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Badges for Lifelong Learning Grantees: Responses to the 5 Buckets for Badge System Design

Badges for Lifelong Learning Grantees: Responses to the 5 Buckets for Badge System Design

This is a follow up post to an earlier one titled 5 Buckets for Badge System Design: You Are Here about different badge system design approaches. In that post, I suggested 5 main starting points or design approaches for badge systems, a way for organizations to locate themselves on the map. I’m interested in making badge system design a little less fuzzy so that organizations can focus on the decisions they need to make to move forward. We're a ways away from having decision maps for badge system design, but with the input from the Badges for Lifelong Learning grantees, we're getting closer. (If you’re just learning about the Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative, here’s a brief overview of the Competition and the 30 organizations that were funded to build badge systems).

Here are the 5 Buckets or “builds”:

  • New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.
  • Integrated build. The badge system and learning content are co-created and integrated into a pre-existing technological platform.
  • Layered build. The badge system is layered on top of pre-existing learning content and pre-existing technological platform.
  • Responsive build. The badge system responds to pre-existing learning content, and the technological platform does not yet exist, is optional, or is distributed.
  • Badge-first build. The badges are designed first and the learning content and technological platform are designed around the badges.

I asked the Badges for Lifelong Learning grantees to describe which design approach best fit their badge system, and heard back from the following projects who agreed to let me share their responses here.

For each project that responded, I’ve included links to their original Competition applications (there were two applications: Stage 1 for learning content and Stage 2 for badge system development). I think the applications are useful for anyone who wants to look at potential connections between the design approaches. The applications, while not entirely accurate descriptions of the systems that were eventually built, provide a rough idea of the early conceptual designs developed for each project. After Stage 1 and Stage 2 applications were submitted, teams were matched, and many of them reconceived their badge systems for the Competition Finals held at the California Academy of Sciences last year. So by early conceptual designs, I mean early. Many of them reconceived their systems quite a bit after being matched. 

I’ve also included short descriptions of each project written after they became funded winners, and a link to each of the Badges for Lifelong Learning Project Q&As, in which they share lessons learned after working on their badge systems for a year. After the project descriptions, I include their responses and the builds they selected. If you can locate your own organization and badge system in these builds (for example, if you think your badge system would fall under Responsive Build), the next thing to do is click the Digital Badges:Lessons Learned link and read what that project experienced while creating their systems.  

A few thoughts about what I learned from this exercise. My hunch was that many of the projects would report they drifted between buckets as part of the iterative design process, and also because reality is messier than any framework (or bucket) can capture. One of the key themes that came out of the Project Q&As is how iterative badge system design is, and so it makes sense that projects would find themselves moving between design approaches or dabbling, as Design Exchange described it. You'll also see that some projects selected two builds, not just because they tried different approaches, but because they had different programs that required different approaches (i.e. American Graduate). 

It will take some deeper analysis to find emerging patterns for different design approaches, so this post is mainly to share what the projects wrote.  What would really make this bucket framework useful is if we can identify key decision points, particularly those that have major implications, not just for learning and assessment outcomes, but for system outcomes as well. 

One last thing before jumping into the responses below -- Ross Higashi of Computer Science Student Network (CS2N) gave me excellent feedback about the 5 Buckets. I went back and forth about whether to include his response in this post or create a new one that focuses exclusively on his comments. Because his feedback helped me refine the buckets, I think it makes more sense to write a separate follow-up post that focuses on what Ross shared, and use that as a jumping off point to tweak the language that describes the builds.

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American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen Badges
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

Each year over 1 million students drop out of high school. American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is a multi-year public media initiative, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to help local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. A cornerstone of the initiative is to provide top-quality, proven digital educational resources that will engage and motivate middle and high-school at-risk youth to stay in school, graduate, and prepare for college and careers. American Graduate Badges provide a pathway to reward and recognize students for their successes and skills attained through participation in key public media youth media digital education programs, including PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, Roadtrip Nation, and StoryCorpsU.

American Graduate: Digital Badges:Lessons Learned

  • Layered build. The badge system is layered on top of pre-existing learning content and pre-existing technological platform.

  • Responsive build. The badge system responds to pre-existing learning content, and the technological platform does not yet exist, is optional, or is distributed.

American Graduate fell in both Layered Build and Responsive Build. In the case of each of our 3 content projects – NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, Roadtrip Nation and StoryCorps U, the content and curriculum existed, and each project was using a pre-existing technological platform. In the case of NewsHour, Pragmatic Solutions worked with the NewsHour team to rebuild and revise their existing system so that it would much more easily accommodate the design, implementation and awarding of not just the badges, but also facilitate better communication between NewsHour, students and teachers/mentors. In the case of Roadtrip, Pragmatic worked with them to ensure that their pre-existing system would be OBI compliant.

