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Badges at Penn State

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Wondering what badges are? Wondering what's happening with badges at Penn State? Read on!

(My thanks to Ken Layng of ITS Training Services for much of the information provided here.)

What are "Badges"?

NoTBadge.jpgBadges are like digital extensions to an identity. They help learners to establish credibility based on informal learning. They are used to "certify" information that has been consumed by badge earners. This can be assessed or non-assessed learning, ad determined by the badge issuer. For example, we might issue badges to people who are present at a workshop, but we might also require some measurement of comprehension and retention before issuing a badge. 

What are "Open" Badges?

Open Badges is a project initiated by Mozilla to create a framework for badge infrastructure. Google has a similar project underway, but it is not nearly as mature. The Mozilla framework consists of three components: 1) Issuer, 2) Earner, and 3) Displayer. An "Issuer" is an organization that can 'award certified badges to learners.' An "Earner" is an individual that can collect badges to represent an accumulation of knowledge, skill or proficiency. Badges can be placed in an online repository belonging to the user called the "Badge Backpack." With this Backpack, earners can collect, manage, and display the badges they have earned. A "Displayer" is any online presence or service provider that can display badges. Examples of displayers include the blogs, social media sites, and even resumes. An optional fourth component is the "Endorser." An endorser is any organization or individual that signs the badge with their private encryption key, thereby attesting to the badge's value.

Here is an example of a simplified badge process.


Someone issues me a badge. In this case, Ken Layng of ITS Training Services issued me a "Project Leader" badge, using the tools provided at . I receive an email informing me of this. I go to, sign in, and send the badge to my badge backpack, part of Mozilla's Open Badges infrastructure. (BTW - I previously created my backpack.) Then I sign into my backpack and accept the badge. From there, I can choose to share it publicly or not, and can send/embed a URL for others to view my badge(s).

What are the Potential Benefits to Penn State?

Enhance Digital Identity

Badges enhance one's digital identity and reputation. This is great for e-Portfolios! Badges raise your profile within the learning community and peers and allow you to aggregate identities from across other communities. Specifically:

  • Provides a more complete picture of the learner: Badges provide a more granular and complete picture of skills and learning history for potential employers, schools, peer groups and others than a traditional degree.
  • Informal certification: Learners can get credit and recognition for the learning that happens outside of school.  e.g., in after-school programs, work experience or online.
  • Third-party validation: Attesting to competency and participation, rather than self-attesting, establishes credibility, trust, and legitimacy
  • Signals achievement: Badges signal skills and achievements to peers, potential employers, educational institutions and others.
  • Recognizes new hard skills and literacies: New  literacies that are critical to success in today's digital world--like  appropriating information, judging its quality, multitasking and  networking--are not typically taught in schools and don't show up on a  transcript. Badges can recognize these new skills and literacies.
  • Recognizes soft skills: With recognition of social habits, motivation, etc. badges are able to recognize a greater diversity of soft skills than traditional programs measure or even recognize.

Enable Global Perspectives

Badges allow one to share their skill set with the world. This fosters flexibility and connections.

  • Transfer learning across spaces and contexts: Skills are made more portable across jobs, learning environments and places through badges.
  • Build community and social capital: Badges help learners find peers or mentors with similar interests. Community badges help formalize camaraderie, team synthesis and communities of practice.

Better Instruction

Badges tap into some basic learning psychological principles for the learner.

  • Motivate participation and learning outcomes:  Badges provide feedback, milestones and rewards throughout a course or  learning experience, encouraging engagement and retention.
  • Unlock privileges: A test becomes a reward. For example, students at a school computer lab might be required to earn a "Digital Safety" badge  before being allowed to surf the web.
  • Allow multiple pathways to learning: Badges encourage learners to take new paths or spend more time developing specific skills.
  • Support greater specialization and innovation: Badges can support specialized and emerging fields that are not in traditional learning environments.

Better Instructional Management

Badges enable a better understanding of the individual.

