Unique Learning Badges – Day 4

This week I’ve been in Lithuania attending the Unique Learning Badges development week. The project aims to develop a platform, plus associated training and support for youth organisations wanted to recognise achievement by using Mozilla’s open badges standard.

Opportunities and aspirations for Unique Learning Badges

Opportunities & Aspirations

Opportunities & Aspirations

Yesterday morning our day started with a session exploring the opportunities presented by open badges and the Unique Learning Badges project. Nerijus, one of the facilitators of the week, gave an inspiring presentation giving us all food for thought on the possibilities. Some of the aspirations and possibilities for the future suggested by Nerijus included Unique Learning Badges becoming a European brand of quality with recognition of badges across the continent.

Designing badge ecosystems

We spent some time thinking about badge ecosystems and developing our own for the pilot projects which we’re going to use Unique Learning Badges in when we return to our own countries. During the morning we looked at the different elements that make up a badge and how they can be connected together in a hierarchy to construct an ecosystem with levels and progression for the learner.

As I began exploring the design of my badge ecosystem I found myself developing a complex structure of badges, breaking each element down into it’s smallest component. This allows for learners to quickly earn more and more badges, further motivating them to work towards the top level badges. My ecosystem was looking at curating and producing digital content using a variety of tools including social media services plus video and audio equipment.

Digital Curator Badge Ecosystem

Digital Curator Badge Ecosystem

Badge elements

Each badge is made up of a number of elements, some of these are related to the open badges standard while others will be more directly linked to the learning process. Badges should have a name, an image or visual representation, the content of the mission or task required to receive the badge, a description of the objective or competency achieved, any evidence required and the method of assessment.

Evidence and assessment

For me the most challenging part of designing the ecosystem was thinking about evidence and establishing the best way to prove each competency without making the system of assessment onerous. While looking at assessment there was a range of options including self assessment, peer assessment and more formalised methods where an assessor from an organisation would need to be involved.

Badge Ecosystem Development Process

Badge Ecosystem Development Process

Finding our synergy

After we had spent some time developing our ecosystems we former synergy groups around particular topics and ideas, spending time sharing our ideas and thoughts on our own ecosystems and then receiving feedback from other participants. In the group I was prompted to think about including a section around ethics and legalities which people should be aware of while using social media and digital tools.

This process of sharing ideas and getting feedback was really valuable as it gave an extra set of perspectives and an opportunity to have our work reviewed by critical friends in a safe environment. Going forward we agreed to continue to share our progress and development as the pilot progresses so we can continue to learn from each other – and I’ll be blogging again in future to do just that.

Learning to learn

In the afternoon we spent looking at learning to learn in relation to badges. First up we took part in an exercise to get us thinking about different peoples attitudes and experiences of learning. Each participant was given a piece of paper with a character on it and then we were asked questions about our learning experiences and attitudes, taking one step forward if we responded positively to the question and staying where we were for a negative response.

The spread of the participants at the end of the exercise was interesting and depended on our own personal take on the character making for some differing experiences and opinions. My character was a high school student and drawing on my own experiences in the education system, I found myself towards the back of the group.

360 Learning

360 Learning

360 degree learning approach

After the exercise we came back together as a group to reflect on the process and discuss the different perspectives we each brought to it. Susana spoke about 360 degree learning and provoked us to think learning in terms of who is taking part; how, when and where they learn; why they are learning and what their motivation is.

Next up

Towards the end of the week I got a bit behind with my blogging and as a result I’m catching up. Tomorrow evening I’ll be blogging about day 5, the plans for implementing Unique Learning Badges during the pilot in the UK and reflecting on the week as a whole. In the meantime you can find out more about the project on Facebook, Twitter or online at learningbadges.eu.


Unique Learning Badges – Day 3

Welcome back to the Unique Learning Badges development week taking place in Daugidiskes, Lithuania. I’m spending the week with about 25 participants from countries across Europe looking at how Unique Learning Badges and open badges can be used to recognise achievements from informal learning.

Open Discussion at Vilinus University

Open Discussion at Vilinus University

Open discussion at Vilinus University

Yesterday we got away from the centre for the day and heading to the Faculty of Philosophy at Vilinus University for an open discussion about the practises of validating competencies. We were joined by a number of speakers from organisations interested in this field of work and covering a variety of topics linked to the validation of compentencies.

