Using Moodle to Create and Issue Badges

Bloody hell that was easy!

bullseye

If you have been following my trials and tribulations you will know i have been trying to get my head around the best way to issue Open Badges and I have had a number of false starts. We have Moodle installed at work and I noticed a version above ours supports badges out of the box so it would make sense for me to look in to this option deeper.

Moodle version 2.5 and above can create and issue Mozilla Open Badges with just a few clicks. I have just gone from having an empty test websever to issuing a Badge to learners in about 10 minutes.

I could just tell you to look in the admin or courses panel of your Moodle installation but because I didn’t have any instruction first time around I’m going to insist you share in my pain.

Previously on Digital Tumbleweed I tried to implement Open Badges using a known website which fell at the first hurdle. During the initial set up process I wasn’t happy using badg.us for a number of reasons:

  • The site is very buggy
  • My establishment badges are mixed with everybody else’s
  • Informing learners of a new badge is not automatic
  • It didn’t work
  • It was very buggy
  • Did I mention it was buggy?

I’m not angry about this. If anything it has helped me understand the process better and realise that issuing a badge really does need to be broken down in to multiple segments. Unfortunately / fortunately it appears there is not yet one tool that will easily do everything in one go. I am reminded of the early days of the web when putting up a single page Geocities webpages was a weekend’s learning curve. Again, this is no bad thing. As an app developer I know that keeping the Apple App Store complicated and expensive keeps the teen hackers out ;-). I guess we need to decide whether we want the issuers of digital badges to be exclusive where technical comprehension is the quality control or whether we want every man and his dog to be able to issue them and not be bound by digital hurdles.

The options for issuing badges as I see them are:

  • Use an existing badge isssuing website
  • Create our own badge issuing website
  • Moodle 2.5 and above (+ Mahara for external display)
  • Use an existing smart phone app (i’ve spotted a couple but not tested them yet)
  • Integrate badges in to the Woodham iPhone app with a teacher web interface (£££)

I want to my school to be able to issue our own badges as this way I can ensure they have value. Some University degrees have more value than others. I want my students to know that if they get a badge from me or my school it is because they have earned it and not because they have simply turned up or completed the bear minimum of expectations. I also want my solution to be scalable and managed in case other departments also see value in this and we decide to roll this out wider that the computing department.

The best way to issue badges to our learners is to first grab a list of our learners. The first place to go to would be SIMS i guess but Capita seem like a fairly lethargic company so expecting somebody to steer the barge in this direction would take a year or two.

Moodle also contains a list of all of our learners thanks to the fact we use it every day and also Webanywhere have integrated SIMS with our Moodle installation.

Our currently installed version of Moodle does not support badges but versions 2.5 and above do.

Time for an upgrade.

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Upgrading Moodle is increasingly a major operation. Having learned the hard way we only have 1 third party plug-in on our School’s Moodle installation and that is Webanywhere’s SIMS integration stuff but there are still obviously other factors to consider along with webanywhere’s supported plug-in version such as supported versions of PHP and MySQL ont eserver, backup, downtime, staff training for significant changes and so on.

Obviously I don’t want us to go through all of that just to test whether a badge system is viable so I installed Moodle 2.5.2 via my web hosts’s built in Softaculous web app installer. As an aside I’m a bit behind with things like this so I don’t know how well know  it is known. Fantastico was the one I used when I last messed about with this kind of stuff. My web host also offered that so I tried it first and that gave me Moodle 2.2.3 and an evening full of potentially faffing about to get up to the right version with utf-8 database upgrade required and no shell access to the database. Those days are gone. Fantastico and Softaculous both work they same way. You basically you pick Moodle from the list then click … click … click …. it’s installed. Not something I would use lightly for a production installation be a great way to get me a Moodle test server in less than two minutes.

The next step was to set up the badge. Moodle seems to give lots of options for creating badges. This was my first time on 2.5 but it was really easy to work out. Badges was there, front and centre in the admin menu.