  • Capture the learning path and history: With  degrees or cumulative grades, much of the learning path -- the set of steps  and milestones that led to the degree -- is lost or hard to see. Badges can capture a more specific set of skills and qualities as they occur  along the way, along with issue dates for each. This means we can track  the set of steps the most successful learners take to gain their  skills -- and potentially replicate that experience for others.
  • Assist in Accreditation: By capturing the learning path, meeting the documentation needs of accreditation agencies will be eased.

Badges at Penn State

Well, they don't really exist -- yet. Ken Layng of ITS Training Services began investigating badges several months ago, and I've been following the data stream on them for some time. Most of what you've read above comes from Ken's work, so kudos to Ken! Ken organized a Yammer group to invite interested folks in to start looking at this in April 2012, and once we had some preliminary groundwork down, we initiated a meeting with Chris Millet and Chris Stubbs of Education Technology Services, with the hopes we could work together to investigate this from an "all-PSU" perspective. As an aside, this aligns nicely with a desire from ITS senior leadership to approach new opportunities like this from a matrixed organizational view, as opposed to our traditional siloed approach.

At Training Services, we're investigating two potential ways to serve badges. One is via a company named BadgeStack. They offer a complete, nearly turnkey solution that includes a humble content-management system. The other is via a cloud provider ( that offers a simple interface to serve badges. Both have potential, but it's just too soon to draw any conclusions or recommendations.

ETS is working on a meeting with folks both inside and outside of ITS to gather perspectives, and Training Services will be part of that conversation. Hopefully we'll come away from the meeting with a better perspective on directions to pursue with this great opportunity. 

Moving Forward...

There are no conclusions yet, just plenty of questions and investigations. So stay tuned all - this is an exciting new way to capture your learning (and assessment of it), validate it, and display it to the world!

NMC Summer Conference 2012 Notes

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The New Media Consortium always hosts a great summer conference, and this year was no exception. I think it's the combination of education technologists, learning designers, librarians, and artists that makes this conference unique. The conference setting was the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, MA.

The opening keynote was by Joichi "Joey" Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab. In his own words, he "is a man interested in everything." Read his blog at and you'll probably agree.


Like other keynotes I've seen the past year, Joey is concerned with a lack of creativity "out there." He believes we have created a system that makes us think we are less creative than we are. Add to that the Internet has changed the world from set complex processes with sequential steps into a web of interconnections where processes emerge as needed in a decentralized way. Small pieces, loosely joined. We are in a state of just trying things to see what happens, as opposed to carefully planning everything before execution.

This made me ponder, is development of instruction going the same way? What role, then, does the learner play in the dev. of instructions? Can we design things in a way that they can be used in ways we didn't anticipate?

It's not just the web that is changing, it's the lowering cost of developing physical products that fosters risk, trial, experimentation, and new stuff.

Here's Joey's list on how things are changing:

Now -> Then
Resilience->  Strength
Pull ->  Push
Compass ->  Maps
Practice ->  Theory
Disobedience (respectful) ->  Compliance
Crowds ->  Experts
Learning ->  Education

It's pretty amazing how the simple change of one word to another has profound effects on how we view the landscape of education. From experts to crowds is a great example. I've blogged before about the power of the mass mind. As more and more well-respected leaders allude to that, I'm convinced I'm on the right track. Lone experts won't solve the problems of today, but crowds will.

My presentation was titled "20+ Ways to Add Game-like Elements to Your Learning Designs." I had a packed room; they even had to bring in extra chairs. Everyone wants my slides from the presentation, so word to the wise: Always have your presentation online before you present and just announce how to get it at the end of the presentation. Now I have 45 hand-written emails to whom I need to send the link. Auughh!


I also co-presented a poster with Emily Rimland from the PSU Libraries on a mini-game the Educational Gaming Commons developed with her for use in her classes on optimizing your web searches. Titled "Smoke that Search," the mini-game added some team competition elements to an otherwise standard lecture. Emily plans on using the mini-game for future runs of her class. The poster was well received and many folks took the instructions with them so they can try it with their students. Click on the image below to view a larger version.