Design Exchange
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt and National Design Museum, in partnership with LearningTimes, has embarked on an initiative to integrate badging into its successful DesignPrep program for underserved NYC high school students. Badges will be awarded at increasing levels for student achievements in design disciplines and/or overall design thinking and competencies for in-person and web-based learning. Some of the highest level of badges will be accredited by professional organizations such as the Council of Fashion Design in America (CFDA) and AIGA, the professional association for design— bolstering resumes and higher learning applications in addition to a high level badge in Design Thinking.

Design Exchange: Digital Badges: Lessons Learned

  • Layered build. The badge system is layered on top of pre-existing learning content and pre-existing technological platform.

During the development of the Design Exchange badges system, and as we continue to modify, we worked in the Layered Build to add badges to the learning content we have in our programs and make it work on pre-existing badge software. At times we dabbled in other buckets but the clarity of these categories makes it easy to locate ourselves and to identify when our concept or approach shifted.

EarthWorks
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

Ohio State University and Digital Watershed will develop the Earthworks Badge System, accessible gateway to meaningful, engaged learning and mentoring experiences that empower young people and learners of all ages to cultivate a broader understanding of the importance and cultural value of the Earthworks of North America. The vision, voices and multiple perspectives of Native American culture will direct and guide the content developed for this interactive initiative.

EarthWorks Project Q&A

  • New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.

The Earthworks Rising project fits within the first category: New Build. Because it was a new build, we first had to find a suitable way to structure the content. We hit upon the idea of a card system, but never figured out how to integrate the content with earning badge slices outside of a one-size-fits-all approach. In retrospect, it would have been best to agree upon how to scaffold the learning content as it relates to badge earning, even if we didn't have time or money to build the structure. Knowing this is central to the overall design of the badge. Being a pie badge, the levels must be built into it as one unit as opposed to multiple badges that are awarded in sequence. Trying to fit this within a particular design tool's constraints also complicated the decision-making process. In retrospect, I think the badge must be conceived and designed before determining which tool to use for the build. Otherwise, it's just too complicated and too easy to loose sight of the what earning badge slices means to the overall build.

Our difficulties as a team came from not being able to clearly articulate and agree upon how the content and the badge interacted. A new build is a daunting task. One cannot narrow the scope until it has been blown-up large. Through grappling with the various aspects of this process over the past year and now stepping back, I can more clearly see the relationships among the various parts and how to restructure them. We've figured out how to integrate the learning content with the badges. (Click here for Michelle Aubrecht’s full comment)

MOUSE Wins! Badge-based Achievement System for National Youth Technology Leadership    
Stage 1 Application

MOUSE and collaborators at Minds On Design Lab, Inc. are working to scale an online badging system that supports its national youth network in credentialing computational, digital, and workplace skills and literacies. MOUSE’s badge ecosystem works to establish community participation and peer-to-peer learning as bedrock for program culture. Based in NYC, MOUSE provides young people across more than 300 program sites nationally with authentic situated learning environments that support their school community, increase their experience applying skills, and offer critical exposure to new interests and a growing community of supportive peers and adults who make, dream, and learn with digital media & technology.

MOUSE Wins! Digital Badges: Lessons Learned

  • New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.

  • Integrated build. The badge system and learning content are co-created and integrated into a pre-existing technological platform.

MOUSE: We're sort of a hybrid between 'New' and 'Integrated.'

My Girl Scout Sash is an App
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Partner

My Girl Scout Sash is an App takes the Girl Scout Leadership Experience and career development badge program to a digital media learning platform for girls, ages 5-17, with a focus on middle school and high school. Through collaboration with Motorola Mobility Foundation and MentorMob, girls create apps, demonstrating and sharing the knowledge gained and badge proficiencies.  Upon completion of Girl Scout App Boot Camp 101, 201, and 301, Girl Scouts earn digital badges that appear on their mobile devices and upload content that will be displayed on a private Girl Scout website built by MentorMob.

My Girl Scout Sash is an App: Digital Badges: Lessons Learned

  • New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.

My Girl Scout Sash is an App was very much a New Build. We were designing and implementing a new platform, new curriculum, and new badges all at the same time while reacting to and iterating off of each other. And because so much of the curriculum that the Girl Scouts were accustomed to building and implementing was in person, it wasn't as simple as just snapping the content into the learning platform. But once we translated parts of the experience into an online format, we were able to snap the pieces into place.

