NatureBadges: Open Source Nature & Science Badge System

Preface

The information contained in this project appendix was gathered from the original project proposal that was funded in 2012 and interviews with project leaders through the end of 2014.  This appendix and the overall design principles database from the DPD project does not reflect further evolution of the project or developments after the final interview that took place in 2014. As of the final interview, NatureBadges had issued badges and developed a functioning badge system. Based on this information, we have classified this badge system as an implemented (rather than a partial  or suspended) badge system.

Summary

LearningTimes and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History partnered together in an effort to design and implement the digital badge system NatureBadges. The project developed the badging system to bridge learning online and at the physical museum. They further described missions that participants complete in taking part in the badge system, outlining the Forensic Mystery Mission and the Dino Tracks Quest.  The badging effort aimed for the museum to “be a hub for a strong international network of science and nature badges so that the audiences introduced to badging through innovative hands-on digital activities at the museum will have the opportunity to jumpstart their informal learning through badges from dozens of organizations” (HASTAC Q&A). To this end, they built a badging system that guides participants through a progression of tasks and activities that foster their skills in science.

Over the course of the project, LearningTimes developed the technological open source platform BadgeStack to serve as the infrastructure of the badging effort. They described that BadgeStack placed a “thoughtful, flexible, community-driven, badge-empowered learning system in the hands of organizations” (DML Stage 2 Proposal). The architecture offers capabilities for assessment of learning, badge issuance, online community interaction, and sharing of badges on the Open Badge Infrastructure as well as on the public website as part of the plugin to the WordPress site. The BadgeStack platform provides options for customization to meet the needs of the badge system; they highlighted the ability to personalize the system settings, learning pathways, badge design, and assessment engine.

The project aims its badging system toward learners of all ages, from youth to adults, engaging audiences while developing their knowledge of nature and the sciences. Through the badging system, learners receive the chance to participate in scientific practices, collecting evidence and interpreting data. Badge system participants gain opportunities for hands-on learning, completing activities during visits to the museum and continuing the experience online at home. The National Museum of Natural History noted that it was already building some of the infrastructure and setting it in place, including a content management system, learning activities, and assessment tools as part of its Education Center (DML Stage 1 Proposal). The project aims to design and implement a badging system to provide a robust and more fully fleshed out learning experience.

Evolving Practices and Design Principles

What follows is a list of practices as they relate to the general and more specific design principles in each category of practice. The headings name a (a) General Principle, (b) Specific principle, (c) Specific practice. Below each heading, we indicate what stages this principle appeared in the project: as an (a) intended practice, (b) enacted practice, or (c) formalized continuing practice.

Design Principles for Recognizing Learning

The badging system provides credentials for learners of all ages, targeting its diverse audience of visitors to the museum. As part of the initiative, the effort planned to make the badges available both on and offline, with printable digital certificates and digital badges that can be shared on the website and Mozilla OBI. Further, the project backed the claims the badges made about learning with the Smithsonian brand, enhancing their credibility.

Recognize diverse learning > Badges for diverse learners

Intended, enacted. not formal

The project intended to design badges that would be available to learners of all ages from early childhood to adult. They explained:

A primary audience for the Smithsonian Natural History Badges will be visitors to our museum, who will be introduced to our badges through the Education Center. Our diverse audience of seven million a year will have opportunities onsite to participate in the badges system…Also, our successful teen programs would become part of this badge system, so that the youth are more clearly acknowledged and rewarded for their participation (DML Stage 1 Proposal).

The effort directs the badging system at new and existing audiences of learners from diverse backgrounds and from various walks of life.

Use badges as a means of external communication of learning > Credential is available on and off-line

Intended, enacted, formal.

NatureBadges aimed to make the credentials available for display both on and off-line. The project explained:

In our grand vision, at all levels, badge recipients can be honored on our website. At the first two tiers of engagement, participants gain points, as evidenced by a digital certificate sent by email or printed. If they gain a badge at the first or second level, they get a digital badge emailed to them along with a real badge if they are at the museum. They also get their own personal spot on our website, where they can save, curate and create their own content (DML Stage 1 Proposal).

In this way, the badge system enables learners to display their accomplishments both online and in person.

Seek external backing of credential > Externally endorsed > Credential branding and external recognition

Intended, enacted, formal.

