Project Q&A With: Robotics and STEM Badges Using NASA Content

Project Q&A With: Robotics and STEM Badges Using NASA Content

The Robotics and Stem Badges Using NASA Content Group will use content from NASA, pedagogical expertise of Center for Educational Technologies, and technical & design prowess of Project Whitecard to provide STEM learning opportunities, spread awareness of STEM disciplines, and enable the expansion of new content through the creation of a unique collection of digital badges for learners of all ages.

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

  1. Badges are more complex pedagogically and from the perspective of computer programming than they might first appear.
  2. Make sure your potential partners are forward thinking.
  3. It is very important to consider and plan for sustainability before you begin.
  4. Do not try to just repurpose your old methods to include badges. Virtual badges are a new way of operating, and require a significant shift in thought and approach.
  5. Scalability and sustainability require automated systems. There is too much overhead in a non-automated system to reach significant numbers of users in a sustainable manner.
  6. Do not create a system that can only be sustained with grants and government funding; grants and government funding are uncertain, focus changes frequently, and these appears to be downward pressure on these funding models.
  7. Create a flexible system, and prepare to modify that system as you gather feedback and as your community evolves, and as your system matures and grows.

Project Whitecard Studios (‘PWS’), with the help of the Center for Educational Technologies (‘CET’) and the support of NASA has been developing mechanisms for issuing, tracking and managing badges, has been setting up websites for hosting badge related activities and resources, and has been developing badge issuing activities.

Badge Buddy (Open Source)

Badge Buddy is open-source code developed by PWS that that is compatible with the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure. Badge Buddy is code that enables the issuing, tracking and management of virtual badges. Badge Buddy – Open-Source Code has been released by PWS to the public ( that is used to issue badges using the Mozilla Open-Badge Infrastructure. It can be used by anyone with an interactive project to quickly issue a badge (for example attaching the code to an existing application). It runs online in a PHP framework. This is the most advanced version of this type of application within the HASTAC Badges for Lifelong Learning development efforts. Our team is also leading the Learning Resources Metadata Initiative / Common Core State Standards / Next Generation Science Standards integration in the HASTAC Badges for Lifelong Learning group.

Badge Buddy tracks and manages the following:

  • The identifier of the badge to be issued, which can be thought of as the ID of a template on which the actual issued badge instance is based.
  • The optional identifier of the badge instance that is issued to a specific user, which will be auto-generated if not specified.
  • The identifier of the user to whom the badge is being issued (i.e., the recipient of the badge). This would typically be a salted hash of the user's email address.
  • The human-readable name of the badge being issued.
  • The description of the badge being issued.
  • The URL of the original image representing the badge, before it is modified and issued to the user.
  • The URL describing the badge and criteria for earning the badge in general (i.e., not for the specific instance of the badge).
  • The origin of the issuer, which is a base URL containing the domain name of the issuer.
  • The human-readable name of the issuing agent.
  • The organization for which the badge is issued, which is optional.
  • The optional human-monitored email address associated with the issuer.
  • An optional date when the badge was issued; the current time is used if none is provided. This is an integer value representing a Unix timestamp, i.e., measured as the number of seconds since the Unix Epoch (January 1, 1970, 00:00:00 GMT).
  • The optional user-specific URL with information about this specific badge instance. The referenced content should contain information about how the specific user earned the badge.
  • The optional date when the badge expires. If zero, the badge never expires. This is an integer value representing a UNIX timestamp, i.e., measured as the number of seconds since the Unix Epoch (January 1, 1970, 00:00:00 GMT).
  • The JSON-encoded assertion of the badge once it is issued.

To integrate with the functionality provided by Mozilla’s Displayer API, a public web tool was developed that can view the details of badges in anyone’s OBI badge backpack, given the email address of the OBI user. Once the email address of a backpack user is entered, the user’s shared badges are presented and organized by group. From there one can click on a specific badge to learn more about the selected badge. The details shown for each badge include information found within the badge’s assertion data but goes beyond that to present additional information about the learning experience. For example, advanced badges may provide metadata, based on the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI), which includes references to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). If users need a copy of a badge image, the tool can recreate a baked badge that the user can then download. Furthermore, the tool provides a mechanism to validate the email address of standalone badge images that can be uploaded for evaluation.

Badge Depot (Open Source)
Badge Depot is a module that enables a Drupal website to publish content of Badge Criteria pages. These pages are required as part of assertion data when issuing badges using the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure (‘OBI’). The module automates the creation of markup from the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (‘LRMI’) specification on criteria pages.

Badge Depot – Open-Source Drupal Module (software code) that can be used to issue badges attached to the Mozilla Open-Badge Infrastructure. This has been made available, and is again the most advanced version of this type of application within the HASTAC Badges for Lifelong Learning development efforts.

The Astronaut Academy website:

  • serves as a host site for badge-issuing activities,
  • hosts a database repository of STEM badges,
  • provides a verification tool for analyzing badges,
  • provides badge and content search tools,
  • provides tools for Educators to create badges,
  • provides a mechanism for Educators to award badges,
  • will track and suggest learning trajectories, and,
  • contains links to other badge awarding sites and reference information.