BTW - The cloud in the middle is where we projected the LionSearch search engine to demo the mini-game.

I won't bore you will individual session details. Suffice it to say there wasn't one I didn't appreciate, and you can visit for details on most of the conference.

One final thought was on the mini-plenaries run for the first time at this conference. Instead of giving one person an hour, they gave four people 15 minutes back to back. This was great! The talk was focused, and if someone was talking on a subject you found less than thrilling, it was quickly over. A nice format we should consider for our offerings in future TLT events. 'Nuff said.

Are MOOCs the Next Staff Development "Thing?"

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MOOCs - Massive Online Open Course - are becoming readily available. I recently completed a MOOC titled "Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success" run by Dr. Curtis Bonk, Professor at Indiana University. The five-week course consisted of mainly of readings, live video presentations, and blog and discussion board posts. It was a fun course that I could poke away at in my spare time. Even the live video presentations were recorded so if I missed one, it was nearly immediately available to me. I also earned participation badges - more on that in a moment.


The Inside Higher Ed site recently posted an article on MOOCs. It appears that Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor will all be offering MOOCs in the near future. What's in it for them to offer free courses? Increased awareness for potential future students who will pay for credits and a degree. So it's advertising.

What's in it for staff development? Lots. Tons. Provided there is a way to prove you took the course and met the minimal requirements (if any). If there are requirements and you can prove you met them, well heck, what's better than that for professional development? It's free and you can do it from your desk.

So how does one prove they took a course and "passed?" One way is the up and coming Open Badges system from Mozilla.


With badges, you have an external (to yourself) validation of course completion. You can display your earned badges for all to see, and others can see who issued the badges. Since the badge system is designed to be universal and thus sits outside any particular online course management system, you can collect badges from a variety of MOOCs without any technological hassles. Sounds like a great combo to me, and I hope MOOC offerers pick up on this.

Learning Solutions 2012 Conference

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Sponsored by the e-Learning Guild, this is the first time I've attend this conf. It seems to be aimed at business and industry - I was one of a handful of higher ed attendees.

Things I liked:

The Timing of Sessions
They staggered sessions of different lengths, so if you were in one and decided it wasn't for you, you could often find another one just starting.

Vendor Showcase
Vendors had opportunities to do a presentation within the showcase area, drawing people into the area and giving them the spotlight for an hour or so. Very nice.

The Art of... Keynotes

This was the theme for the keynotes - The Art of Leadership, The Art of Vision, The Art of Choosing. All keynotes were good. Eric Wahl was AMAZING. His was the best keynote I've ever seen, no contest.  We simply have to get him to PSU. He would be great as a Symposium keynote.

Morning Buzzes
These were birds-of-a-feather early morning optional meetings. Informal and discussion oriented, it was a great way to start the day. Most often I see these as an add-on, at the end of the day or in the evenings. I like the morning approach better. If it's something you are passionate about, attending such a session energizes you for the entire day.

Things I disliked:

The Page-turner Metaphor
We are still stuck in developing instruction in a paged environment. Hard to believe, isn't it? Most of the new tools I saw work under this model. Is it truly the best way to approach learning online, or is it just an easy sell? One developer, Kaspar Spiro of EasyGenerator, writes:

"eLearning courses still use the book metaphor as a standard, and that is really beginning to hinder progress because eLearning is not linear like a book ... it demands a structure that allows for more dynamic interaction. We need to find a new metaphor for eLearning that is more flexible, more engaging, and less structured. One possible solution is Learning Maps: a geographical representation of eLearning content. "

His easyGenerator tool holds promise, but he needs to beef up his web site so you can see the tool in action. Think of it as a combination concept mapper and content generator.

Learning Designers need to continue to look for alternatives like this. Page-turning for online learning is not optimal!

The provided box lunches were adequate, just. For the price of the conference, they should have done better. People remember poor meals.

Spotty Understanding of Accessibility by the Vendors
Some get it and address accessibility, some don't. One tool I've been following for some time - ZebraZapps by Allen Interactions - is an awesome development tool, just as Authorware was at one time. They've yet to consider accessibility, so off my list it goes! Sigh.