The first task was to set up some site wide badge settings. Basically to identify my test server as the issuer. It was so straightforward it would take you longer to read the instructions than it would to set up.

Next up, creating the badges. This was a bit different from my experiences with badg.us as Moodle can link badge allocation with completed activity on the Moodle site. After you give the badge a name, image and description (you can also set an expiry date) you are taken to a familiar clunky Moodle tabbed interface of options. Yuck. The badge is switched off until you enter some further crucial details (the criteria required to earn the badge). If you want to come back and edit the badge at a later date you need to switch the badge off, make your changes, then re-enable the badge.

I thought the adding of criteria was going to be to cumbersome as I just wanted a quick and dirty solution to test but it actually opens up a load more ideas to me.

I’ll start with the least important first. You can automatically (I think – I have no learners on my test site yet) award a badge to learners who complete their Moodle profile. You can select which parts of their profile you require to earn the badge and specify whether the criteria has been met if all or any of the fields have been completed. Nice touch. Very nice. I would love to set this up at work but the profile information is pre-populated from our active directory and default settings because we don’t want young children sharing their contact details. You can have custom profile fields in this version so there maybe something we could do there.

You can award a badge when a course or set of courses has been completed. This could be very powerful. I haven’t done anything with Moodle course completion and have no learners on my test site but I can see me coming back to this in the future if I get this up and running on our production server.

I chose Manual Issue by role which I think is Moodle speak for allow members of a specified role to award this badge. I was then presented with a list of existing roles on my site and asked what I wanted to do so I did what anybody in my situation would do and just ticked the lot.

You can now make your badge live if you want. Before I did I spotted the messages tab which allows you to create custom text for your badge when the awarding e-mail is sent out. Im sure we have all been the victim of Moodle’s over enthusiastic use of e-mail but this is a welcome addition and I am still stunned it isn’t included / working on badg.us.

The next bit was the icing on the cake.

There is a tab for recipients. It lists all off the people on your site. You just bung them over from the right box to the left and the job’s a good ‘un! I received an e-mail straight away saying I had awarded myself with a badge (remember, I only have one user so far). I am concerned that I will accidentally add a student to my badge list and they will receive a message straight away stating they have a badge they don’t deserve. I recall an email delay setting somewhere in Moodle. Hopefully it also applies to badges.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 23.36.06

Badges can, and probably should, also be sent from within courses so site admins don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting. Courses have an easily accessible badge link in the course menu too and it works pretty much the same way except you don’t have access to the initial settings (site issuer and the like) and, I suspect, when you award the badge you only see course members which is also a bonus.

There is a Moodle block called ‘My latest badges’. When added to a course page it just shows your course badges. When added to the home page it only shows your site-wide badges which the administer has issued. It may well show course badges but I haven’t got any yet so cant test it!

In your Moodle user profile it displays all of your badges issued from within Moodle. You can, and should, link your profile to the Mozilla backpack and push your badges there. Moodle will also pull badges from your Backpack and display them under ‘My badges from other websites’ but most school I know of have Moodle locked down pretty tight so only other learners from the same establishment or even only those who share courses can see the profile and therefore the badges.

As much as I love Moodle, the fact is it is a web front end to a database and that stark reality is never really hidden from the user. As a result, presentation isn’t always pretty. Yes, we could spend ages creating a theme or getting a third party one created for us but we all know how that will work out next time we want to upgrade but that still wouldn’t change the fact that our Moodle users can’t share their details with the outside world.

Moodle can link with, and push content to (including badges), the e-portfolio system Mahara. I’ve said in a previous post I ignore things when they first come out as this is the only way to guarantee longevity, Mahara is still around and it still talks to Moodle

Watch this space.

BTW the original bullseye image comes from Humor Blog (SIC 😉 at Flickr and the gorgeous belly button upgrade comes from Mr Thomas who also frequents Flickr

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