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How to integrate and automatically issue Open Badges in MOOC platforms

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Though MOOC platforms offer quite good online learning opportunities, thereby gained skills and knowledge is not recognized appropriately. Also, they fail in main-taining the initial learner’s motivation to complete the course. Mozilla’s Open Badges, which are digital artifacts with embedded meta-data, could help to solve these problems. An Open Badge contains, beside its visual component, data to trustworthy verify its receipt. In addition, badges of different granularity cannot just certify successful course completion, but also help to steer the learning process of learners through formative feedback during the course. Therefore, a web application was developed that enabled iMooX to issue Open Badges for formative feedback as well as summative evaluation. A course about Open Educa-tional Resources served as prototype evaluation, which confirmed its aptitude to be also used in other courses.
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279
How to integrate and automatically issue Open
Badges in MOOC platforms
Mario WÜSTER1 & Martin EBNER2
Graz University of Technology,
1Institute for Information Systems and Computer Media, Graz University of
Technology
mario.wuester@student.tugraz.at
2Educational Technology, Graz University of Technology
martin.ebner@tugraz.at
Abstract
Though MOOC platforms offer quite good online learning opportunities, thereby
gained skills and knowledge is not recognized appropriately. Also, they fail in main-
taining the initial learner’s motivation to complete the course.
Mozilla’s Open Badges, which are digital artifacts with embedded meta-data, could
help to solve these problems. An Open Badge contains, beside its visual component,
data to trustworthy verify its receipt. In addition, badges of different granularity cannot
just certify successful course completion, but also help to steer the learning process of
learners through formative feedback during the course.
Therefore, a web application was developed that enabled iMooX to issue Open Badges
for formative feedback as well as summative evaluation. A course about Open Educa-
tional Resources served as prototype evaluation, which confirmed its aptitude to be
also used in other courses.
Keywords
MOOC, Open Badges, iMooX
Experience Track
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1 Introduction
In 2011, Mozilla1 developed an open technical standard, which allows everyone to
issue, earn and display standardized digital badges (Mozilla, 2012). Thereby, digital
artifacts contain embedded meta-data that link back to the issuer, the badge description,
the moment the badge was awarded and also the earner identity. Therefore, everyone
can anytime verify the receipt of those badges by taking the data from the badge and
check their originality on the issuer’s web server. Also digitally signing them ensures
authentication, non-repudiation and integrity.
Open Badges can therefore assist to capture individual learning paths from any envi-
ronment (Elliott, Clayton, & Iwata, 2014), be awarded from multiple sources and for
theoretically limitless individual skills or achievements of any granularity (Finkelstein,
Knight, & Manning, 2013). Learner can manage earned badges centralized and share
chosen ones on places that matter. Thereby, which badges are shared and published is
completely up to the earner. So one can stack together badges that relate to a certain
job description or the earner is especially proud of. Collections of badges can serve as
virtual sumés that capture ones competencies and qualities (Finkelstein, Knight, &
Manning, 2013).
As provision of proper formative as well as summative feedback is essential for the
success of learning processes and their outcomes (Hodges, 2004) it could be beneficial
to use Open Badges as such feedback instrument (Goligoski, 2012). Related studies
like (Laso, Pernías Peco, & Luján-Mora, 2013) and (Cross & Whitelock, 2014) made
confirming experiments which made it highly interesting to investigate how to inte-
grate badging capabilities in MOOCs and in addition, how to automate that issuing
process. The automation aspect is important because MOOCs typically handle a huge
amount of users and thereby manually awarding badges to each course participant is
obviously unfavorable. However, that automation process demands a certain depend-
ency from the underlying learning environment, as user and course data has to be made
available for the badging system to trigger badge awarding properly.
1 Funded by the McArthur Foundation (https://www.macfound.org/)
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Our research question therefore was, if and how it is possible to realize the automation
process by simultaneously maintaining simplicity in managing and earning badges.
2 Research Method
The realization of badging capabilities on a MOOC platform strongly followed the
prototyping approach of (Alavi, 1984) and of (Larson, 1986) which basically contains
four stages: identifying and declaring initial requirements, developing a working proto-
type, usage and evaluation followed by revision.
As MOOC platform the Austrian wide system, called iMooX, has been chosen
(Neuböck, Ebner, & Kopp, 2015) (Ebner, Scerbakov, & Kopp, 2015). Founded in
spring 2014 iMooX holds today about 6000 users and 19 courses (Ebner, Scerbakov, &
Kopp, 2015).
We defined three base requirements. First, to enable iMooX to issue digitally signed
Micro- and Meta-Badges that are conform to the Open Badges specification. Second, if
user fulfill certain predefined criteria, those badges should be awarded automatically.
The third and last requirement was that the iMooX system should mostly be considered
as black box, so the badging should be outsourced and performing as independent as
possible. The developed prototype was then used in and evaluated on the Course for
Open Educational Resources 2015 (COER15) where badges have been awarded for
mastering self-assessment quizzes (as Micro-Badge) and course completion (as Meta-
Badge). Suggested minor design changes by voluntary given feedback was then used to
improve the usability.
3 Prototype Implementation
As the iMooX system itself should have been considered as black box, we implement-
ed a service-oriented web application named badgeit. That name adumbrates the action
to badge with it as the badge to issue. It has been realized as Java web application us-
ing Java Servlets (3.1) as controlling- and Java Servlet Pages (JSP) as presentation
technology. It has been deployed on the iMooX’s Tomcat 7.0 web server. For storing
badge and assertion data, a MySQL 5.1 database has been used. However, as the appli-
Experience Track
Proceedings of the European MOOC Stakeholder Summit 2016
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cation was programmed database-agnostic utilizing Hibernate also various other data-
base systems could have been used.