The badging system planned for a badge to serve as a credential recognized outside of the issuing community or institution. They asserted, “To that end, we are looking for a badge design that takes advantage of the name recognition of the Smithsonian brand, leaves room for partnerships and is expandable to a family of badges with infinite grown potential” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). With backing from the Smithsonian, the that claims made by badges gain more credibility in representing individuals’ learning and achievements.

Design Principles for Assessing Learning in Digital Badge Systems

NatureBadges designed assessments for its badge structure that progresses in its level of difficulty. The project employs computer scoring systems to review and verify the quality of the learning and performance of work. The badge system awards points that accumulate to the earning of an overall badge.

Use leveled badge systems > Hierarchical categories > Leveled badges

Intended, enacted, formal.

The badge effort indicated that badges are leveled as participation and performances increase. They elaborated, “Whether they embark on the Forensic Mystery Mission or the Dino Tracks Quest, they will be engaged in a tiered set of activities that encourages them to try more challenging projects, and acknowledges the science skills they are gaining. We envision four tiers of the system” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). With this badge structure, the badge system creates a sequence of activities that build the skills of learners and provide them with progressively harder challenges.

Enhance validity with expert judgement > Use computer scoring systems > Activities are validated by a computer scoring system

Intended, enacted, formal.

The project intended to validate badges with a computer scoring system. They stated,“In the Education Center, people will develop skills by doing activities. At the end of an activity, they can talk to a volunteer or use a touch screen to take a digital survey that measures their level of understanding. If they demonstrate sufficient understanding, they get points and a recommendation for a next step activity. After gaining a certain number of points, the participant gains a badge, which can be automatically rewarded by the content management system” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). The system awards points to users that later add up to the issuance of a badge.

Design Principles for Motivating Learning

The badging effort promotes the motivation of learners by enabling them to share their badges to the public, both on and offline. In addition, the system offers the right amount of challenge to engage learners through its the progressive levels of difficulty that are built into the badging structure. Additionally, the project grants privileges to learners such as the capacity for mentorship, including access to the museum practices that take place behind-the-scenes.

Display badges to the public > Learners can choose to share their badges with others > Recognition on website

Intended, enacted, not formal.

The initiative viewed the practice of sharing badges and project work with one another to create motivational effects. NatureBadges asserted that “badge recipients can be honored on our website” (DML Stage 1 Proposal).  Additionally, the project noted “[d]igital tools for people to use both onsite and online and a mobile app that visitors can use as their own Field Notebook to curate and create their own work and share their accomplishments and badges with others” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). The displaying of badges influences learners’ motivation to earn badges. However, the badging effort has yet to continue development on this practice.

Give badges for small accomplishments to hook in learners > Scaffolding for increased challenge

Intended, enacted, formal.

The project envisioned that the progressive levels of difficulty influence the motivation of badge earners. “As visitors participate in the missions that make up the badge program, they will build science, communication, and technical skills. Whether they embark on the Forensic Mystery Mission or the Dino Tracks Quest, they will be engaged in a tiered set of activities that encourages them to try more challenging projects, and acknowledges the science skills they are gaining” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). This design offers learners an appropriate amount of challenge to engage learners and strengthen their learning.

Provide incentives > Peer mentorship > Privileges

Intended, not enacted, not formal.

The project aimed for badges to motivate earners by providing access to mentors and other privileges. The project elaborated, “At the forth tiers, participants have an opportunity to take part in a mentorship at the museum and gain behind-the-scenes access. Some work will be displayed in the museum and the individuals who reach the forth tier will have special status at the institution as advanced citizen scientists” (DML Stage 1 Proposal). Privileges move badge earners to further their learning and develop a stronger grasp of the subject. In the badge system implementation, the project has not moved forward with the development of peer mentorship.

Design Principles for Studying Learning

The project did not indicate an intention to conduct research on the badge system in their initial proposal, and the badging effort has not articulated plans to carry out future studies on the project.

References

NatureBadges. (n.d.). NatureBadges Open Source  DML Stage 1 Proposal. Retrieved from

http://dml4.dmlcompetition.net/dml4.dmlcompetition.net/Competition/4/badges-projects.

php%3Fid=2821.html

BadgeStack. (n.d.). DML Stage 2 Proposal. Retrieved from http://dml4.dmlcompetition.

net/dml4.dmlcompetition.net/Competition/4/badges-projects.php%3Fid=3218.html

Project Q&A with: NatureBadges. (2013, July 1). HASTAC. Retrieved from

http://www.hastac.org/wiki/project-qa-naturebadges-open-source-nature-science-badge-s

ystem

 

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

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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