Monthly Archives: January 2013

Webmaker, games, and learning

Chloe Varelidi has been playing around with a small team thinking through how to make games hackable, free and open source. This work makes me happy. Somewhat relatedly, Greg Wilson has just written a terrific blog post about web literacy and why we need to provide pathways and tools that provide for creativity. What ties these two things together and loops in where we’re headed with Webmaker Badges is their open ended, non-deterministic approach to learning. I believe that games and game design should be deeply integrated with Webmaker.org. Why? For a number of reasons I’ll discuss here but perhaps most importantly it’s because games are typically fun. True, they’re not always fun but when they are, they can act like mental catnip.

Games present a number of opportunities for learning and tie in really beautifully with a variety of potential learning objectives, as well as outcomes.

There are a few books that point to games being effective teaching and learning tools—surprisingly tools that can have quite a positive impact upon personal perception and well-being (see Reality is Broken). And there are a number of research studies that are being focused on games. But the one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that what makes games great is the way that they provide immediate feedback, thereby diminishing the negative charge that usually rides shotgun with failure. We’re taught to avoid failure and still, failure is a quotidian occurrence. We might more commonly refer to failure as making a mistake. Yet, learning to develop resilience in response to failure (an ability that tends to make people feel happier and helps them thrive) can be quite helpful. Games can help us to do just that.

It may seem obvious that games and learning go hand in hand but here are a few reasons why I see them as intertwined. Games generally do not hit you over the head with what they’re teaching you. Nor do they often tell you why they’re teaching you something. Heck, they don’t even tell you that they’re teaching you anything at all. They don’t always provide instructions; this means that a player must discern how to play them. As Mario Herger said at the CalTech Entrepreneurs Forum: Venturing in Serious Games for Simulation, Education, and the Enterprise, “They don’t come with a 200 page manual telling you how to use them.” Players must use their own judgment about what’s important and what comes next. This also means that a player typically makes a lot of mistakes about those things—and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, it’s expected that the player will make mistakes. Mistakes are built in to the process. Intentionally. How many other activities have the user’s mistakes planned for and built into the process?

Perhaps what games teach more than anything is the value of persistence. If failure is anticipated, so is persistence. Extra lives anyone? I’d also argue that games teach the value of a community as well. What’s the use of playing a game if you can’t share it with someone else? Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement because there are games meant to be played entirely by yourself. Solitaire is one of them. But even within solitaire you play until you absolutely can’t play anymore. And then you start again. Resilience.

Do we learn in games? Most certainly indirectly and directly as well. As mentioned earlier, we can come to understand persistence, social and moral values, community, the concept of multiple possibilities, how to assess options, the importance of planning, soft skills, hard skills—this list could go on and on and we could examine each property endlessly. But for now, let’s just consider the ways in which games provide multiple pathways to achievements despite numerous and difficult obstacles: we like a challenge.

So, what does all of this mean for Webmaker.org? A lot. There’s a huge opportunity for us to leap into the gaming boat; to set up a few challenges of our own. To ask people to not only play games, but to code games, to design and test them. Because developing a game for someone else puts you inside the mind of that someone else and encourages you to anticipate that person’s next move. And the move beyond that. And this is the nexus of playing and learning. How can you make something fun and compelling and difficult enough to excite people but easy enough for folks to win every once in a while. This is precisely what we’re aiming to do with Webmaker.

How might Webmaker Badges fit into all of this great potential? I’m guessing that some of this may appear obvious to you and I’d love to engage on that point. My next post will address how we might best integrate these two protean elements but in the interim, if you have ideas, send them my way.

Reference
McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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Much more soon.

Friday badges wrap up

A quick post to keep folks up to date on what’s been going on with Webmaker Badges + a few other things—starting with a quick catch-up post from the previous week. (And yes, I know it’s not Friday. :) )

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Things that happened with Webmaker badges: week of 1/6

Our post-holiday work has us starting to focus on where we’re headed with the future of badges. And we’re also considering where we’re headed with web literacies as a standard. This may seem simple and rather obvious, but we have been continually learning about what we thought would make sense and what other people think make sense. We’re iterating in the classic Mozilla sense but that iteration does not come without significant work plus significant reflection on that work. The act of reflection can be difficult to implement particularly when you’re moving so quickly in so many different areas, but it’s essential. We recommend that everyone who’s interested in successful badge system design find the time to make this happen: your work will benefit from it.

