Encouraging contribution to online communities is a well-known challenge. CompEdNet, an online professional networking community for computer science teachers, have been working towards a solution for motivating contribution and engagement. They have developed a framework for rewarding positive behaviours by their members, through issuing digital badges using Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI).
About the Institution
CompEdNet is an online network for computer science teachers, which is hosted in WordPress. The majority of members are currently from Scottish schools but the community also includes academics from Scottish further and higher education as well as some international members. CompEdNet is intended to help computer science teachers share practice and support each other in their professional undertakings.
A challenge for many online communities is encouraging participation. CompEdNet are aware that to be useful to all its members, members need to actively contribute. In order to promote this contribution, CompEdNet want to encourage use of the WordPress platform that hosts the community, support the establishment of connections between members and reward contributions to the network. They identified that an achievement framework would be useful to promote these behaviours.
The achievement framework CompEdNet decided would best fit their needs was open badges. The Open Badges Infrastructure developed by Mozilla, allows the recognition and reward of skills and achievements through the issuing and displaying of a digital badge. The badges are collected in an individual’s Badge Backpack and they can choose to display the badges anywhere. A badge has the criteria required for gaining it ‘baked’ into it, so anyone accessing the badge on a web page can click on it for further information about why, when and from whom it was gained. They are referred to as open badges, as the infrastructure is open, with anyone being able to decide the criteria and evidence required for a badge and to be able to issue and display badges.
CompEdNet issue badges for contributing to the community in a variety of ways. The aim is to help members learn how CompEdNet works and how they can use the tools and facilities, share resources, communicate and work together. Currently, a member can gain a badge for adding a picture to their community profile. The reason for this is to demonstrate to other members that this facility is available and to encourage others to provide more information about themselves, thereby encouraging the establishment of connections. A badge will also be issued when someone posts their first question or comment to one of the community forums. The aim here is to encourage discussion and if a member comments ten times, they receive another badge. One-off achievements or badges for prior achievement can also be added by the site administrator, which makes the allocation of badges more flexible.
In order to automatically issue an open badge when a member does one of the trigger activities, CompEdNet needed to bring two systems together. Before the OBI was released, CompEdNet used the BuddyPress achievement system. This allowed points and badges to be automatically allocated and displayed within WordPress. CompEdNet chose to move to working with the OBI because it allows badges to be allocated and displayed anywhere, including on individual members’ profiles. They felt the OBI could also help them increase membership of CompEdNet, because if members displayed their badges on other websites, these badges could be seen and clicked on by people in the wider community, taking them to the site and giving them an indication of what CompEdNet might do for them.
To issue open badges, they chose to use the WordPress plugin WPBadger. To enable the automatic issuing of open badges, they are integrating code from WPBadger with the BuddyPress achievement module. The process for members receiving a badge is as follows: members sign up for CompEdNet with an email address. When they are awarded a badge, they receive an email to that address with a link to click on to accept the badge. If they do not already have a Badge Backpack, they will be walked through how to set up a Mozilla Persona account, which is needed to create a Mozilla Badge Backpack.
CompEdNet believe receiving a badge produces a ‘feel good factor’. Badges display in member’s profiles and in the common activity stream that all members can see when they enter the community site so members can see each other’s achievements. Anecdotally, CompEdNet believe that their use of open badges so far has helped to increase use of the system, engaged members, discouraged lurking and is motivating members to contribute.
There was a lot of excitement when the first badges were rolled out and members who received them, felt positive that they had achieved something. The community issued their first badges for a Computing at School event, which was sponsored by Microsoft and Google. Every attendee and speaker could collect a badge and over 60% of badges were collected. There was enthusiasm at having a digital artifact for a physical event.
Going forward CompEdNEt believe the issuing of badges should increase the uptake of them as they go on. They believe people like the idea of getting a badge for attending an event and having a digital follow up. As part of receiving a badge, they might ask for more information via a questionnaire and once that has been completed, that might release another badge. There are many possibilities but CompEdNet are aware that they don’t want to have so many badges that people get badge apathy so they must have meaning and value.
One of the possibilities to add value to an open badge is to have them endorsed. CompEdNet believe that having a sponsor, such as a relevant company or individual, could be useful and would help to quality assure and demonstrate the value of a badge.
Once CompEdNet have finished integrating the code from WPBadger with the BuddyPress achievement module, they will make the code available to the wider community by posting it to Google Code. It will be open source and it could potentially be applicable to many communities of practice as well as virtual learning environments.
CompEdNet are positive about their use of open badges so far, as they believe they help people to show off their achievements, encourage others to participate through seeing other people’s achievements and they can be used as a record for continual professional development.
CompEdNet recommend being clear about the positive behaviours you want people to exhibit, e.g. post, update and complete profile, share content, contribute more.
Also spend some time getting the design of the badge image right. This is probably a design you will stick with and will brand you as an issuer of open badges so it is important to get the right look and feel. Create templates and save the design. Ideally you will be looking for a design that will be consistent through everything you issue. This is important because you want people to exhibit the badge with pride and show it off.
If you are also creating your own issuing system, appreciate that the code you pick up might not always be right for you. CompEdNet had to tweak the WPbadger code to make it fit for their purposes.
Mozilla open badges: http://openbadges.org/
WordPress Achievements for BuddyPress plugin: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/achievements/
Google Code: http://code.google.com/
Charlie Love, founder CompEdNet
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