First up we heard from Laimonas Ragauskas, one of the facilitators of the development week and a partner in the Unique Learning Badges project, on the potential opportunities presented by digital badges. Laimonas spoke about the technical infrastructure behind open badges and gave an overview of the plans for Unique Learning Badges in the youth work field.

Paulius Miezelis from the Education Development Centre spoke on the subject of the needs and possibilities for validation of learning outcomes acquired outside of the formal school system, followed by Kristina Dambrauskaite from the Lithuanian Department for Youth Affairs on recognising youth workers’ qualification from self assessment to validation. The penultimate (and for me the most interesting) presentation was by Vaida Karaliūnaite, from recruitment agency Jobrate, on sourcing the big data for recruitment. Finally we heard a university perspective from Dr Rasa Slikaite from Vilinus University who spoke about validation in formal and non-formal education.

Big data for recruitment – the potential of badges

Following the presentations we were invited to speak into smaller groups to discuss the topics which each of the speakers. This gave a great opportunity to dive into the topics in more detail and pose of our own questions and give input from our own perspective. I joined the discussion with Vaida from Jobrate looking at sourcing big data for recruitment.

Vaida spoke on the techniques being used to source specialists for jobs, her company uses advanced Google search techniques to find prospective candidates via their LinkedIn profiles. She discussed LinkedIn’s recent endorsement feature and discussed the value of them, speaking on whether they were meaningful or not. While these endorsements provide a basis for assessing an individual’s skills she spoke on the opportunities presented by badges to give more evidence and context than a simply endorsement.

After the informal discussions we broke as a group to spend some time exploring Vilinus and recharging out batteries ready for the final two days of the development week.

Keeping up with Unique Learning Badges development week

I’m currently working a day behind where we are up to but intending to catch up over the course of the coming days. As always you can keep up with the discussion on the Unique Learning Badges Facebook page or by searching Twitter for #uniquebadges.

Unique Learning Badges – Day 2

Yesterday I shared with you our first day proper of the Unique Learning Badges development week, we spent the day getting to know one another, identifying the connections and commonality, building shared understanding of language and thinking about opportunities and aspirations for the project. Today we moved on to activities and discussions focusing on gamification and the platforms available for working with open badges.

The Game of Learning

The Game of Learning

The Game of Learning

This morning we split into teams to take part in “The Game of Learning”, a geocaching game designed to get us thinking about gamification and the components within it. The aim of the game was to take part in quests designed by the facilitators, using the GPS devices and completing challenges to find the “magic water” and return to base to combine our finds with the other teams.

Our group headed to our geocaching co-ordinates where we found a camera and an underwater kit, with which we were tasked to take 5 quality pictures in order to progress to the next level. The first challenge was that the camera came with no batteries and it took us a little time to find the solution – though eventually we tracked down some batteries from another team and completed the quest.

Next up we reached the “boss level” by which point some of the other teams had completed their quests so, in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, they joined us to assist in retrieving an inflatable chair from the middle of the lake without swimming in the water. Every credit to Dan from Baseline for being the person to get out there onto the water and complete the quest.

After the game we came back together as a group to reflect on our thoughts and feelings about the activity. We heard about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory and mapped our own positions in relation to it. The theory centres on the idea that people need to be challenged and use or develop skills in relation to each other to be in the flow. Failing to be sufficiently challenged can lead to boredom and lack of skills can bring anxiety for participants. The spread of the map showed that for the most part we were close to being in the flow though not entirely within it.

The makeup of games

The makeup of games

The makeup of games

After the game we came back together as a group to think about the the different elements of games and gamification in more detail. We started with the components that make up games, talking about quests, levels, points and many more. There was some discussion about how different components can be combined to create a game and which of them were used in the morning’s game.

Next up we spent some time learning about the mechanisms with which gamers would interact with each of the components. Cooperation, rewards, challenges, feedback, resource acquisition, transactions, competition and turns were all mentioned, and we discussed how each mechanism would serve to engage the gamer and in turn create the game dynamics.

