What do stick figures, surveys, and lots of Post-It notes have in common?
Badges, of course! It’s all part of an increasingly multifaceted and exciting project the Open.Michigan team has embarked on over the past ten months. While we’ve been dedicating time and energy to our badging project since spring 2011, it all started back in fall 2010 when we began an evaluation of the impact of the Open.Michigan initiative.
Asking ourselves, “Are we making an impact?”
Launched in the Medical School in 2008, Open.Michigan is engaged in research, publishing, services and education that supports open teaching and learning practices at the University of Michigan (U-M). After three years of operation, we started to look inward, devoting time to analyzing our own processes and function in service of the university. We wanted to find out if our initiative has had a discernible impact on the behaviors and actions of the scholarly community we are tasked to support.
After gathering information from surveys and internal analyses, we started discovering collaborators’ motivations for working with us. We also started to uncover a gap in our services: we need to figure out how to make it easier to work with Open.Michigan and find multiple avenues to support openness on our campus. Open.Michigan wasn’t adequately recognizing our community of collaborators, supporters and participants in ways that suit their personal habits. How can we start to do these things?
Helping our community do what it needs to do
Open.Michigan currently supports our community through a variety of events, workshops and training sessions that train faculty, students and staff at U-M how to apply tools (open licenses) and practices (publishing content openly on the web) to their own academic contexts. Our community is mostly, face-to-face, with folks coming to trainings and interacting with the Open.Michigan team but not with each other. Over the past year we’ve diversified the range of projects we support, attempting to connect with community members around projects they are already working on.
After deconstructing some of our processes, looking at trends in education and thinking about our community’s specific needs we decided to explore and implement a badge system. We see badges as symbols of identity, signifying a level of achievement or character, participation in an event or activity, or belonging to a group.
Getting recognition from your peers
Once we hit on this concept, we started thinking about what building a system like this would look like. We also realized we needed to circle back to those folks who have already contributed to Open.Michigan or supported us in some way. We interviewed seven stakeholders in summer 2011 and uncovered some interesting features about our community. Our participants want to be recognized by their own domain community - they don't care as much about being a part of a new "open" community. This supports our notion for a distributed system for open-centered activities. It’s more valuable for our members to apply concepts and practices of openness in their own context than to participate in a separate community that lacks connection to their own domains of expertise or interest.
Understanding why people share
Our community members are not so much interested in sharing for sharing’s sake (altruism) but are motivated by a different set of verbs. They share to: gain visibility, build reputation, get promotion, make an impact, create relationships, contribute. These all scream “recognition.”
Building community through recognition
At Open.Michigan, our goal is to build a culture of sharing at the University of Michigan. To that end, badges provide a mechanism for us to identify community members and for them to recognize each other not only as a part of the open community, but as open experts and advocates in their own local domains. Currently, we’re interested in badges that help learners set individual goals, assess where they are in learning, where they want to be, and how to make sense of their educational and personal identity. We’re focusing on identity and event-based badges as a start.
Rewarding open practices
For our first round of badges, we’re focusing on acknowledging participation in events, activities and workshops the initiative has held over the years. We’re also building badges that our community members can give to each other as a way to support stronger bonds between community members through behaviors that support openness and sharing on our campus. We’ll be providing a showcase for those who have earned our badges so that our community becomes more transparent and less dependent on the Open.Michigan team to bring them together to collaborate. As we evaluate our success and the utility of our badges in the wild, we’ll be determining what next steps to take to support this community and teaching and learning needs at our university.
Time for reflection
Developing badges has challenged us to act on what we’ve discovered from our evaluations over the past year and a half. We’ve been able to take a step back from our work, processes and services and question their utility and application at the University of Michigan. While we’ve developed processes and resources that work in specific contexts (re-publishing content as open educational resources, for example), thinking about badges as a way to uncover open behaviors in personal academic contexts helps us stay connected and relevant to our community.