Gamifying a Moodle course. What difference does it make? Week 11


Moodle 2.5 was released a few weeks ago, allowing for Open Badges integration. Quite a few readers have asked me whether there remains a point of using labels for badges, now that Open Badges can easily be integrated with their Moodle courses. In this post, I try and outline why I have been gamifying my courses with labels, and why using labels for badges still makes sense for some users. This is week 11 of my ‘gamified Moodle course vs. non-gamified experiment‘.

What is Open Badges

Mozilla Open Badges

There have been a few great blog posts (1,2) written about Open Badges and Moodle. As explained in this Wikipedia entry, [quote]Open Badges is a program by Mozilla that issues digital badges to recognize skills and achievements. The badge structure allows one to display real-world achievements and skills which may help with future career and education opportunities.[/quote]

Why not simply use Open Badges

Moodle label badges and open badges

I am not stubborn, I think Open Badges is a project full of potential! Timing was the real issue. I started ‘gamifying’ my courses long before Moodle 2.5 was released, about 18 months ago in a bid to increase engagement in my courses. My ‘hack’ was never intended to compete with Open Badges, I only thought it out to bridge a gap. Now that I have used labels for badges for a while, I believe I am going to use both systems in parallel, as they serve a different purpose in my everyday teaching.

1. Works with any version of Moodle 2

Moodle 2 versions

A lot of institutions have upgrade policies that dictate when software can be updated to the latest version. Some institutions even prohibit software to be updated during an academic cycle. I also know quite a few Moodle administrators who refuse to update to the latest major version until all of the major bugs, found post-release, are ironed out. Last but not least, some of us rely on third-party plugins that don’t always get updated promptly for compatibility. All, or some of these reasons will prevent a significant number of Moodle administrators to update to Moodle 2.5 or above for a while yet. My ‘hack’ works with any version of Moodle 2, but doesn’t work on Moodle 1.9.

2. No reliance on the Moodle administrator

enable badges

In Moodle 2.5, the Open Badges integration can be disabled altogether by the system administrator. This may happen in institutions that want to keep complete control over the the ‘certifications’ they award. There is also a useful set of new permissions to granularly allow/prevent users to create, view and manage badges, which means not all teachers may be able to create and issue badges. With my ‘hack’, unless the administrator has disabled labels (more than unusual), nothing should stop teachers from creating their own badges. 

3. More suited to link to existing reward system

Open badges backpack

Once awarded, Open Badges may go into a ‘backpack‘, which makes the whole system appear rather ‘official’. I view Open Badges as a system to show that specific skills have been acquired/mastered by a student. I can see myself using only a few Open Badges per course, for fear to devalue the system. Some of my current ‘badges’ reward some pretty low level achievements, and I do not think they would have their place in student’s Open Badges backpack. I have been able to tie in my ‘badges’ system to our existing whole school reward system, whereas I don’t think Open Badges would work with it. I wouldn’t award enough badges, or at least not regularly enough and it wouldn’t help with my goal of increasing student engagement.

4. Ability to hide badges, per badge

Hidden badges

I may be wrong here but I believe it is only possible to show/hide all available badges with the Open Badges Moodle integration (through this capability). With my system, badges can be hidden/shown until they are unlocked on a per-badge basis, using the ‘Restrict access‘ option. 

5. Checking badges is a passive process

With the Open Badges Moodle integration, a user needs to visit a ‘badges’ page to view their badges, or access their profile page where all badges are shown. There is a block that allows users to see their latest badges, but not all badges are shown at once. With my system, there is no need for a user to visit their user profile to view all of the badges they have been awarded.

6. Open Badges are linked to a user profile

Open Badges Moodle profile

By default, with the Open Badges Moodle integration users can see each others’ badges through profile pages. Whilst this can be changed by editing the permissions, it can be an issue in some school settings. In my system, badges are not tied to a user profile.

7. No design limitations for badges

When a teacher creates an Open Badge in Moodle, there are design restrictions such as the type of image allowed (only .jpg and .png are allowed), and once uploaded badges are cropped and resized if necessary.

With the ‘labels for badges’ system, there are no restrictions as to what badges are, as long as it can be displayed in a label (i.e. any valid HTML). For example, any type of image is accepted .svg for retina ready displays, .gif (animated, for little ones), etc. Badges can be text, videos, etc.

8. Both systems can co-exist

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, both systems can co-exist and even complement each other. I am planning on using Open Badges for more official, assessment linked badges, or skill-based evidence and my system for less official and more frequent rewards. 

Features unique to Open Badges

Here some of the best features of the Open Badges Moodle integration, that are simply not possible to replicate with the ‘labels as badges’ system (bar going into the database).

Manually award badges to users

With the Open Badges integration, teachers (or others with the capability) can award badges manually. My system cannot do that, unless a teacher maitained checklist is created.

See badge recipients

With the Open Badges Moodle integration, a teacher can easily view a list of users who have been awarded a specific badge, along with a timestamp.

Message user when badge is awarded

A notification is sent to users when they have been awarded a badge. This could be useful in other areas than just badges, but that is another debate.

Any/All activity(ies) for completion criteria

The completion criteria to a badge is better than the overall completion criteria for Moodle activities. Badge creators can decide whether a badge is earned when any or all conditions are met in a list of conditions. The normal completion criteria across Moodle is all or nothing.

I can see both systems happily co-exist in my day-to-day teaching. What are your feelings about Open Badges? 


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