Finally we started thinking about the components and the mechanisms, how the gamer would interact with them and what the game dynamics would be as a result. We heard about the importance of a narrative to help the gamer feel a sense of ownership, allowing them to truly buy in to the game. As well as this we thought about the emotions that games could provoke, referring back to our own personal and group reflections on the morning’s activity. Other dynamics that featured on the list included relationships, constraints, curiosity and limitations.

Gaming Styles

Gaming Styles

Diving into gamification

After lunch we began exploring gamification in detail firstly looking at the different types of players, their needs and the things that engage them. We looked at the four styles of gaming; expressing, competing, exploring and collaborating.

Gamers who are expressive respond well to being able to build and customise their experience, making purchases and creating an individual experience. Those who prefer to compete seek out games where they can be challenged, compare their skills with others and of course aim to win. In contrast collaborative gamers enjoy sharing, helping each other and giving while explorers would rather collect, view, rate and review.

To provide some provocation we watched Jane McGonigal’s TED talk “Gaming can make a better world”. This provided some interesting insight into the world of gaming and the potential for looking at real world problems and how we can hardness the power of games.

Badging platforms

In the final part of the afternoon we spent some time looking at the different platforms that are available for issuing badges. Some of the options on show were BadgeStack, Credly and BadgeCraft and all the participants took some time to explore the functionality offered by each platform.

I spent the session looking at BadgeStack with Sharon from Think Forward CIC and we went through the process of creating a badge for participating in the geocaching activity from the morning, the process was quite straight forward though, having previously used badgeOS (the open source WordPress plugin version of BadgeStack) this wasn’t as difficult as it might have been.

Some of the other participants shared that they felt the tools might not have been as intuitive as they’d have liked and that for both badge earners and issuers the process may need to be explained in more depth to assist them in using the platforms. Credly however was praised be some of the participants for its quick set up and usability.

A few concerns were raised at this point around the credibility and value of badges due to the openness of the platform and the fact that anyone can issue a badge. There is clearly some more discussion needed around this to help define the value of badges and ensure that while badges are easy to earn and issue, they mean something.

Tomorrow & keeping up with Unique Learning Badges

Tomorrow we’re heading to the Faculty of Philosophy at Vilinus University for a discussion on various practices for validating and recognising competencies in formal education, non-­formal education and employment. As always keep up with the development week by searching #uniquebadges, you can also like Unique Learning Badges on Facebook or follow @Learning_Badges

Unique Learning Badges – Day 1

Yesterday I introduced you to the Unique Learning Badges development week and a few of the projects and ideas I have floating around in relation to it and to open badges generally. Today has been the first day of the development week proper, an intensive and packed programme over 5 days to get the detail in place.

The Participant Hive

The Participant Hive

We spent this morning getting to know the other participants, finding out a bit of background about the project and the things which have gone before. First up we created a hive of participants made up of individual hexagons with each of us detailing our name, where we’re from, who we’re representing, the projects we’re working on, the first badge we ever received, an interesting fact about ourselves and what we hope to bring to the week’s learning. After that we established our connections, slotting the hexagons together to create the hive to find commonality.


Badge craft

The next task of the day was to craft our own badge for each of us to work towards over the course of the week. Having already set myself the challenge of blogging every day this week I decided to create the Digital Curator/Enabler badge which would recognise skills in blogging, sharing content and offering support and advice to other participants who wanted to make use of digital tools.

As well as designing the process and skills required to earn the badge we also each crafted our own physical badge from bottle tops, leather, stickers and other materials. All of our badges are now together along with progress bars to allow us to track our progression of the week – I’ll keep you updated on how that goes!

Recognition – a shared definition

With participants speaking a variety of languages it was important to gain a shared understanding of the terminology being used around recognition and other connected words. We first used a collection of postcards to build up a visual picture of what each word meant to us personally. Once we had built up the visual aids we spent some time discussing the words to ensure that everyone was on the same page with definitions and understanding.

I spent some time talking with some of the other participants about the difference between validation and accreditation, coming to the conclusion that accreditation was generally connected to an institution or organisation whereas validation could be either a formal, legal process or a more personal thing that relates to the individuals feelings.