Signed badges are represented as Java Web Signatures (JWS), secured by a 2048-bit
RSA key. To increase data privacy, the earner identity is always salted and SHA-256
hashed before it is added to the badge assertion. To be file and URL-safe, image data
as well as the JWS header and payload is Base64url encoded.
3.1 iMooX Interaction
Figure 1: Badge awarding process
As earning a badge basically depends on user activities, the badging system has to be
aware of them. In the case of iMooX, especially course data and corresponding user
performances have to be provided. Course data contain the unique course identifier
within iMooX, the corresponding course name and the amount of course specific self-
assessment quizzes. User related data contain the email address of the user as well as
the information, which courses have been attended and which self-assessment quizzes
have been passed. To get that data, badgeit calls two special prepared Groovy scripts,
returning appropriate JSON objects. Conversely, to get earned badges of a certain user,
iMooX calls a specific Servlet appending the system intern user name of the concern-
ing user. The Servlet then checks if new badges have to be awarded and if that is the
case, awards them. Independent thereof, it always returns a list of JSON formatted
badge preview objects of all already earned badges. This procedure is illustrated in
Figure 1.
How to integrate and automatically issue Open Badges in MOOC platforms
Mario Wüster, Martin Ebner
283
3.2 Badges
Within this study, we considered two badge types, only differing in their defined crite-
ria. One has been awarded for mastering a certain amount of quizzes (Quiz-Mastery-
Badge) and the other one for completing a course (Certificate of Participation Badge).
Just the ratio of passed to all quizzes of a course does not necessarily mean to also
complete the course as additional requirements may be demanded. As example, in the
case of the course under evaluation (COER15), users who passed all quizzes then also
had to answer a special iMooX questionnaire to entirely complete the course.
3.3 Badge delivery
Figure 2: Personal badge collection web page for a user on iMooX.
The automatic awarding process is always triggered by the user, which requires to
assign each badge to a specific course. If one badge should be issued for two distinct
courses, then this badge has to be added twice, certainly with different course assign-
ments. Every time a user navigates to his or her personal badge collection web page
(see Figure 2) within the iMooX environment, the badge look-up process (see Figure 1)
is triggered. As response, a list of already earned badges is displayed to the user. If the
user hovers over the presented badge image, the corresponding description is shown as
tooltip (see Figure 2).
If a user clicks on the download button right beneath each badge (see Figure 2), another
Servlet is called that responds with the complete badge, which means the badge image
with all its needed embedded (baked) meta-data. That approach was used as it maxim-
izes the choice the badge earner has concerning backpacks and further sharing.
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4 Evaluation
Badge
Type
Quiz-Mastery
Quiz-Mastery
Quiz-Mastery
Criteria
Quiz 1 & 2
Quiz 1–4
Quiz 1-6
Issued
41
35
33
Table 1: COER15 Badges and their criteria
To evaluate the suitability of the developed prototype, it was used in the Course for
Open Educational Resources (COER15), which took place from May to July 2015. The
course was split into six units where each of them implemented one self-assessment
quiz. Such a quiz contained 6 to 10 multiple-choice questions where zero, one, multiple
or all answers were correct. To pass such a quiz required the user to give at least 75%
correct answers. 432 distinct accounts where enrolled to the course, where 124 (28.7%)
of them have been considered to be active as they attended at least one quiz. After
passing all quizzes, the user had to fill out a certain questionnaire regarding the course
and iMooX in general. Those who also did that got a link to their personalized certifi-
cate of participation. In addition, participants earned badges depending on their per-
formance. Achievable badges, their criteria and the amount of actual awards are sum-
marized in table 1.
5 Discussion
The badging system performed well from a functional point of view. There have been
no problems regarding triggering, awarding and data fetching. Due to its service-
oriented approach, that badging system could also be used for any other learning envi-
ronment, as long as it provides the same data structure. The simple design and the
How to integrate and automatically issue Open Badges in MOOC platforms
Mario Wüster, Martin Ebner
285
amount of features suffice for a smooth usage, also for many courses at once. However,
voluntary feedback given by badge earners revealed some usability issues. First, the
downloaded file was hardcoded set to “badge.png”, but one badge earner wanted to
have that file named similar to the badge name to have instant clarity on his local drive
when downloading multiple badges. Second, linked criteria were represented as simple
JSON strings which was understandably unsightly to read.
6 Conclusion
This paper presented a service-oriented approach to integrate badging capabilities into
the MOOC platform iMooX and pointed out a possible solution for automatically issu-
ing Open Badges based on certain criteria. We used Mozilla Badges due to they are
following an Open approach and are widely accepted. Results revealed the absolute
suitability of the developed web application, which lead to its usage also in other
courses. As there is always something that could be made better, searching for certain
badges and enhanced statistics would increase the back-end experience for those who
manage badges. iMooX could also provide additional information to the user, like
which courses provide which badge and what does a user have to do to earn it. During
the course, the progress for each badge could be displayed, which means to visualize
what is needed to achieve the next badge. Beside others, that information could help to
increase the motivation to make the quizzes, even if that has not been the user’s initial
intention.
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Digital Medien in Arbeits-und Lernumgebungen
  • Künz
Künz, Digital Medien in Arbeits-und Lernumgebungen (pp. 148-155). Lengrich: Pabst.
Exploring the use of micro-credentialing and digital badges in learning environments to encourage motivation to learn and achieve
  • R Elliott
  • J Clayton
  • J Iwata
Elliott, R., Clayton, J., & Iwata, J. (2014). Exploring the use of micro-credentialing and digital badges in learning environments to encourage motivation to learn and achieve. In J. M.-K. In B. Hegarty (Ed.), Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology, (pp. 703-707).