Incorporating Open Badges into a Hybrid Course Context

By Dan Hickey
I recently incorporated digital badges into the online aspects of my doctoral course on educational assessment (“Capturing Learning in Context”).  There are two aspects of this effort that readers might find useful.  The first aspect concerns the way students award simple “stamps” to highlight significant contributions or insights from classmates. I use those stamps to award three “one-star” badges each week; I will use the one-star badges to determine how to award three two-star badges at the end of the semester.  I will elaborate on this in a later post.  I also removed the section on using the Mozilla Open Badge backpack to another post as well. This post is already going to be pretty long! 

In this post I want to describe how I used ForAllBadges (from ForAllSystems, a small Chicago firm) to issue digital badges within a typical online course management system (CMS).  Anyone who wants to issue badges that comply with Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) can easily sign up for a free account at  The account can be used as a stand-alone site, or it can be accessed from within any CMS that lets you access outside websites.  I am using OnCourse, the Sakai-based open-source CMS that Indiana University helped develop.

Incorporating ForAllBadges into OnCourse

ForAllBadges Interface Inside of OnCourse
(Click on the images to enlarge them)

After my account was set up, I just had to enter the browser address into the OnCourse Web Content tool and labeled the link ForAllBadges.  Then my students just had to click the link to access that site within my class site.  I added each student as a participant by entering their email address and a default password. 


Creating Badges
Six Badges Created for my Class
One of my doc students, Rebecca Itow, helped me to create these badges (Rebecca's experience in P2PU's Badge Maker course was a great help in this process). In order to create badges, we first needed images.  We used a shareware program called InkScape (a tool introduced to us in the P2PU course) to create the images for each badge.  Given the nature of the badges and the class, we did not worry too much about aesthetics.

Interface for Creating Badges

Once the images are created, we just had to click on Manage Badges and then Add Badges to create the badge.  We only used the Name and Description fields. We left the Criteria field blank so it could be filled in when the badge was actually awarded.  You can see that we could have included a lot of information by using the other fields.  What makes ForAllBadges “OBI-compliant” is that these fields are consistent with the metadata structure that the Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges projectdefined in 2012 as part of the MacArthur Foundations Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative.

 Issuing Badges

One-Star Collaborative Engagement Badge from my Class
Once the participants were added and the badges were created it just took a couple of clicks to issue a badge.  Because of the way I set up the badge, I entered the actual criterion when I issued each badge.  This was simply an explanation of why I awarded that badge to the specific student.  The students can easily see which badges each of them has been issued, and can click on any badge to see the criterion upon which it was awarded. 

I have been playing around some with the wording of the criteria each time I award a badge. This is a nice example why digital badges have such transformative potential.  Because I knew this badge might be “pushed” out beyond my class, I was forced to think about the information that the badge would contain.  And while I had decided to not make badges part of the course grade, I certainly hoped that students would value them. Particularly because every student could inspect every badge that I awarded, it was important that the criterion be credible at least in the context of the class. I still have some work to do to make the badges credible beyond the context of my class.

When I first issued badges, I included links back to the comments from classmates that led me to award the badge.  Those links would work for the students who were enrolled in my class and only then while they were inside my OnCourse site.  While those links supported credibility within the class, they were rather unwieldy.  More importantly, a dead link would undermine the credibility of a given badge when viewed outside of the class context.  So I removed the links. I will write more about credibility in the future, but for now check out Carla Caslilli’s excellent post about credibility and validity for digital badges.

In addition to credibility, I had to think about privacy. When I removed the links, I initially left in the first names of the awardees classmates whose comments led me to award the badge.  But I realized that if the badge was viewed outside of the class context, that some students might object to being identified. Even though it was just the first name, I suspect that putting such identifying information might violate FERPA rules that strictly protect the privacy of anyone enrolled in a public school classroom. The example above shows the badge I eventually awarded.  I left only the awardee's first name in the badge (it is obscured in the picture).  But I provided enough detail so that the students in my class could recognize whose endorsements I was referring to.

I am not sure how meaningful my one-star badges will be to anyone outside of my class.  But I have nine weeks to figure out how to make the three two-star badges more generally meaningful. I now realize that the challenge, if I want to be a badge-savvy educator, is to make the two-star badges so meaningful that the awardee might push it out to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, so that others might see it and comment on it.  (I hope that this is the point where confused or skeptical readers start to realize why people like me are so excited about digital badges.)

If this is not clear or not helpful, or if you have comments, please let me know!  Now go forth and play!



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