Project Q&A With: Badgestack

Project Q&A With: Badgestack

BadgeStack is a standards-based system designed specifically for badge-empowered, social learning. Learning Times has built the BadgeStack system to be one of the most comprehensive plugins to the open source WordPress software. This effort works to extend and develop an easy-to-use, downloadable, Wordpress-based, robust open source badge-issuing platform.

BadgeOS: Free open source learning and community plugin for WordPress

LearningTimes, LLC built and released “BadgeOS”, a powerful free, open source plug-in to WordPress that lets anyone create achievements and issue badges to mark success. BadgeOS transforms any WordPress site into a system for engaging constituents, assessing competencies, recognizing progress and involvement, and awarding badges. The core plugin was designed to be extensible and customizable from both the front-end admin interfaces, as well as the back-end code through a wide array of standardized system filters and hooks. As such, organizations can craft a badge-issuing achievement system that looks, feel and works exactly as desired. It can be extended in niche ways through add-ons to the core plugin, including connecting it to additional third party systems.
BadgeOS was designed based on experience gained through deployment of over 200 instances of the “BadgeStack” learning and community system in 2012. BadgeStack users provided wonderful feedback which was incorporated into BadgeOS and the first two free add-ons to the core plug-in. The transition from “BadgeStack” to “BadgeOS” represents a complete re-imagining of the original system architecture, offering more power and flexibility as an underlying operating system for recognizing and rewarding achievement.
The open source badging and digital credential community response has been tremendous. Since its release in April 2013, the core BadgeOS system has been downloaded over 2100 times, the “Community Add-On” over 1100 times, and the “BadgeStack Add-on” over 600 times. In June 2013, we offered the first update to the BadgeOS core based on feedback from the open source community. BadgeOS v1.1 release permits even greater flexibility in integrating BadgeOS functions and achievements into a WordPress site.
We amped up the availability and versatility of shortcodes, given the option to review incoming submissions and nominations on the front-end of a site, and enabled members of a site to see the history and status of their submissions. There’s also some new automatic triggers available (award achievements when users publish new posts and pages), the option to show users their point total in a sidebar widget, and the ability to embed an achievement or just its submission box inside the content of any other post or page. We also made some bug fixes, thanks to reports from the field. For more on BadgeOS 1.1 see:
The variety of BadgeOS uses includes: formal education through K-20 institutions; informal learning programs; professional development and training; and lifelong learning opportunities. BadgeOS is being deployed around the globe, on many platforms including all types of mobile devices. Dozens of developers have contacted us to support and coordinate efforts to add new features and functions. Some BadgeOS implementations are already garnering widespread attention, awards and praise:
  • BadgeOS supports a health and fitness education program with the YMCA of Greater NY that is being deployed in twenty branches across NY. Youth earn badges as they reach fitness goals they set for themselves or achieve important milestones, including achievements tied to the national Let’s Move and Presidential Active Lifestyle Award criteria.
  • A new visitor engagement and informal learning program at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA), which rewards visitors for engaging deeply with the museum’s staff and resources. The DMA project recently won the Gold Muse Award for Public Outreach from the American Alliance for Museums (AAM).
  • The New Media Consortium (NMC) in association with ISTE just launched the HP Catalyst Academy, a BadgeOS-based site providing access to open STEM professional development mini-courses which provide powerful learning experiences that transform teaching practices. Educators who participate in the HP Catalyst Academy acquire new skills and receive digital credentials as evidence of their achievement.
Each of these use cases inspired new models for assessing, tracking and sharing achievements, produced unique features and integrations with existing online systems. All organizations involved agreed to share the advances we made on their behalf through free and open extensions to BadgeOS. Learn more:
The following is a brief overview of BadgeOS. For more information, visit
BadgeOS™ Overview:

BadgeOS™ is plugin to WordPress that allows a site’s users to complete tasks, demonstrate achievement, and earn badges. You define the Achievement types, organize your requirements any way you like, and choose from a range of options to determine whether each task or requirement has been achieved. BadgeOS is extremely powerful and infinitely extensible. Check out some of the out-of-the-box features below:
Multiple methods for awarding and defining achievements:
  • Reviewed submissions

  • Auto-approving submissions

  • Nominations and review

  • Site activity (triggers based on commenting and logging in to your site)

  • Completing specific other achievements one or a specific number of times

  • Completing one, select or all achievements of a specific type

  • Point thresholds

  • Admin Given

  • Community Activity (with the powerful BadgeOS Community Add-on)
Define an Unlimited Number of Achievement Types:

Use BadgeOS to create an unlimited number of achievement types, and define how they relate to one another. For example, perhaps you want to create an achievement type called “Topics” which are completed when a member of your site completes any five “missions”. And maybe a Badge is awarded after all Topics are complete. Create achievement types for Missions and Topics, and then use the steps manager to indicate what steps are required. You can name the achievement types anything you like, and can set up the relationships between them.
Required Steps Manager:

BadgeOS provides a simple yet powerful admin interface for defining the “Required Steps” for any badge or achievement. In seconds, you can link together one or more independent triggers, steps or actions into the conditions needed to earn a badge or mark an achievement.
The Required Steps Manager allows you to combine all methods for rewarding and integrate all types of achievements into a single set of rules to determine whether members have completed the stated achievement. BadgeOS is essentially a powerful algorithm creator allowing site managers to develop both simple and highly complex conditions and thresholds to measure achievement and progress.
Theme Agnostic:

BadgeOS was developed to work with any WordPress theme. No special hooks or theme updates are needed. Just activate BadgeOS and you’ve got an engagement management system with badges running on your WordPress site.
Submission and Nomination Review:

As site members complete achievements requiring the submission of evidence or a nomination by peers, the BadgeOS admin area collects that information for easy review. Approve or deny submissions, or add comments to engage the member and elaborate on your decisions. Notification emails inform you when people on your site have made submissions.

What are the most important things about building a badge system you would share with another organization just getting started?

  1. Begin with a clear understanding of your audience and what skills and achievements you are in a unique position to help develop, observe, assess and certify. Offer the best experiences, training and learning opportunities first – then think about the appropriate recognition, which may or may not turn out to be a badge.

  2. Don’t wait for unknown others to come along and imbue badges you issue with value. Demonstrate the value your badges have by rewarding your earners with capabilities, roles, rewards or new opportunities.

  3. Be flexible -- very flexible -- in your concepts and designs.

  4. Understand both the short-term and long-term budget commitment you are willing to make.

Who were you addressing with your badge system design?

Our team has been working closely with educational institutions, museums, libraries, large associations, and corporate training providers for over 15 years, so we started with the needs of these groups.

What were your initial goals for the badges? Did those goals change at all throughout the design process?

Our overall goal is to serve anyone recognizing achievement in formal or informal education, professional development and training settings. WordPress is a widely supported open source platform that powers over 60 million websites worldwide. We want to enable any of those sites to have a flexible tool for recognizing meaningful lifelong achievements.

What types of badges can users create? (participation, skill, certification, etc.)?

We support all of these achievement types and many more. Creating levels and pathways is completely up to the discretion of each issuer who uses the system. One of the things we learned very early on is that each issuer and community has different needs for how they structure their badge ecosystems. Earlier versions of the system made some assumptions about how achievements and badges should relate to each other, and based on gathering a wide set of use cases working with numerous organizations, we transformed the system to allow each issuer to make completely unique decisions about their badge structures and taxonomies.

How were the criteria for the badges determined? What pedagogies (if any) informed the learning and badge system design?

One thing we learned very quickly in 2011, was that educators and issuers did not want their pedagogy determined by technology. Achievement types, assessment, and associated rewards need to be completely flexible and determined in each context -- and not predetermined in a hard-coded platform. That said, we offer a range of assessment types -- and an extensible architecture -- to support different pedagogical objectives and styles. For example, badges can be awarded based on reviewed or automatically accepted submissions, peer nominations, meta achievements, community engagement measures, and other methods.

What are 3 things you learned about badge system design? What would you do differently if you were to start over?

  1. When designing a badge system, all badge stakeholders -- issuers, earners and observers -- should be part of the conversation. A clear understanding of each group’s goals and what needs are served by each badge ensures the system has the greatest meaning.

  2. Beginning with a commitment to open source helps frame the initial system design, but also ensures that contributions can come from many places after the initial launch. Being a good shepherd of open source initiatives carries with it great responsibility. With a product that will quickly be adopted by thousands of institutions, it is important to release a system that has a well-conceived foundation and is designed with extensibility and customizability in mind. It’s also critical to make disciplined decisions about what features are core to the project’s mission, and what functions should be hooked in as ancillary add-ons for specific contexts, keeping the system lean and avoiding bloat. In completely redesigning BadgeOS from the ground up, we believe we have been true to these elements.

