The Mozilla Foundation has been curating ecosystem of organizations interested in issuing badges as accreditation in both traditional and alternative learning situations.

I did a review of the system to locate some usability problems and worked with an interaction designer to come up with some potential solutions. I also performed a field study where I observed how users interacted with the Open Badge Backpack system after they had received badges. During the study I recruited users who had received badges and asked them to sign-in to the Open Badge Backpack and complete several tasks related to their system (including sharing the badge on a social network, verifying who gave them the badge, and group one or more badges together). I screen captured mouse movements as users went about completing their tasks.

The testing set up went like this:

Exhibitors at the faire were asked to make their own badges and upload them to the site. An organizer printed all badges on sticker paper with a QR claim code. Each exhibit that made badges (not all of them did) then gave out their sticker badges for achievements at their booth. Examples of some include “EcoGeek” and “TriviaWizard.” Recipients could use the claim codes on the badge stickers to claim their digital badges on the site, share them on social media sites, and move them to the Open Badge Backpack.

Our booth was set up to both help people with the “claim your badge” part of the process and to chat with them about their badge experience. We also asked them to perform a task or two on and on the Open Badge Backpack to really see what worked (or didn’t work) for them in terms of the badge interactions. Plus, asking people to do something online really helped to drive home the concept of badges in their digital, shareable form. We asked people to do the following:

  1. SignIn to and claim a badge;
  2. Move badge to the Backpack;
  3. Create a group of badges;
  4. Find the badge criteria page from the Backpack;
  5. Share the badge on a social network.

And as follow-up questions we asked what people thought of badges, whether they’d share their badges on a social media network (which one? why?), and what they thought of the Open Badge Backpack.

What we found was that the reception and understanding of badges was mixed. Some people really understood them and thought that they’d be a great idea to use in other contexts, such as Middle School education. Others didn’t quite see the point of digital badges when they already had their sticker form in front of them. People were quick to say that they’d share their badges on Facebook, though some also said that LinkedIn would be a better forum for badges that were “more serious” than the ones at the faire. A few got really excited about the idea of collecting badges from other Maker Faires and other conventions.

No one could successfully navigate to the Backpack from the site without help. We had to open the Backpack URL in a different tab to get people there. Definitely something that will need some attention on going forward, but I suspect that incorporating some of the suggested UX improvements made by Erik Kraft will help.

Overall, the event was successful. People made badges, people earned badges, and a few even shared them on Facebook. And we learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.