For a while now I’ve been chatting with folks about Open Badges, listening to them mentally tackle the idea of a difficult concept—one that challenges a lot of assumptions and established social concepts. While we’ve made a good deal of headway with sharing the idea of open badges and have been basking in the glow of successes, there are still a number of folks who are befuddled about badges. In addition, other people are stymied about why we would want to challenge the existing systems. So that brings us to the question of where are badges headed?

Webmaker badges are headed toward integration with the larger maker world. That and interconnectivity with the larger badging world. I find myself repeating this quite a bit: Webmaker badges are part of a larger world and we aim to be a node within it. This is linked directly to our approach with Open Badges; in particular with the standards alignment tag option that we’re proposing be added to the badge metadata (more on this in the coming weeks).

So web literacies: what about those? We’ve been keeping a holding pattern on them for a bit. As we move forward with standards and other efforts, we will review these in closer detail. No doubt, as more folks get involved with this thinking, we’ll end up revising some of our content. We work in the open but we don’t always have a large enough pulpit for us to get enough feedback—or we have to wait until we get enough cumulative feedback for it to be resonant for our work. We’re beginning to get enough traction to know what our next steps might be.

Right now, it’s easy for us to forget how big our mental ask is of the public; we’re attempting to shift some established and entrenched paradigms here. We’re so far in and such strong believers that we don’t see how far we have to go. Nothing seems impossible. (Yay, New Year exuberance!)

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Things that happened with Webmaker badges: week of 1/13

First a quick note of thanks to Doris Yee of GOOD Magazine and Tara Brown of LA Makerspace for hosting a badge design event on Sunday, January 13th. A number of kids and adults showed up with laptops and ideas and many new badges were designed. I was pleased to be in attendance to talk about Open Badges at such a fun event.

This week also saw the launch of some of the work we’ve been doing with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. Working in conjunction with many other organizations on the Born Brave Bus Tour, we’ve shepherded the development of their nascent badge system and helped to create some Webmaker activities where you can earn Webmaker Badges.

Additionally, earlier in the month, we began working on a vast, city-wide badge system design (we’ll let you know which one soon), helping to focus and coordinate approaches and efforts. This is a huge undertaking and we’re pretty thrilled to be working on it. This endeavor will provide us with the opportunity to test some of our theories about badges, their uses, and audiences. Thrilling!

We’ve also been coordinating and attending public calls run by our amazing community members, one of which focused on Open Badges in learning and another that addressed recent COPPA changes and related considerations.

We’re also closing in on the final Digital Media and Learning Competition face to face meeting in Irvine next week. HASTAC has been our indefatigable partner during all of the DML work and we’re happy to be working with them to guarantee that our next get-together is both rewarding and fun. During the upcoming F2F, we’ve invited a number of content experts to review the teams’ approaches to design, marketing & PR, learning content and tech. Should be great!

And of course, we’re continuing to forge new pathways with our web literacies thinking as well as begin to flesh out the next iteration of Webmaker Badges. I will write more about this as we progress.

I welcome your thoughts on any of what’s written here but most certainly on the last two items, so please share where you’d like to see us head next. It’s an exciting time to be thinking about and working on badges.

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More soon.

Open Badges & Webmaker Badges in 2013: an ongoing conversation

2013: the conversation continues
Happy New Year, triskaidekaphiles! I’m starting off the year with a series of blog posts about where 2012 took us and where we will be headed in 2013. This year will see the implementation of a variety of Open Badges systems, along with Displayers, Backpack Providers, as well as some Open Badges platforms—many of which will be emanating from the 2012 DML Competition, Badges for Lifelong Learning, and many of which were inspired by that competition. We are excited about all of them. It’s always fun to see many different theories tested by actual application. Rubber, road, and all that.