Badges for NASA Activities
The Center for Educational Technologies has created a website,, that links to NASA legacy educational activities and awards a badge for the successful completion of the NASA “Exploring Space through Algebra - Lunar Rover” activity. CET has focused on creating certificates and badges, for the most part tied to the excellent NASA funded and educator-lead programs involving supervision and organized events. The initiative will require ongoing grants and funding to be sustained and scaling will require commensurate scaling of funding. Changes in the funding of STEM education in the United States has created uncertainty for the future of NASA and related STEM Education funding.

Upcoming Integration with NASA Summer of Innovation
A business partner of ours is the Principal Investigator on a national NASA Summer of Innovation grant (officially the grantee is the Indiana Afterschool Network, a program of the United Ways of Indiana). The Indiana Afterschool Network is funded in part by the Mott Foundation and Noyce Foundation (for STEM). They are serving these exact students in populations in summer and afterschool programs in the midwest. They plan to push out the badging and game work through this network of program providers. Many of these are 21st Century Community Learning Center afterschool programs funded through the US Department of Education and targeting underserved youth.

The badge system has been designed to appeal to students and educators. Future audiences include government agencies and industry/professional associations.

Initial goals
Our initial goal was to create a badge system whereby Users active on the Astronaut Academy Badge Site can earn virtual items and badges for desired actions, organize their items into personal collections, enter contests and competitions, create and adorn their profile, establish lists of favourite items, and connect and interact directly with other members of the community. Key features of this community ecosystem include themed collection boards based on Astronaut Academy content; mini games contests organized around personal collection boards (dossier=dashboard) and a dynamic friends mechanism for ranking.

New goals
Our goals have been updated to enable the integration of Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and Learning Resources Metadata with the virtual badges.

Who were you addressing with your badge system design?

We are using badges for recognition of CCSS / NGSS learning achievements. There are levels and pathways in our badge hierarchy, based on learning trajectories. These are in the process of being fully articulated.

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

The criteria for our badges are based on the Common Core and Next-Generation Science Standards for education.

What did you learn about badge system design? What would you do differently if you were to start over?

Plotting learning trajectories is a complex process.
Designing and developing interactives that are entertaining and educational is a very expensive and time-consuming process.
Purveyors of ‘old-world’ traditional educational approaches are reluctant to modernize, and are difficult to dislodge from their historical operational models.

The next time around / going forward we will sub-contract directly for external pedagogical input.

What is left to do? What is left unanswered?

We will continue to grow the set of badges that are available.
We will commercialize the badge system.
It remains to be seen if further non-commercial funding will be available.
We are planning for not having grants or government funding available, although these would be helpful to the ongoing development process.

What are the 3 main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

The main challenge to widespread adoption will be ‘getting the word out’. Audience education, in terms of the existence of badges, the efficacy of badges and the accessibility of badges will be key factors influencing widespread adoption.
Maintaining validity of the badges and badge system will be necessary for adopters to have confidence tat badging is valuable.
Establishing commercial viability of the badge system will be necessary to ongoing sustainability. Systems that require ongoing grant and non-revenue funding will forever face economic uncertainty and barriers to growth.

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

PWS has an established rigorous protocol for internal quality testing that is used with the badges system on a continuous basis.
Early PWS badge awards (Curiosity Rover Challenge and Starlite ‘Downed Astronaut’) have been distributed to approximately 1000 beta testers.
PWS is planning to participate in a beta-testing group involving 215 teaches, led by the BMGF
Future feedback will come from PWS commercial product releases which will integrate with the badge system.

What are the top 3 factors that the success of your badge system are contingent upon?

The number 1 success factor will be the badge system appealing to the student / learner demographic.
A critical success factor will be establishing and maintaining the perception of validity of the badge system.
An ongoing success factor will be economic self-sustainability of the badge system, as sustainability cannot be certain if based on grants or government funding.

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

The badge system will include anonymous tracking and analysis of badge awards, providing data that will be used to evaluate the badge-earner community. and related commercial product sites operated by PWS include user forums for gathering feedback, and will enable the posting of surveys to gather direct input from the community.
The Badge system will be modified on an ongoing basis, based on analysis and feedback gathered from a multiplicity of sources. PWS will seek partners for performing formal research into the badge system.

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

Currently, the internal impact of working on this project has involved tremendous exposure to pedagogy, the state of education, current educational trends, learning experts, education research, and a wide range of education programs.
PWS has encountered significant computer programming challenges, and learned a great deal about designing and programming a badge system.
Our participation in this project has propagated awareness of many education initiatives, and an understanding of the education landscape.

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

PWS will seek to establish a validity standard involving badges and LRM, CCSS & NGSS.
The overall goal of this project is to trigger widespread adoption of the badge system.
PWS will continue to inform and educate the public about badges, seeking to gain acceptance of the new ‘badge’ mode of certification, and to stimulate institutional uptake of the badge system concept.
We will continue to strive to engage the target demographic, and advance STEM learning.

What plans do you have to scale your badge system?

The badge system is designed to be scalable to the 1-10 million+ active audience. Our plan is to create a badge system will be able to be scaled up with no top end limit.

Our Badges Issued to Date

298 : Badge users
529 : Badges issued
240 Curiosity Rover Challenge Badge
5 Badge du défi Robot Curiosity
117 Project Moonwalk: Rocket Testing
24 Project Moonwalk: Lunar Landing
14 Project Moonwalk: Lunar Surface Photography
21 Project Moonwalk: Apollo 11 Mission Success
94 Starlite Activities: Astro-Rescue
14 NASA Activities: Lunar Rover (Geometry)

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