The e-Learning team at Borders College believes that the Mozilla-led Open Badges ecosystem offers an opportunity to increase student engagement, retention and employability. In order to evaluate the long term potential of Open Badges within Borders College a number of pilots have been established. This case study investigates the ongoing work of the college in this field.
About the Institution
Borders College has campuses in Galashiels, Hawick and Newtown St Boswells in the Scottish Borders. It hosts Heriot-Watt University’s School of Textile and Design and the Borders Business Programme, as well as offering courses ranging from landbased studies, sport to digital media.
The concept of Open Badges was launched in 2011 through the Digital Media and Learning (DML) Competition, which provided funding for projects to investigate and research the possibilities of an open, standards-based, rewards and recognition framework using digital badges. Being open, the framework means, anyone can issue badges for whatever they wish to accredit and the standard stipulates certain data is ‘baked’ into the badge detailing the issuing body, why it was awarded, to whom. Members of the Borders College e-Learning team were introduced to Open Badges at the Jisc RSC Scotland conference in June 2012, and were keen to investigate further. Given that many students leave college with more skills than are detailed on their official transcript and that it can be challenging to demonstrate these additional skills to employers, the e-Learning team believed Open Badges could provide a useful framework for addressing these gaps.
The creation of badges followed the guidelines provided by Mozilla in relation to Open Badge Design (i.e. image size, criteria creation, necessary coding etc - see https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges/Onboarding-Issuer). The original idea for embedding Open Badges within the college was intended to be through collaboration with DigitalMe and their Supporter2Reporter (S2R) project. The S2R project would have offered students studying sport and exercise an opportunity to participate in Sports Journalism as an alternative to standard Communication Units, which they are required to achieve as part of their course. Historically, attendance and completion of Communication Units within the Sport and Exercise courses has been poor as the students often struggle to see the relevance to their specific discipline. On completion of the S2R modules the students would have been awarded their first Open Badges. The e-Learning team created links with, and generated a lot of interest from, radio stations, the local press and national sport organizations, who were all keen to endorse the S2R pilot and badges. Unfortunately the S2R pilot was delayed to give more time to mapping all Communication Unit outcomes with current SQA requirements but outcomes have now been appropriately mapped and all relevant parties within the college have provided their support to the project. Therefore, the college plans to implement S2R in academic year 2013/14.
In the meantime, the e-Learning team has been introducing Open Badges to students and staff directly by creating and awarding Moodle Badge. A pilot was initiated with two student groups – NC Digital Media and NVQ Hairdressing level 1. After explaining the process to the course tutors, the idea was presented to the students and their role in the pilot clarified. There are three badge levels available (Bronze, Silver and Gold Moodle User) allowing students to be awarded their first Open Badges for best practice in Moodle use (i.e. creating a suitable profile statement and adding an appropriate photo). A higher level of badge (Platinum) is available to both staff and students who are believed to show outstanding contributions within Moodle or best practice in the use of technology in the classroom.
All those awarded with a badge will be able to display them within Moodle as well as having the opportunity to show them in Facebook, LinkedIn and within the Mozilla badge backpack (an online portfolio where Open Badges are stored). One of the anticipated outcomes of the pilot is improved digital literacy amongst the students, as well as increased retention by emphasizing the value of Moodle as a learning resource.
One of the potentially more radical elements of the pilot, is that students have also been given the opportunity to vote for the lecturer they believe displays the best use of Moodle across their course. Students can do this via a newly created block in Moodle. The intended outcome of this aspect of the project is that lecturing staff will also receive recognition for the time and effort they invest in using Moodle, which will hopefully encourage an increased use of innovative techniques with Moodle.
The e-Learning team can identify which students have achieved the defined criteria for a badge through running reports in Moodle. Every action taken by a Moodle user can be tracked and reports allow certain data to be pulled out and analysed. These reports are used to award the appropriate badge.
The final task of the project to embed Open Badges at Borders College has been to get staff on board with the idea. In order to do this the e-Learning team worked with HR to offer an Open Badge as either an accompaniment or alternative to existing paper certificates issued upon completion of all CPD events. The first of these badges will be awarded to staff in June 2013.
The greatest challenge the e-Learning team faced when trying to introduce Open Badges to the College was overcoming concerns relating to additional workload for lecturing staff as well as the true value of an Open Badge.
The e-Learning team navigated this challenge in two ways – by developing automated Moodle reports, which could easily be checked to see who should be awarded the in-house Moodle badges and by introducing Open Badges for staff in recognition of their CPD, to try to give staff a personal example of their potential. The team anticipates that they will need to provide ongoing support to lecturing staff in introducing Open Badges to the curriculum and to facilitate open badge design workshops – such workshops will allow lecturing staff to define the kind of badges they would like to see introduced to recognise attributes in students.
Given the pilot is still underway, it is difficult to assess the impact of the project on staff and students yet. It is hoped that it will lead to increased retention, motivation and employability for students. The application of Open Badges will also hopefully be recognised as beneficial to staff in terms of professional reputation and encourage innovation in teaching practice and increased use of Moodle as standard.
One subject area has been identified to commence the first curricular Open Badges in August 2013. Borders College hope to be the first college in Scotland to integrate Open Badges within their learning provision and that their experiences will not only encourage other institutions to get involved but also provide a resource to support others in their Open Badge journey.
If starting the process again the e-Learning team believes it would have been beneficial to gain full support from faculty heads prior to initiating work with DigitalMe for the S2R pilot. With full buy-in from the outset it would have been easier to introduce the concept earlier on in the academic year. Time invested in ‘selling’ the idea of Open Badges and truly convincing all staff of their value is paramount if badges are to succeed in FE. It’s also worth spending time on the actual design of the badge image as this will play a part in creating a sound College-issued badge brand.
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