In conclusion - a pricy conference, but worth attending every three years or so.

JAWS Screen Reader Training

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I attended a two-day training workshop to learn how to use the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reader software. JAWS is developed by Freedom Scientific.Primarily for folks with a visual impairment, it uses synthesized speech to read aloud on-screen text on web pages, word processor docs, PFDs, etc.

The software is not too difficult to use, but it does contain many, many options - so only people using it on a regular basis would ever fully master it. I learned enough to use it to test web pages, etc. that I develop to ensure a visually-impaired person can adequately access my materials.

The most amazing thing about the training was the trainer. Ryan. He was nearly blind. He could see strong light sources, but that's about it. He was a master of his domain, to the point where his disability was nearly transparent to folks in the room. It was a great lesson in diversity for me; and gave me better insight into those visually-disabled. I only hope that if I am ever disabled, I can tackle the world with the same level of confidence and capability as Ryan.

TLT Symposium 2011 Thoughts

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This was the 1st Symposium I attended strictly as a participant, so I had a vastly different experience from years past. No duties, no being stuck in a single room, etc. led to great conversations with many folks.

I found Clay Shirky's talk a bit unfocused. He had three main points, but they were not crystal clear. I also did not really hear anything that sparked my own thoughts in new directions.

I attended a roundtable on Online Learning Communities. We are all still struggling with increasing participation. IMO, we need to look at a community NOT as a 15-week course component, but as part of a much larger community, of which a 15-week class is a part.

For example, what if we built an online Biology community for PSU, and every class that wanted to include an online community component used it, rather than an isolated, temporary one? Students would be into the community throughout their PSU experience, building bonds with others and giving and sharing expertise.

Now what if we extended that beyond PSU, and had a national Biology online community for students. Talk about sharing the wealth of intellectual knowledge! This would extend beyond PSU into Jobs, etc.

I also attended a roundtable on Mobile Learning. We are all still toying with this. There is no clear direction at PSU on this, and perhaps that's OK for now. I do believe we need to encourage/support exploration and provide information on the least path to resistance for faculty that want to try something in this space.

ELI 2011 Notes

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I noticed several trends at this conference.

    1.    Use/deployment/development of mobile learning is increasing.
    2.    There is less hype about the technology itself, and more concern for best uses/practices.

Can it be that we've finally blinked out the magic dust of technology from our eyes, and can now start clearly looking at the best ways to use it? Will the need for metrics push this?

I attended a pre-conference session by Thomas Angelo, Director, Curriculum, Teaching & Learning Centre and Professor of Higher Education, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Although the session title led me to believe this was to be about assessment, it turned out to be that and more. Tom give the attendees a wide range of activities, things to ponder, and useful tips revolving around education.

Eric Mazur, Balkanski Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, and Dean of Applied Physics, Harvard University give the conference opening keynote. His use of clickers for audience participation really hit home! I believe many in the audience who had never seen these devices were convinced of their value.

David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology, Brigham Young University was entertaining as usual, and he has added a section on metrics to his stock presentation, making it worth watching.

I got very little out of the closing keynote, William Patry, Senior Copyright Counsel, Google, other then we need to decide what we want out of copyright and go for it. Hmmm.

I attended a number of general sessions around mobility and the LMS.

Some thoughts I jotted down during the general sessions:

If the lecture is cost effective and thus continues to be used, what can we do to make other forms of learning cheaper?

Learning Designers vs Instructional Designers:
  • Learning is on the individual.
  • Instruction is what we build in an attempt to provide a solid learning environment.
  • We need to focus on building opportunities, not constrained forced situations.

Mobile Learning
  • How much do the students really want this?
  • Is it our mission to show the value of this?
  • What about the digital divide?
  • Can we track usage of mobiles and tie it to learning?
  • How do we do this right?
  • Does the use improve learning in a visible way? How do we measure it?
  • Accessibility issues?
  • Faculty prep. What is it, what do we need to do?
  • How does this improve availability?

