeed the one who earned the badge, and that the badges displayed by a badge holder are verified as coming from an authorized source. These “official” steps can be technologically addressed in your badge system implementation. In addition, the open badge ecosystem is evolving to include reputation systems evaluating learning providers and assessors as well as endorsements offered by employers and standards organizations.

If you’ve gotten to this challenge, you’ve invested an enormous amount of thought and work in the prior five challenges. Don’t let it go to waste: Now is the time to actually implement a badge system. Draft a project plan, find collaborators, and see it through.
  1. What stakeholders at your institution or company need to review/approve the badge system? Do you have the right materials and explanations to help them make informed decisions?
  2. Can the badge system be used to address existing goals and thereby strengthen its purposes?
  3. Are peers or partners or consortial institutions implementing badge systems, perhaps providing collaboration opportunities? Do competitive pressures strengthen your reasons for implementing a badge system?
  4. Are your learners demanding more authentic and targeted learning opportunities? Are you delivering the value your learners expect?
  5. What are the next steps for your badge system? What other resources do you need? Build a roadmap/workplan for this badge system.

BRAINSTORMING for this week:
So, coming to the end here, this may actually be one of the easier challenges to respond to. The nice thing about building something from the ground up, and working on a MOOC of my own interests is that there is no institution to review or approve my badge system. This means that I can "bake in" badges into the course and that they won't be an afterthought.  I suppose that if I want some institutional resources I may have to seek some buy-in from the institution, but since they seem eager to experiment with badges it may not be such a hard sell.

Since the MOOC has not yet begun its development cycle (I am currently in an Analysis stage), this also lends itself to barges being tied into goals, meaningfully, as goals for #ESLMOOC get decided on, and as meaningful MOOC assessments are thought out for this MOOC. Thus, I am hoping that baking in a badge system will strengthen the MOOC outcomes.

In terms of peers, if this #ESLMOOC is dissertation material, I guess I have to do most of the original preparation alone, but it would be great to get input for the design and implementation of this MOOC from instructors who do ESL as their day-job. Going forward, it would also be interesting to connect with others who are interested in examining the efficacy of badges for MOOCs, either at a regional or international level. There are no competitive pressures to implement a badge, unless you think of research and publishing a competitive pressure. I just tend to think of a badge system as a "good idea," that can help motivate learners, and give them a tangible item that shows the fruits of their academic labor.

In terms of the learners for the #ESLMOOC, I'd have to go out on a limb and make some initial assumptions about them.  In the first blog post I described a couple of sample students. Now, since the MOOC is international, I foresee that the learners will have many different motivations for joining and many different expectations for completing the MOOC. They probably have expectations of themselves about how often they participate in the course.  As we've seen in many different posts on, the as well as many blogs from various MOOC participants, we see that people join and continue (or discontinue) their participation in a MOOC for many reasons, and some don't have to do with the MOOC itself.  The interesting nut to crack will be a real proper tracking of learners in MOOCs, and getting feedback from people who want to continue, but the barrier to continuation is just a little too much to overcome.  If the barrier is course related, it will be interesting to see how a MOOC can be modified to help those learners.  Badges may end up being something that keeps people going.  I know that, for me, badges can be motivating to continue the course, if there is something else in the course that is of interest to me as a learner.

As far as delivering value goes, while a MOOC is free, learners to pay for it by putting in the time, effort and brainpower to complete the MOOC, so they probably want to see something back from it.  Realistically speaking, in a 6-8 week MOOC someone's language isn't going to improve 100% in all areas, so the MOOC can provide value to the learners, and so can a badge system, but at the end of the day, the value that learners get out of the MOOC will in part be based on how much they put into it.  I know from personal experience MOOCing, that what I get out of MOOCs greatly depends on how much I engage in them.  I expect a language MOOC to be even more so.

So, the next steps in this project are as follows:  I expect to do a whole lot of research into what the course ought to be (in other words the Analysis phase of instructional design).  Concurrently, I plan on researching a research on MOOCs (the little that exists), but also educational research on discussions forums, twitter, wikis, blogs, social bookmarking and so on to see what current research says about these things.  I am a few years behind on this at this point :-).   Once this is done, I will begin with assessments in mind, and that also means badges.  I will most likely be using Purdue's Open Passport platform since it ties into Backpack, and it's ridiculously easy to create badges on that system.  Considering I am not in a PhD program yet, I am not in any rush to complete this project tomorrow.  I am thinking about this as a long term project (next 18-24 months) since I am working on it on my own, on my spare time. I think that as I am developing assessments and badges I will seek the feedback from peers who are ESL instructors to see what they think.  I am wondering if anyone teaches ESL online - that would be of immense help in terms of sounding boards.

So, finally, let's end with a user story. Remember Stella D'Agostino? We met Stella in our first challenge blog post.  She is an Italian Professor at the University of Milan where the language of instruction is slowly changing from Italian to English.  She had completed her education in English, so she wanted to not be stuck in unnecessary classes.  She was signed up for #ESLMOOC to see what all the fuss was about.  She saw that badges would be something that would be available to learners who have demonstrated proficiency in the language.

As she looked at the modules for the six week #ESLMOOC she saw that she didn't really need to learn much from certain modules (2/3 the MOOC to be precise), so she submitted her assessments for those early, so that the ESL instructors could assess her work.  She passed those with flying colors and got her badges of mastery for those weeks, however her involvement did not end there. Since she had mastered those weeks early she became a peer mentor (another badge she could earn) for those weeks helping fellow classmates, some of whom were at the same University as she was.  For the weeks that she hasn't mastered before, she was able to participate fully, submit evaluation materials and get mastery badges for those as well.  At the end, she not only had all mastery badges for the MOOC, but she also had some additional (let's call them "rare") badges that showed her ability to be a peer mentor.  This helped her with work in that she had additional opportunities at work to excel and help peers in an offline (non MOOC) way.

OK, this is a bit down the road - but I think that these future (post-badge implementation) stories should be inspirational.  It's not just enough to get a badge - is it? :-)

Your thoughts?

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