Using #OpenBadges for the Digital Commonwealth Project

As part of my role as project coordinator for the Digital Commonwealth project, I have been working with the project team to develop a set of educational resources which will be used to support trainers and learners within the schools programme and the community media cluster activity. I have spent some time researching Open Badges to help support a proposal to use them as a vehicle for evidence based, granular accreditation for the training elements of the project – not just for the formal sessions but as a way on monitoring content produced and shared by all our projects and collecting evidence of learning and community of practices.

The paper I prepared below was initially to help me get my head around the concept of Open Badges for the team, but now I’m wanting to open it up wider so to help further discussion as we produce our education resources for both schools and community setting and to allow those we have been engaging with the project to get to see a wee bit more about what we are up to.

I’d like to thank the team at Snook who came out to UWS to chat to me about their ongoing badge maker project and to Doug Belshaw who has been pointing the right people in my direction in Scotland.

We are now onto the next steps of working out the formalities, but I am really interested in opening up discussion at this stage about the project and seeking comment and advice if there are similarities at this stage. Personally, I am finding this “developing educational resources” for the project a pretty exciting prospect, and the legacy of such means that the materials we produce (I hope) should be structured in such a way that they can be used beyond the scope of the Commonwealth Games.


This post will provide an overview of Open Badges, propose how Open Badges can be used within the Digital Commonwealth (DCW) project and detail the process of being able to deliver them through a team of trainers. It will offer a walk-through how Open Badges might fit within the production of the education resources and will provide a content proposal for the school’s sessions in terms of providing digital literacy skills across the areas of audio and video production, blogging and social media skills. It will include strategic tasks to consider whilst developing the education resources in the context of Open Badges before January 2014. It will conclude by offering recommendations for the technical specifies for the project in order to build in the set-up of school blogs, content sections and channels for content.

What are Open Badges?

Since their soft launch in 2011, Open Badges have been generating interest within technology and education sectors as a digital solution of recognising real-life skills and achievements which may not be captured through formal learning practices. The Mozilla foundation, core developers of the initial Open Badges concept, have no dedicated budget for the promotion of Open Badges, but have engaged organisations such as NASA, US Dept. of Education, IBM, Disney-Pixar  – and closer to home, the Scottish Qualification Authority, The Big Lottery Fund (through projects such as Somewhereto_ working with Badge the UK) and various schools, colleges and universities across the United Kingdom.

The Mozilla foundation, core developers of the initial Open Badge concept define the process as follows:

“A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned. Open Badges take that concept one step further, and allows you to verify your skills, interests and achievements through credible organizations. And because the system is based on an open standard, you can combine multiple badges from different issuers to tell the complete story of your achievements — both online and off. Display your badges wherever you want them on the web, and share them for employment, education or lifelong learning.” (Mozilla Foundation, 2013)

According to Mozilla, Open Badges are a ‘granular, evidence-based and transferable’ way of providing recognition of a skill and/or an achievement which isn’t or may not be possible to include a series of formal learning and accreditation. It is a mechanism that not only allows for the learner to communicate and manage extra-curricular achievements, whilst seeking on-going recognition for further achievement, but can also provide a framework for monitoring, evaluating and tracking participation through evidence based modules that link and is embedded within the badges themselves.

Rationale for the Digital Commonwealth:

The Digital Commonwealth project needs a mechanism to evaluate and capture the training process and outcomes so that the team, funding body and those who consume the content know that those who participate in the Digital Commonwealth project have received a core set of skills, are able to contribute their stories to the project with an awareness of the project principles and to demonstrate levels of understanding of being able to use the four mediums of digital storytelling – audio, video, blogging and social media- with confidence and relevance to the project themes.

 Furthermore, the Digital Commonwealth schools programme is situated between formal learning through devices such as the Curriculum for Excellence, core learning around the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Commonwealth themes in general, and the skills development required around engaging in digital literacies practice. These skills are also transferable across sectors, such as in community development strategic inventions (such as community media training), third sector support and amplifying existing community and voluntary action funded by Commonwealth schemes.

The benefits of using Open Badges for the Digital Commonwealth project are three-fold:

  • Firstly, it allows for the recognition of any skill or achievement based on any set of criteria set by the awarding body, therefore, it can provide a framework to capture the activity of the Digital Commonwealth, based on the process and contribution that each of the pupils, teachers, trainers and participants makes to the project. It will not only track how far each of the participants have reached through the formal education materials and workshop support, but it will also rely on them contributing their own evidence (blog posts, videos etc) so that the project team and others can see & refer to what was done to claim participation in the Digital Commonwealth project.

  • Secondly, if done thoroughly, it will allow for those who are ‘external’ to any pre-arranged activity (such as the schools programme or the community media workshops) to engage with training materials online, to arrange their own meet-ups and to submit content which can go towards a Digital Commonwealth badge. This will allow the badges to become transferable, not just with how they are recognised within an accreditation framework, but also who can ‘do’ them and also who can recommend them as part of a training programme or form of life-wide learning.

 The ‘openness’ of the badge means that those who are interested in participating in the Digital Commonwealth project, but do not fall within the region and criteria of formal delivery, can work towards the same badge(s), increasing the reach of the project and offering more people the opportunity to contribute in line with DCW principles and themes. This will be important when we receive more enquiries to take part as content from each of the DCW projects begins to appear online and is shared on public channels.