  • Many see this as the hub, not as the be-all, end-all uber-solution.
  • How do we leverage this to our advantage?
  • How do we attach new stuff to this hub and make it work transparently?

Learning Design Summer Camp 2010

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Wow - an event on which I (and many others) worked very hard! Camp is a great time to recharge your mental batteries, see old friends, and make some new ones.

I have to admit I'm burned out now, and need the vacation I'm about to take. Here's some thoughts in no particular order:

I met Sam Richards for the first time, and discovered our youths were strangely similar in certain aspects.

Sam raised the bar for a keynote. Next year will be a challenge!

The IST Bl has a great place for all to gather (the Cybertorium), but lacks in spaces that hold 20-30 (except classrooms you can't use).

Dean Blackstock is too humble.

I think our mascot for next year must be a Trunk Monkey.

Volunteers don't get enough for their efforts. Thank goodness for good, giving people!

I should have run the 5K. By the time I walked up the finish line, I was drenched anyway.

Giving my cell phone # out to the volunteers was the best move ever. Not one call during the event!

We need LDSC11 Henna Tattoos.

It's too soon to tell, but I think we're closer than ever to an ideal event. We definitely improved on last year. Feedback from the eval form will tell part of the tale. The Live Pitch session was not so great - we had 30 minutes and it took five. But it gave folks more time for lunch. I think we could handle 10 Lightning Talks easy. We need to encourage folks to use Cafe Press for T-shirts and bling more. Registration has to go to a G-form. The wiki is just terrible for this. Maybe we can try G-forms for some things and another wiki (like PB Wiki) next year.

UStream sucks. Sure it's free, but for something we only do once a year, let's spend some $$ and rent access to a real service that doesn't delete entire sessions.

It's scary how many people in the community I know.

I wish folks that come to camp would also come to the All LD monthly meetings.

I may edit this from time to time as I think of things. Right now I'm brain dead.

2010 Games, Learning, and Society Conference

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I attended and presented at the Games, Learning, & Society Conference held June 9-11, 2010 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  As always, I was overwhelmed at the amount of work, projects, and energy this conference produces and demands from one.

I attended a three hour pre-conference session on Games and Mobile Learning. Working on teams, we conceptualized and storyboarded a mobile game for learning. I pitched my idea on a location-aware discovery game for students new to a university, and the team ran with it. We came up with a great name for the game - Youniversity! While I've already conceptualized this game as a browser-based game, thinking of it in mobile terms has opened up some very interesting avenues. If I can get the scope of the game down to a manageable size, it is worth considering for development at PSU.

The opening keynote to the conference was done by Kurt Squire, an educational games guru from UWM. He used Sid Meier's Pirates game to discuss what learning happens in a game, things such as having a combo of short and long-term goals, choices and consequences, and a balanced progression - Short term goals build up to the long-term goals, occurring fairly frequently so no boredom creeps in. He also talked about how a player progresses through game play, from consumer to producer and community leader. If he's correct about this, the players of today (teenagers and younger) will be coming to college ready to create. I think he's onto something, based on the game dev programs spring up in middle and high schools. This is just too great to ignore. We have parallels at PSU as evidenced by the PSU Media Commons success. Students are now creating media in a variety of formats. Games need all that creativity and media, so if we do begin a game dev program at PSU, we already have some of the needed infrastructure in place.

Some of the general sessions I attended touched on common themes with educational gaming - leadership, power structures, etc. Nothing new there, but folks are starting to take a serious look at assessment of edu games, from assessing the design of them to the reaching of educational goals. Some promising rubrics are in the works.

Another theme at this conference was - "How do we (educators) build good games?" The true revolution will have to come from us. Business may help, but will never be the knight in shining armor that comes to higher ed's rescue. The profit margin just isn't there. I've come away from the conference with some good heuristics we can use for the development of our games.

If you want to see how professionally-developed games are going Hollywood, go play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I can't wait to pick up a copy and play the hero in this fast-paced game.

My poster session on the EGC was well received. The two main comments I received were, "We need something just like this where I am," and "I've never sen something set up like this (from central IT)." Most folks were eager to take my handouts and card, so I'm expecting some contact with them in the future.