  3. You have to have the best team possible to build the best system possible. This includes developers and engineers, instructional and interface designers, project managers and creative and forward thinkers. Powerful systems emerge from thoughtful, talented and dedicated people excited about the potential for digital credentials.

What is left to do? What is left unanswered? What might help you continue to succeed?

The original project is complete, but the future is very much in the hands of the people that are implementing badging programs using what we’ve built and on those building upon the open source platform to extend its reach and potential. We look forward to continuing to collaborate and play a leading role in the enthusiastic community that has emerged around the project.

What are the main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

The BadgeOS system is already widely adopted. Any challenges are more related to supporting the open source community that is growing around BadgeOS, responding to inquiries and coordinating our efforts with the developers of the many proposed and in-progress extensions.

What is your badge system testing strategy? How have you or will you be testing your badge system prior to deployment?

BadgeOS has benefitted from over 200 implementations of BadgeStack. Feedback came from groups like the Mozilla Hive in NYC and Chicago, fifteen DML competitors (including non-winners), and deployments with the New York City Department of Education and Smithsonian Institution. BadgeOS was tested in deployments reaching over 35,000 users, including with youth across the YMCA of Greater New York, visitors at the Dallas Museum of Art, and other formal and informal settings prior to its official worldwide release in April 2013.

What top factors is the success of your badge system contingent upon?

Ease of use and flexibility in accommodating many badge system designs; community acceptance of the platform as an operating system for supporting achievement recognition programs; and continued growth and acceptance of the digital credential movement.

What have you done, or do you plan to do, to evaluate your badge earner community?

We evaluate every project we develop using BadgeOS, encourage feedback through WordPress forums and GitHub, and take every opportunity to engage in public dialogue and presentations about our free and open source badging initiatives.

Please describe any impact your badge system may have already had on your organization and your learners.

The impact of our system on learners was initially felt in the spring of 2011 with the launch of “DIG/IT”, a digital literacy and life skills course for NYC students. Immediately, we saw the value of badges as a means of motivating, documenting, guiding, and recognizing achievement. Nearly 10,000 learners have participated in that program. After the first year of the program, the program expanded, with a select group of teachers developing 11 additional courses in the core subject areas of English language arts, math, science and social studies. The programs have resulted in the earning of over 200,000 Mozilla compliant badges to date. As an organization, we moved quickly to build on this success to add badging to every aspect of our informal and formal learning programs, professional development and training initiatives.

How would you characterize the impact your badge system will have on the badge ecosystem?

The impact of BadgeOS on the open source community has been tremendous so far. BadgeOS has already been downloaded over 2,100 times, the “Community Add-On” over 1,100 times, and the “BadgeStack Add-on” 700 times. The variety of uses includes: formal education through K-20 institutions; informal learning programs; professional development & training; and lifelong learning opportunities. BadgeOS is being deployed around the globe, on many platforms including all types of mobile devices. Dozens of developers have contacted us to support and coordinate efforts to add new features and functions.

What plans do you have to scale your badge system?

BadgeOS is available today as a free open source plug-in to WordPress with two add-ons already published: the Community Add-on, and BadgeStack, an extension which automatically creates all the achievement types and pages needed to quickly set up your very own badging system. Documented developer code, hooks and filters provide support to those in the community working to enhance and grow the potential for the platform. We have set up GitHub and WordPress forums and provided direct access to our development team; all venues have seen much activity. As such, the system is already scalable and scaling.

How successfully are you getting institutional buy-in, or adoption from your learners?

There has been excellent institutional and earner buy-in through the deployments of clients and partners like the New York City Department of Education, Smithsonian Institution, YMCA of Greater NY, American Alliance of Museums, and the Dallas Museum of Art and dozens of others. It’s has been a wonderful experience for our team to introduce so many diverse groups to digital credentials. Very few that we meet fail to see how they can meaningfully incorporate achievements, badges and rewards into the daily lives of their organizations and individuals they serve.

Once your badge system is built, how self-sustaining is it? How much do you anticipate maintenance to be?

BadgeOS is sustained through an ongoing investment of our own time and resources. The long-term costs will be based on the popularity of BadgeOS and most likely mirror other popular WordPress plugins and successful open source education projects.

For those who want to follow the development, implementation, and adoption of your badge system, what social media sites will you be posting updates to?

BadgeOS has its own dedicated blog, and we post updates about the project to Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels. See for links.

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