Gaps & Challenges

Gaps & Challenges

The gaps and challenges around recognition of informal learning

This afternoon we broke into our national teams to work on three questions in relation to the project. We spent some time exploring the gaps and challenges around the recognition of informal learning in our countries, which in itself was a challenge as we first needed to agree on a shared definition of informal learning. Our team felt that informal learning is more experimental and a process that is shared by the group rather than prescriptive formalised learning where there is often a right or wrong answer.

We spent some time discussing the pros and cons of self assessment and reflection and whether groups always come prepared with the skills to do this – or are motivated enough to do effectively this without being encouraged by a facilitator. We also discussed the difficulties in measuring outcomes from informal learning with groups who are not used to engaging in this type of activity. As well as this we reflected on whether self assessment results might be skewed if a participant has low self confidence or has a tendency to be self critical.

The opportunities for open badges

Following on from our initial discussion in our national teams we moved on to look at the opportunities for using open badges in our home countries. The UK team quickly identified a number of potential scenarios where badges could be utilised including quality standards for voluntary sector organisations, the volunteer passport being developed by Blackpool, Wyre & Fylde Volunteer Centre as part of their Innovation in Giving project, identifying quality in the arts sector and bridging the gap for individuals who’ve gained little or no qualifications through the education system.

The aspirations for Unique Learning Badges

In the UK team we found this particular topic quite challenging as we still have some questions around the future of the Unique Learning Badges project, where it is going and how we’ll work together across Europe on the platform. Some of the aspirations we included were that the platform would be accessible to those with low digital literacy and that it would be free for organisations to issue badges. We also spoke about the strength of organisations collaborating across Europe on a shared platform when encouraging employers and other institutions to recognise the value of badges.

Badges on the line

Badges on the line

Potential pilot projects for badges

During the last part of the day we spent some time thinking about our own practise and projects, and which of these would fit with badges as a pilot. Some of the ideas up on the washing line of badges outside the cabin at the end of the session include European Voluntary Service projects, training around social skills for young people, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and many more besides.

Tomorrow & keeping up with Unique Learning Badges

Tomorrow morning we’ll be taking part in “The Game of Learning” – which sounds mysterious! Again, I’ll be blogging tomorrow evening to share the learning from the day. Until then you can of course keep up with the development week on Twitter by searching #uniquebadges.

Lithuania and Unique Learning Badges

The Daugirdiskes Centre

The Daugirdiskes Centre

So I’ve not blogged in a long time but I thought that this week would be the perfect opportunity to get back into the swing of things, and hopefully to start using this blog as a space to share my thoughts and reflections on the things I’m working on – which was my originally intention when I first set it up.

So I’m in Lithuania

This week I’m in Lithuania at the Daugirdiskes Centre representing Aunty Social and taking part in the learning and development stage of the Unique Learning Badges project (more about that in a minute). Yesterday after we arrived we took the opportunity to explore Vilinus, Lithuania’s capital, before heading out to the centre and it’s beautiful surroundings.

Yarn Bombing in Vilinus

Yarn Bombing in Vilinus

Unique Learning Badges

Unique Learning Badges will be built on the Mozilla Open Badges infrastructure and the intention is to provide a platform for informal learning for young people across Europe. About 25 participants will be arriving later today to join those of us from the UK who arrived yesterday, and over the week I’m going to be blogging to share my thoughts on the programme.


Open Badges

Over the past couple of months I’ve been finding out more about open badges after attending the Manchester Open Badges meet earlier in the year. I’ve been thinking about open badges in relation to a few different projects, both personal and work related, that are coming up over the coming months.

At Aunty Social we have a number of groups and projects which give people opportunities to get involved in creative arts and craft projects throughout Blackpool. Many of the groups we run have a real sense of skills swapping between participants with the more experienced members passing on their expertise to the newcomers. At the moment we don’t accredit (formally or informally) participants for the skills they’ve learnt but we’re keen to explore how open badges might suit this purpose.

Mermaid in Vilinus

Mermaid in Vilinus

Blackpool, Wyre & Fylde Volunteer Centre recently won funding from NESTA’s Innovation in Giving Fund to develop a ‘Volunteering Passport’ scheme which will use open badges to recognise the learning and achievement of volunteers and allowing them to seamlessly move between organisations without having to complete the same training over and over again.