In all, this was a very good conference to attend. It will take my brain a few days to sort through all the ideas!

Extra - While at Madison, I met and had dinner with a fellow ITLP'er - Peter Mann, who works at DoIT. We were in an ITLP cohort together and have remained in touch since. Peter's a great guy, great professional, and I owe it to ITLP for our introduction. My thanks to Kevin and John for getting me into this program. If you have a chance to participate in it - just do it.

Microsoft Trip on Educational Gaming

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Chris Stubbs, John Harwood, Kevin Morooney, and I met with several MS folks at the MS Executive Briefing Center on the MS Campus recently to discuss our mutual interests in educational gaming. We had a great 1/2 day with various folks from MS. They have of course the XBox, but you may not know they have an extensive developer's kit that includes their dev. platform, XNA.

My goals were simple - I wanted to establish contacts with folks at Microsoft working on their gaming initiatives. I wanted to discover opportunities for collaboration and partnerships in the gaming space. I wanted to learn more about the XBox platform, their game development software (XNA and others), and their mobile platforms.

We first met with Michael Kluchner, Lead Program Manager, who gave us an overview of the XNA platform. This is a very intriguing platform that we'll have to spend some time examining.

Next we met with Dan Walters, an Academic Evangelist (love the title!), who gave us an overview of the MS-sponsored ImagineCup competition. See for complete info. Here's a synopsis:

  • Student competition. Global.
  • Team-spirited.
  • Build software to address one of eight issues, live Combat AIDs, Child Health.
  • One competition on fall, one in spring.
  • 10 teams of each compete. M ost teams 4-5 in size. Chosen to go to US Finals in DC, then maybe be invited to WW Finals in some international location.
  • Design a project using one of MS technologies, such as Visual Studio (for Software design) or XNA Game Studio (for Game design).
  • Round 1 - Submit a business plan, wireframe (optional).
  • Round 2 - Updated business plan, prototype, video presenting project and team.
  • Finals  - Held in major city or University
  • Up to 3 20-minute live presentations & 10-min Q&A.
  • Beta of software or 100% playable game.
  • Venture capitalists, etc. come to this.
  • US Prizes - 1st 8K, 2nd 4K, 3rd 3K
  • Worldwide Prizes - 1st 25K
Sounds like a great opportunity for PSU and we should explore it.

Next, we met with Kelvin Sung, Associate Professor with the Computing and Software Systems at University of Washington. His recent works are related to the teaching and learning of computer graphics and foundational concepts in programming, based on computer games. He developed "XNA Game Studio Game-Themed Introductory Programming Assignments for CS1/2 Courses" -

We will definitely look to bring Kelvin to PSU! He's just amazing.

Finally, we met with Ian Wilson from the MS Entertainment Division. He gave us an overview of the products this division works with, such as the XBox and the Zune.

Reflections on this trip: The idea of a 2-day period for an XNA Jamfest is the most obvious one. Tying game programming to Computer Science and certain IST courses looks to be beneficial for all involved.  Kelvin Sung would be a great resource to bring in at a future time to introduce CompSci and IST faculty to the concept of using game programming to teach basic programming concepts.

We need to bring the EGC programmers up to speed on XNA development, looking for development opportunities that make sense.

We need to advertise the ImagineCup initiative to faculty at Penn State. Again, CompSci and IST are the logical candidates.

We need to investigate opportunities to utilize Microsoft Research opportunities in the EGC.

Here's some possible activities we should consider pursuing based on this trip:

  1. Decide on a 2-day period for an XNA Jamfest.  We would train both faculty and students on the XNA platform, then have Kelvin Sung work with CS faculty on his programming modules.
  2. Bring ETS Up to Speed with XNA Development . We need to have some internal expertise here.
  3. Explore opportunities for ImagineCup at PSU.
  4. Investigate opportunities to utilize Microsoft Research opportunities in the EGC.

If you ever get a chance to visit MS, take it! It's truly an amazing place.


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