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.

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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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Sharing Your Open Badges

Mozilla Open Badges are a digital way to recognise achievement. You can read more about the process I went through setting up and issuing a badge in a previous post I made.

I tested Open Badges with my Y9 GCSE Computing students today. The lads in particular were very keen on the idea of receiving digital badges so I am definitely going to move forward on this in the Computing department and I am definitely not going to use badg.us. I used it again today to get some badges out to them and it is OK as a quick and dirty way of testing things but it is still very buggy and unreliable. I could see it being used to issue badges between themselves if it worked. Last night I set up Moodle 2.5 which has the facility for setting up badges and issuing them to your learners. I’ll probably put a post up about that tomorrow as this is the most sensible way for me to issue them.

I’m not now going to jump to the perspective of a student who has received a badge.

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Mozilla Backpack stores all of your badges from various different issuers. You can share these badges over the web, if you wish.

I was initially confused as I couldn’t see any obvious way to share my badges but then stumbled upon the fact that you don’t actually share badges, you share collections of badges. It is pretty straightforward once you have that bit of information so I won’t take you through the process here.

What you end up with it a webpage showing all of the badges in your collection and you share the collection by pointing people to that URL using the social media share buttons at the top of the page or by simply providing them with the URL of your collection. The URL you end up with is a real nasty looking one which you can’t seem to alter to a more human friendly version – in my case the URL was:

 http://backpack.openbadges.org/share/f7c606d164bb54ada019c82c2db15d5c/

You can edit the title and sub-title of your shared collection page and also add a comment regarding the badge, which is a really nice feature, but that is all you get to personalise your page I’m afraid. There are no social connections allowing you to follow your friends’ awards and there isn’t even any indication on how many views your page has received

I tried the Facebook share button and it created a blank status update pointing folk to my collection page. I didn’t want that. I wanted a panel app thing in my Facebook profile which I get with Instragram, Endomondo and the like. These are dynamically updated as the content on the external site is updated. I also want Backpack to ask permission to use Facebook and then push a badge status update every time I get a new badge so I can automatically brag. Actually, that is a lie. I don’t want that at all but I want my students to have that option. Talking to our students it would appear our older students (14 – 16 year olds) aren’t using Facebook much (would you hang out in the same place as your mother and teachers?) and this is reflected globally. They probably, like me, would not want badges pushed to their feed anyway but I can see younger students being happy to automatically publicly display the receipt of a badge over Facebook or Twitter. Thinking about it a Snapchat push to the owner when a new badge is awarded would be very cool indeed. It is technology a lot of the older students are using (in the extremely naive opinion that their images are not being stored on a server somewhere) and it would be a discreet way for them to receive praise – which is why I wanted badg.us to push out an email at the very least!

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There are plug-ins outlined on this Open Badges page which allows some sites to display Open Badges, from your backpack for example if your students have their own WordPress blog installation they can have a panel at the side, but I suspect that is an unlikely scenario for most of us.

It looks like Mahara may displays badges from Mozilla Backpack the way I want. It looks a bit fiddly at the moment but a note at the top of this page suggests improvements are on the way. Mahara also integrates with Moodle (version 2.5 and above supports Open Badges). I’m pretty certain now I’ll be using Moodle as our issuing platform and I’ve always wanted an excuse to link these in Moodle and Mahara together in anger so it looks like I may be doing some e-portfolio work in the future too.

BTW the student badge image comes from dullhunk over at flickr

Open Badges

These have been on my radar for a while and I have successfully ignored them until now.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always thought they were a good idea but I usually ignore good ideas for a little while to see if they are going to stick around Anybody remember schools encouraging students to do all of their learning in Second Life? Pointless. More time was spent by the children navigating than doing anything constructive.

Anyway, I digest.openbadgecrop

Mozilla Open Badges are like digital merits / awards which are given to students when they achieve something you deem worthy of recognition. Students can then display all of their badges on the web for others to see. The interested thing is that there is data hidden invisibly inside of the image. This data stores information about, amongst other things, who issued the badge, what for and to whom it was issued to. This is good. This means you can’t just download somebody else’s badge and claim it. It also means there are technical requirements to creating a badge.

I couldn’t really find any good instructions out there or anybody who was already using them so in order to learn more about Open Badges I set myself the task of issuing one to somebody.

1. Creating the criteria.

This is probably the toughest bit and I will come back to this in more detail in a future post but it isn’t technical so, for testing purposes, I created a one-off pretend reward for simply following my Computing department on either Facebook or Twitter.

2. Creating the badge

Again, I’m just testing so I took an existing glitched image I created to represent Woodham Digital and made it 256 pixels x 256 pixels. Our IT technician at work is a pretty nifty graphic designer so he may have some more graphical work to do in the near future 😉

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3. Setting up the badge.

I found myself at badg.us via Doug Belshaw’s excellent blog post on the subject. This allowed me to log in using Persona and set up the badge. Pretty simple stuff.

4. Issuing the badge

There are a few ways to issue the badge on badg.us. I thought the easiest would be to use the e-mail feature but this didn’t work the way I thought it would. It doesn’t e-mail learners and tell them they have been awarded a badge (if it is supposed to it is broken). It automatically assigns the badge to that e-mail address so next time they log in, even if they are a new user, the badge is waiting for them. Nice but it really should nudge the learner with an email or something encouraging them to log in and see their new reward as this leaves you to tell them manually somehow that they have a new badge from you.

badg.us also allows you to produce a unique claim code which you can pass on in the form of a code, URL or QR code.

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Again, very good stuff but it still requires you manually get that information to the learner as far as I can tell.

Backback

Learners can push their badges to the Mozzilla Backpack. This is ultimately where their badges should live and not on badg.us. It receives badges from different issuers and keeps them all safe in one place. Again, Persona is used to authenticate.

Persona

To log in to badg.us and Mozilla Backpack you need a Persona account. This is a system which allows you to create one account and use it to log in to multiple websites. It works with Google accounts (and Yahoo! and others) so if you have Google Apps for Education set up at your place this should be a pretty straight forward path. We haven’t but it is free and probably worth doing even if it is just to access this and MIT App Inventor.

Problems

I suspect I am not going to use badg.us if / when I roll this out in my department. Very frequently I would click on an action and just be presented with a blank white page and no indication that the action had been conducted. My wife had a similar experience trying to claim the test badge. Also, I don’t want my real badges mixed up with lots of random badges from other people. I suspect I will upgrade our Moodle installation to the latest version as this allows the issuing of badges. There are other systems too which I will explore in a future post.

BTW the Open Badges image I used is from mozillaeu at flickr.