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Implementing a complex leveled hierarchy: S2R

S2R designed their medal system to allow students to progress through different levels of mastery in three different areas of journalism, targeting the roles of Journalist, Producer, and Coach. Moreover, they wanted to guide students through these badges along a pathway that would both allow students choice in pursuing the roles they desired and require that they gain some experience in all of the areas before they could be considered masters in any one of them. In addition, S2R designed the system to recognize deep enough commitment that the gold badges would be scarce, to match the highest tier students up with opportunities presented by reporting organizations and sports clubs.

In order to recognize achievement in such a complicated system, complicated assessments were required. One measure of the success of the S2R system became apparent as students began earning the available badges faster than Makewaves could roll out the materials to support offering and issuing the next level. The badges motivated students to move through the program enough that in one school, students organized a badge club on their own during lunchtime where students would help each other navigate the requirements of the badges they had yet to earn.

The difficulty S2R encountered in building out its badge program as fast as its most eager participants could move through it arose partly because the system aimed to integrate badges into an existing curriculum. This design implication is a major choice for badge projects, and sometimes is outside of the scope of the badge project itself. S2R felt that there was a lot of value in the program pre-badges and didn’t want to dilute it. At first, this seemed like a step ahead:

“We thought we had an advantage, because we had a program in place and it was just a case of creating badges to map to the program we were already delivering, but actually I think in hindsight that’s what’s made it really complicated, because if we just started with a blank piece of paper it would be a lot more simple” (DPD Follow-up Interview)

In order to address the complexity of the badge system, and also to ensure it remains consistent across all the schools and sports clubs who implement it, S2R developed a wealth of materials to help participating schools and students get started with the program.  These included teacher support packets, a learning pathway tool on Makewaves called Badge Missions, and a system design worksheet called Badge Canvas.

The teacher support resources includes instructions on setting up accounts and getting started with Makewaves as well as detailed information on each strand badge, including assessment rubrics that show what achievements and level of performance are expected for each level. The resource packets include some activity guides and worksheets students can complete as they move through the short activities. The activities proved to be one of the most popular elements of the program among the participating teachers.

Makewaves developed Badge Missions to help students and teachers navigate the badge system, guiding them through the activities along a learning pathway that shows them what they need to do next to earn the badge they are aiming for. They see a progress bar of their achievements along the way to earning a mission badge. Another component of the Badge Missions is a data tracking dashboard to show teachers an overview of their students’ progress through the mission on one screen.

As they attempted to understand and simplify their S2R badge system, team members developed a badge system design and analysis tool they called Badge Canvas, released through DigitalME in conjunction with its Badge the UK project.


S2R Case Study

Figure 1. Instance of Badge Canvas worksheet

Badge Canvas is a worksheet with spaces to fill in information about the badge system’s audience, components, pathways, resource requirements, and visual design. It reminds designers that badge systems require many considerations and ongoing commitment to function well as a whole. Badge Canvas helps people design an “implementation plan” for their badges, and it importantly slows people down on this process to help them think about the motivations, assessments, and truly badgeable achievements that underlie their system.

Reflecting on the difficulty that the complexity of their system design forced on the project, both Lucy Neale of DigitalME and Cliff Manning of Makewaves felt that the work they had done addressing this challenge was a net positive and that the experience has been invaluable.  Cliff said:

The complexity has made the delivery more challenging, but has opened up loads of opportunities for us.  One of the advantages of doing a more complex system from the start is that it’s given us a really good view of all the different ways in which you can do it and what some of the challenges are for managing it. It’s forced us to stretch the technology a bit as well, so now we can do loads more than most badges require (DPD Follow-up Interview).

Recognizing Principles Assessing Principles Motivating Principles Studying Principles
Specific principles: Specific principles: Specific principles:

Loves open education, Open Badges, free culture, Progress of the Useful Arts and Sciences, people-powered politics, and local food production. Coordinator for the badges Design Principles Documentation Project at Indiana University.

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Mozilla Open Badges
Digital Badges are web-enabled credentials of learning or accomplishment. -Erin Knight, director of the Badge Alliance
Badges contain detailed claims about learning, links to actual evidence of learning, and they're shareable over the web. -Dan Hickey, DPD Project Lead Investigator
To me, digital badges represent the bridge between formal learning & informal structures. -Alex Halavais, DML research competition winner
Open Badges can help people tell a verifiable story about their accomplishments. -Nate Otto, DPD Project coordinator
Regardless of where you start, it’s more than likely you’ll end up somewhere other than your intended destination. That’s okay. Systems are living things, and your badge system needs to be flexible. You must embrace a bit of chaos in its design. -Carla Casilli, Director of Design + Practice at the Badge Alliance