Planet Stewards: Personalized Learning in 3D GameLab
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) teamed up with 3D GameLab at Boise State to create Planet Stewards, a personalized high school competency-based curricular experience. Using NOAA’s content and 3D GameLab’s game-based learning platform, students are engaged by choosing among web-based quests, and earning experience points, levels, and badges to demonstrate their achievements in weather, climate, coastal, ocean, and lake science, all aligned to National Science Standards. Whether students are in the field, in the classroom, or engaging in a virtual or game-based experience, Planet Stewards will advance environmental literacy and promote a diverse workforce that encourages stewardship and increasing informed decision making for the Nation.    

Planet Stewards: Digital Badges:Lessons Learned

  • Integrated build. The badge system and learning content are co-created and integrated into a pre-existing technological platform.

Planet Stewards is an Integrated Build with a twist, in that we already had badges and a platform, but they weren't OBI enabled.  The NOAA content and their specific badges were simultaneously created along with making the platform OBI enabled.  

S2R Medals
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

Supporter To Reporter (S2R) is a real-life learning program developed by DigitalMe (www.digitalme.co.uk) that gives young people skills and confidence through taking on the roles of sports journalist, media producer, and mentor. S2R Medals recognize and reward the rich array of technical, teamwork and leadership skills gained through the program. The badges will be endorsed by sports and media industry, making S2R Medals ideal for developing college and employment readiness. S2R is delivered via Makewaves (www.makewav.es) a social learning platform used by over 60,000 young people enabling S2R participants to safely connect and collaborate with a global network of peers. Schools, after-school programs and sports organisations can start earning S2R Medals now at www.makewav.es/s2r.

S2R Medals: Digital Badges: Lessons Learned

  • Integrated build. The badge system and learning content are co-created and integrated into a pre-existing technological platform.

Makewaves is an interesting case in point because the site is a social learning platform that gives teachers and young people the tools to bring their learning online, so there isn't a lot of learning content, as such, on the site - just open tools for blogging, media sharing, and social networking. I think Integrated Build perhaps best describes our approach. We have developed a badge system that has been integrated into Makewaves, and we have also developed learning "missions", which teachers can create in order to set tasks for their students. Badges can be attached to these missions and awarded upon completion of the task. Our badge system can respond to pre-existing content, in the sense that badges can be created by our project partners and awarded when Makewaves members partake in engagement activities that were previously delivered without badges.

The SA&FS Learner Driven Badges Project
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

UC Davis' Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) will develop a model platform for validating experiential learning within formal institutional contexts at the undergraduate level. In creating a learner-driven, content-rich badge system, ASI will establish a new model for bridging learning in and out of the classroom, and enable learners to better communicate their skills and competencies to a broad audience.

SA&FS: Digital Badges: Lessons Learned

  • Responsive build. The badge system responds to pre-existing learning content, and the technological platform does not yet exist, is optional, or is distributed.

SA&FS is (perhaps) a Responsive Build. Learning content was in place and then we designed badges and built the platform simultaneously (mostly) in response.  We have an adaptive curriculum model so the curriculum is dynamic but our open approach remains the same. Also, students co-create and generate content through formalized channels in the curriculum. The badges are a vehicle for promoting and facilitating this. So, changing content in response? Yes and no. We have built in mechanisms to "flex" the curriculum that are institutionally acceptable. We are a little unconventional in that sense, is my guess.

Sweet Water AQUAPONS
Stage 1 Application | Stage 2 Application

Sweet Water Foundation aims to expand and deepen the impact of aquaponics and urban agriculture as a learning method by creating a replicable model for urban agriculture education. An enhanced curriculum and digital learning platform will support the requirements of Common Core Learning, Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM), IMS Interoperability Standards, and Open Standards. This model will meet the growing needs of lifelong learners to help improve their professional, academic and personal endeavors. Ultimately, this system to encourage learning that will help current and future generations address the growing concerns/implications of food sourcing and healthy food availability around the world.    

Sweet Water Aquapons: Digital Badges:Lessons Learned

  • New build. The badge system, learning content, and technological platforms are designed simultaneously.

  • Responsive build. The badge system responds to pre-existing learning content, and the technological platform does not yet exist, is optional, or is distributed.

Sweet Water AQUAPONS is somewhere between New Build and Responsive Build. We did have a great amount of pre-existing learning content. But the prospect of a badge-based system, and then the design of technology to support it, allowed us to re-organize our learning content in a new way.  So our learning content morphed to fit the technology. What we found during the tech development process, is the technology design was influenced by the evolving learning content, and shifted to meet the needs of that learning content.  Likewise, the new learning content evolved even more to meet the tech design improvements, and this cycle would have continued forever if we were not limited by time and funding!

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