  • This leads into the third and final benefit of Open Badges for the Digital Commonwealth project; legacy and capacity beyond the scope of the project itself. The outcome of the open badges should not stop at the delivery of the Commonwealth element of the project, but should be designed with longevity in mind. The core set of skills promoted by the proposed DCW badges are specific to digital literacy through media technology, the major event associated with them is catalytic rather than essential to contribute. This would allow us to produce a set of resources that will not only help for us to cover a unique event such as the Commonwealth Games, but also allow the badge to become generic to allow other organisations to use them in their training. One suggestion would be to work with our partners, the Big Lottery Fund and the Media Trust, to prepare badges in such a way so that they can be tested for sustainability and distributed beyond the scope of the Digital Commonwealth delivery targets and timescales.

Although Open Badges are not included in the criteria for developing the DCW educational resources, the production of generic versions of the badges should be considered so that they can be used once the project is in evaluation and dissemination stages. For instance, Borders College who have been funded by JISC have an example of a project-specific badge that has been made generic on their website, allowing for others to explore the concept and see how the model can be adapted for different contexts.

The Open Badges approach does not intend to be disruptive to existing learning practices, nor to challenge or interfere with existing delivery with schools or formal training sessions, these will still require us to develop teaching resources, exercises, workshop plans and directed study for the project. Instead it is an innovative way of looking at credentials that do not need to fall within existing accreditation structures (such as exams or coursework), they provide a method of demonstrating participation and show an on-going value in contributing to projects that don’t fall within traditional activity. They also can provide pathways to other opportunities or badges that are related,  pathways that participants may not have realised were possible previously and gives them the opportunity to continue to make and produce digital content beyond the Digital Commonwealth project.

Developing Open Badges in the context of formal resources:

The formal delivery of the Digital Commonwealth training sessions in audio, video, blogging and social media will require a blended approach, incorporating a resource document or workbook, exercises to be included as part of the workshop and as directed activity between sessions and an online space to display content and badges that are related to the participant’s existing online profiles, the Digital Commonwealth online infrastructure and the public social media channels that the content will be hosted on.

The formal resources can consist of a booklet and/or .pdf file which takes the trainers and the learners through the process of the Digital Commonwealth digital storytelling training scheme. The first section of the book will outline the project, the principles and themes that will be explored and the Open badges that can be earned from the project. This will emphasis the granular and transferable elements of the project, where badges can be completed based on individuals providing unique evidence through the online platforms, rather than through standardised exams or coursework. This means that those who participate can build and earn their own badges based on their interest and speciality, as well as allowing for teachers and trainers to contribute to the badgemaker process by suggesting relevant additions that may be relevant to their group or a particular focus that they think that the earners may be interested in learning.

The resource, a ‘Handbook for Digital Storytelling’, will provide guidelines and learning outcomes related to the delivery of the four media elements of the project; audio, video, blogging and social media. Each set of guidelines and learning outcomes will correspond to each week of delivery and will provide a context related to the digital tool, how it can be used, best practice case studies, exercises for the classroom and exercises that can be worked on between each workshop and uploaded to the school’s existing webspace, a dedicated space for each school or community media cluster and shared by the Digital Commonwealth team on social media.

Co-production of Badge Design: “Design the badge you wish to earn.”

A badge block will be awarded for each of the elements required by the formal resources, and a badge will be completed when a set of 4-6 elements have been completed. The badges can be customised by the participants, with an agreed baseline learning, such as acknowledgement of principles, developing a project relating to the Commonwealth themes or developing basic skills in audio, video, blogging and social media – and the addition of elements which might focus specifically on the participant’s interest, which could be podcasting, documentary, writing skills or citizen journalism. These elements can all be developed separately to the badges, and are hosted externally from the printed booklet, to allow for the learner to build on initial skills and to develop a speciality within the project. If a trainer or teacher wishes to develop a block in addition to those produced by the Digital Commonwealth team (or project partners), these can be hosted and shared within this infrastructure, allowing for the other groups who are participating in the project to earn blocks from other areas, opening up the potential to share resources between each local authority, community media cluster and external activity.

Infrastructure and Resources recommendations:

In order to ensure that Open Badges can provide a credential framework for developing a quality product that has the DCW project principles and themes embedded throughout, the DCW team needs to begin to develop an educational resource pack (for trainers, teachers and pupils) that details each of the taught elements of the training sessions.

This should include an overview of the project, the rationale for digital literacies, an introduction to Open Badges, a section for each of the workshops relevant to the media technology being taught, links to further resources and details of how to access the online areas of the project. This will include a blog site for each of the schools cluster and a representative cluster page for the community media areas in order to map the activity across Scotland. This will host the blog posts, the social media accounts and the badges earned for each of the project hubs. The activities and exercises that are prepared for both the sessions and the directed study will link to an online area to the available badge blocks for each media, allowing for customisation of each DCW badge available. The participant will select the block they want to earn, work to provide evidence of that block and share it on their hub when completed.

The open badges infrastructure allow for completed badges to be hosted on a number of platforms. These include WordPress (the content management system that the Digital Commonwealth site is designed on), Moodle, Blackboard and Mozilla’s own tool, the Mozilla Backpack. This allows for the badges to be displayed in a way which is transferable across virtual learning environments, project and school-related blogging platforms and participant’s own websites.

Further Reading:

The DigiLit Leicester Project: JISC funded city-wide project to evaluate digital literacies in schools:

The Badges Design Principles Documentation Project:

The DigitalMe OpenBadges Design Canvas:

Design Principles for assessing learning with Digital Badges: