The Technology of a Library Badges Program

posted in: Badges, Blog | 0

The idea of digital badges is that you offload lower level library instruction (what’s a database?) onto a website, then motivate and reward students for doing some online learning by awarding them colorful badges that they can show off on LinkedIn and other places. How awesome is that!? We save in-person instructional time, and students can learn at their own pace. The technology to make it happen, however, is kind of a pain.

I’m prematurely celebrating finishing out my first year as an Instructional Design Librarian (started here August 1st, 2014, but summer doesn’t really count, right?), and I’m at a point where I’m Getting Things Done instructional project-wise. I blogged previously about our UL expressing interest in gameifying our instruction – badges are one of those projects.

I have spent a lot of time exploring how to Make Badges Happen. A lot. I tried to spy on other academic libraries doing badging – what platforms were they using? Who were they targeting? How is their badges curriculum structured? Turns out that many badge programs are closed systems. I ended up writing a primer (PDF) with what I did discover on Badges in Academic Libraries and sending it out to all the instruction librarians (forgive the weird formatting, I need to make some custom Word styles).

I recruited a few people to work with me on this project, but, I felt like we first needed a platform. Our campus uses Moodle as its LMS, and I can create courses in it. BUT you have to manually add students, or make students find the badges course themselves and enroll in it. What a pain. Plus, the UL stated that he wanted something more public, where students could see how other students were doing.

So – what about Purdue Passport? I know that University of Arizona used Passport for a badges pilot. I requested and received an account. But Passport has been in Beta for years, it’s a closed system, it’s built for Purdue resources, and I didn’t think it would be the best choice for our library.

I read up on Mozilla Open Badges, Credly, and BadgeOS. With the BadgeOS plugin, you can turn a WordPress site into a site that awards badges. WHAT. I happen to LOVE WordPress. In fact, you’re on a WordPress site right now. WordPress is great! Once the basic WordPress software is installed, you don’t have to mess with programming or backend server stuff. You can pick and choose from thousands of free themes to change your site’s look and functionality, and there’s tons of plugins besides to make your site do nifty things.

Meanwhile, at my library, I struggled to find a good solution to store digital learning objects that I developed, and to make them accessible. I developed a couple of videos and got access to post them to the official library YouTube, and I received a lovely copy of Articulate Storyline 2 for my very own. Storyline produces HTML5 or Flash videos that need to be hosted somewhere to work properly. I learned that several librarians have their own Screencast or Vimeo accounts for publishing educational videos, and there’s even a duplicate unofficial library YouTube that another librarian posts work to. I wanted a place to put all of these things – one centralized place were we could share our resources and point our students.

When I arrived at Cal State Fullerton, there was talk by of creating an eLearning server, just for the library, but serious and time-sensitive library projects needed to be attended to first, pushing an eLearning server to summer at best. (And I still don’t have a clue what the eLearning server is supposed to be!)

Eventually I was granted storage space on a decrepit old server from 2006 which, I was warned repeatedly, would crash any minute. However, objects on the server could be accessed via a URL, so that was nice. BUT I would have had to manually code a web page so that the server could have a public interface. Could I install WordPress on it? Permission-wise, yes, but technologically, no.

We are super lucky to have a wonderful (and overworked) programmer that worked with me to get a WordPress site going. She requested from IT and then formatted virtual server space for “interim” library elearning stuff. She installed WordPress for me.

I took it from there! I installed a theme, and plugins, and am putting a few things that I’ve developed onto it so that librarians can see what we have so far (not very much!). I’m going to put on a submission form so that librarians can request that I put their objects on there, unless they would like a login so that they could do it themselves, which would be fine.

Furthermore, I installed BadgeOS and explored options for issuing badges. Not only could this be our (super simple hacked) eLearning server/learning object repository, it could function as an online classroom, with badges instead of grades.

I’m still figuring out the best way to issue badges, though! The BadgeOS plugin by itself has really limited functionality, and can only award badges based on actions students can take on a blog: logging in, commenting, etc. There are several pay plugins that you can use to turn your WordPress site into an LMS – but are they worth it? There is a LOT of research to do!

Next up: deciding on categories and necessary content for our site, and continuing to research badge-awarding options. For now, creating a centralized location for library learning objects is my priority.


Photo Credit: The Bakken Museum, Girl-Scouts-3-25-2006-17, Flickr