In this new annum we will begin to see a dramatic increase in the number of badges being issued, although it’s fair to say that we’re doing pretty well so far. Last count (Jan 2013) saw a total of 40,000+ Open Badges already issued. We like that number a lot! But still, we’re shooting for much higher. As we have been saying for a while now, learning happens everywhere—it’s happening somewhere right now and a number like 40K badges doesn’t begin to capture all of that learning.

Among other great things like interoperability and transportability, the Open Badges initiative can help to ensure that the massive amounts of unacknowledged learning that happen all the time have a shot at finally being acknowledged. That’s where we’re headed with Webmaker Badges: capturing the learning that envelopes webmaking. We propose to expand our Webmaker efforts over the next year by expanding our offerings, developing new partnerships, and developing a more refined conceptual framework for the Webmaker Badges universe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take minute to recap how we arrived at this spot today. And that involves examining the fascinating intersection of Webmaker and Open Badges.

Webmaker and Open Badges: a brief history
2012 saw us begin to develop our Webmaker effort. Our aim: shifting people from being mere consumers of the web—or as Mitchell Baker more eloquently described it, pushing people beyond “elegant consumption” to creative making and imaginative exploration. Our Summer Code Party initiated the experience; it began with a fun Weekend of Code and continued with a variety of events throughout the summer months. MozFest revealed to us some of the fruits of this labor.

To kick off Webmaker, we started out by creating a series of exercises that were simple but compelling. We sought to test levels of public interest as well as our ability to carry this effort off. Turns out Webmaker was a hit: the public at large was thrilled to learn code in simple, free, and open ways. They were also interested in teaching each other code. Our endeavors were richly rewarded with interest and participation beyond our expectations. Webmaker proved to be deeply informative and continues to prove to be so: we learned about different coding efforts, developed new partnerships, discovered people interested in creating and coding their own projects. We had hit upon a direction worth pursuing.

And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that before Webmaker we had been forging the Open Badges ecosystem: standardizing and universalizing digital badges so that the content contained within them (yes, within the badge) was interoperable and useful across a variety of uses. I have to opine a bit about the delights of Open Badges. Open Badges allow individuals, groups, organizations, etc. to develop and create digital badges that capture learning wherever and however it occurs. As I noted above, the beauty of an Open Badge is its portability and its flexibility. Indeed, Open Badges represent a movement toward democratization, a shift in the educational landscape, an opening of the closed doors of academia, an opportunity to reimagine and recreate assessment, and the possibility to reconsider formal accreditation. (I’m a believer.)

Keeping our own counsel to let a thousand flowers bloom
Before we even introduced Open Badges to the world, Mozilla shied away from creating our own set of badges. While this may have seemed strange, this was a canny act in that it let others create taxonomies and develop systems that were unusual, new and dynamic. Our act—or really, non-act—encouraged folks to build from scratch, to seize the opportunities inherent in a brand new system and begin to acknowledge things that had not been possible to acknowledge previously. The newness of the Open Badges system permitted bottom-up forms of recognition, in addition to top-down forms. Heck, it even nicely accommodated inside out forms of recognition. Its protean dynamism allowed deeply different representations of learning that were not constrained by federal or state mandates. Indeed, Open Badges help organizations to create their own pure standards that are far and above current closed, formal standards. In other words, Open Badges presented a possible sea change in representations of learning.

Once the sea change was well underway—thousands of badges were being issued and many different badge systems were being developed—we felt comfortable that if we developed a system, it would slot in easily without overwhelming the nascent ecosystem. It wouldn’t become the assumed de facto badge system. We could enter the ecosystem without fear of becoming the apex organism that squelched alternative types of badge system design creativity. And so we launched a series of mini-badges based on our web literacies (much more on this in a later post) in late 2012 at MozFest.

Webmaker-Badges

There’s obviously  much more to say about our initial offering of badges and I’ll do so in following posts but let me leave it at this: we’re already underway developing Mozilla’s constellation of Webmaker Badges—large and small—and we hope that you will help us to build a complete webmaker galaxy. There’s room enough for all of us. Opportunities abound. Pathways have yet to be forged. It’s an exciting time to be a webmaker and I hope you join us on this mission.

Thanks. More soon.
carla at mozillafoundation . org