I’ve also been thinking about how open badges can work as part of altblackpool to create a directory of artists and creatives, recognising individual’s skills in areas such as art, craft, design and music (to name but a few). As part of developing this idea I’ve been looking at the badgeOS WordPress plugin as a way of building a structure of badges to distribute to users – though I’ve still got someway to go on this in terms of the technical integration with Buddypress.

Keeping up with the Unique Learning Badges development week

Over the rest of the week I’ll be sharing my thoughts and reflections so stop by tomorrow to see how the first day goes, you can also keep up with the discussion on Twitter by following @Learning_Badges or searching #uniquebadges.

Homophobic bus adverts and how to report them

Ok so I’m going to keep this brief to ensure that I don’t go off on a massive rant about homophobic people using their religion as a shield for their homophobic views.

As many of you will probably have seen a Christian group has booked some space on Transport for London buses to carry an advert professing the wonders of ‘gay therapy’ (laughable I know – like anyone would want to convert).

Now I’ve just done some quick reading up on what consitutes a hate crime in this country. According to the report-it.org.uk website’s definitions (PDF) a “Hate Incident” regarding sexual orientation is this…

Any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

Now if this is the correct (and I’m no legal expert) then maybe every time you see one of these disgusting bigoted adverts on the side of one of TfL’s buses, as well as not getting on the bus you could use the Metropolitan Police’s Online Crime / Incident Reporting website to report it as a “Hate Incident”.

Even if the defence given by the group who have come up with this advert is that they aren’t motivated by a “hostility or prejudice” based on sexual orientation – if you perceive it to have that motivation then you have every right to report it.

Just a thought.

Note: Transport for London have since announced that the advert will not be going on their buses after all in this tweet.

My reflections from So! VolTech 2011

As many of you probably know, I was part of the team who organised So! VolTech 2011, a conference on social media & technology for the voluntary sector. This was the first time I’ve been involved in organising an event of this type and size so I was, as you can imagine, a bit nervous. So I really just wanted to get some thoughts down from a personal perspective.

Don’t be afraid to ask…

I’ve was really chuffed with the responses I’ve had from people when asking them to come and share their knowledge and experiences with people on a Saturday for free. There are a whole load of people around who are only too pleased to help out, because they enjoy what they do and they love to share. So the key here is don’t be afraid to ask, you’ll be awash with offers if this experience is anything to go by.

If you build it, they will come…

I’m sure everyone who organises events (no matter what the topic) has a feeling of trepidation when they make tickets available, are people actually going to come? Well, I can tell you that it took only two weeks from us making tickets available they had all gone - and for a first attempt I think that is brilliant. We had help getting the information out to the organisations who we wanted to target, but again, if you ask people to plug your event a bit they normally will – because this community is all about sharing.

Embrace the spotlight…

Now I am the first to admit that public speaking is not my biggest strength. Up until the week of the event, we hadn’t really discussed who was going to compare the day but we decided that it would be me. I can’t pretend that I wasn’t nervous but actually the more the day went on, the more I enjoyed it and it got easier. If anything, I actually want to do it again!

Test your technology in advance…

Admittedly this wasn’t a massive issue for us but there were a couple of things that I felt we could have improved on. We took a calculated risk with the wireless network at the library, we had made contact with the department who runs Wireless Blackpool to check that it would be able to handle 60 simultaneous users and they assured us that it would – but it hadn’t exactly been road tested. I don’t think anyone had any massive problems with the wireless (do correct me if I’m wrong) but next time round, I’m definitely going to make a bigger point of testing in advance.

Think inclusive…

Our panel at So! VolTech 2011 was entirely made up of men (although one of our workshops was delivered by @Tech_Geek_Girl from Plug In Lancashire), this wasn’t a conscious decision but was something that has prompted discussion about the wider issue of changing the gender balance of speakers at social media & technology events – I think it is really positive that this issue has been highlighted because as a conference organiser I know that next time round, I will be proactively seeking out female speakers and hopefully bucking the trend.

So in summary…

I think that most first time event organisers probably go through a similar set of feelings to the ones I did. Things go through your head in the run up to the event… what if no-one comes? What if people do come, but they don’t find it useful? What if? What if? You get the idea. The main thing that I can say is JFDI – don’t let any of these concerns put you off, because chances are everything will be fantastic, you’ll get lots of positive feedback and you’ll end up with a warm and fuzzy (and tired) feeling inside afterwards because of what has been achieved.

One last thing!

So! VolTech really made me value that people who are willing to give up their time to help put events such as this together. Without my amazing co-organiser @microwavedrama, all of our speakers (@johnpopham, @josephstash, @stevieflow, @peoplesvoice and @jezmyers), our workshop leaders (@PlugInLancs, @BeGoodBeSocial and @MyLearningPool), our sponsors at @testled and our amazing @_AuntySocial_ volunteers (@BoobLeEnvious and @rjanukowicz), it would have been impossible to make events like So! VolTech happen! So thanks (again) to all of you!

Remember that you can keep in the loop with all the latest goings on in the world of Social Media & Technology for the Voluntary Sector in our new monthly email newsletter by signing up here.

Facebook and under 13s… who is responsible?

Many of you may have seen in the news yesterday the story of a father who is suing Facebook and the Northern Health & Social Care Trust over his 12 year old daughter posting provokative images of herself on the the social network while in the care of the trust. This got me into rather a debate on Twitter with various people over who was (or should be) responsible, now I don’t profess to have the solutions or answers here and I’m playing devils advocate a bit but let us look at the options.

Facebook has made it clear that to comply with US law they do not allow under 13s to sign up to the site, however they have also admitted that monitoring and enforcing this is difficult – and we all know that there are plenty of young people under 13 using the site. Now I’m not an expert on the law so I am surmising somewhat but I would have thought that Facebook would have at the least a duty of care to it’s users and should be protecting them – if this means removing inappropriate content then so be it. Further to this, if the images in question were so bad (and obviously we don’t know this information) then could they have been ilegal content anyway? If that was the case then this would certainly mean Facebook would be duty bound to remove them (and pass them to the police?).

If you want to go even further than this, then actually Facebook have a moral duty to protect our young people. I have had it suggested to me that there are cost and data protection implications to verifying the age of users on Facebook which prohibit anything being done to tackle underage users – but can we really put a price on the safety of young people?

Let us move on to parents, guardians and organisations with parental responsibility. There is a lot of talk floating about at the moment with a “blame the shit parents” attitude. Most of us sensible, measured people can recognise that most parents keep and eye on what their children are doing (online or offline) but in this age of the smart phone, tablet computer and wireless network, we simply can’t expect parents to see every little thing that their child is doing online. Some parents will be users of social networks themselves and I’m sure will be discussing with their children the dangers (these parents have been telling their kids not to talk to strangers for years – why would this be any different?) associated with them, however there will be parents out there who don’t have a clue about how these things work and thus can’t have these conversations.

This leads me on nicely to education and schools. Now before I start on this, let me be clear, I am not teacher bashing. At the moment we have a situation where (many) schools are blocking access to social networking spaces (whether this be Facebook or any other site) primarily due to a combination of concerns around distraction from school work, reputation management and online safety. I think it is time that we challenged this perceived wisdom and did something radical – like a PSHE which teaches young people the dangers of sharing inappropriate content on social networking sites by actually showing them how easy it is to copy photos from their profiles and share them elsewhere (obviously in a safe way), or a ICT lesson where Facebook is up on the projector and the teacher goes through the privacy settings with the class so they know how to use them. This isn’t rocket science and I can’t see an excuse to not do it! Why stop at young people? Many parents would and could benefit from this kind of educational session. Schools need to accept that social networking is here and it will be staying – pretending that it doesn’t exist is not an acceptable response.

You’ll probably notice that I’ve not included children themselves in this hit list of those which I feel have a responsibility – and I don’t think that we can say that children have total responsibility for this, especially not when Facebook, their parents and the education system are failing to educate them on this – I’m sure many will disagree with me.

As I said at the start of this post, I don’t profess to have the answers, but I felt like I wanted to get my thoughts written down! Got a plan to sort this out? Post in the comments!

Update – Facebook have responded to the writ against them saying that they invest heavily in educating young people about safe internet usage and also that communication between parents/guardians and their children about online activities is vital. Full story on the BBC here.