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The Computer Science Student Network Badge System

Computer Science (CS) will play a key role in nearly all future innovation, including advancements across all science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.  CMU is currently developing a CS-STEM learning network called the Computer Science Student Network (CS2N): a cloud-based distributed learning system architecture where students, teachers, and hobbyists can earn badges and certifications as they play with, compete in, and learn about CS.

The primary goals of this proposal are to detail how badges exist in CS2N, how they are related and maintained, and explain how CS2N could play a trailblazing role in the process of adapting a self-contained badging system into a productive part of the OBI ecosystem.

Badge Types

In order to motivate a larger number of students to pursue CS-related activities and to document the value of their achievements, CS2N features several different types of badges, differentiated by primary purpose and scope.

Chart showing the main categories of badges and what they are awarded for: Small=motivation; Medium=Progress; Knowledge=Content proficiency; High Performance=Outstanding performance;Teaching=Pedagogy; Industry=Professional certification

Not all badges are created equal, and in a system where badges can be awarded for anything from logging in 5 times to passing an industry certification exam with honors, a certain (loosely suggested) valuation hierarchy helps to keep things in perspective.

NXT-G badge

In the sample badge above:

  • The dimensions and shape of the badge indicate that it is a Knowledge Badge
  • The gold border indicates it was earned with some form of honors, as specified in the Details
  • The 2 stars in the corner of the graphic indicate that this is the second in a topic progression
  • The images on the badge are specific to the curriculum represented – in this case, the NXT-G programming language logo, and the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT robot

These design elements, implemented consistently across all badges in the CS2N family, allow viewers to quickly get a sense for what a badge means, and estimate its relative weight as a qualification.

Pathways and Badge Maps

Badges are also important tools for organizing and understanding learning trajectories within CS2N. As students participate in CS2N activities, they progress down at least one Pathway, earning badges as they go. A CS2N Pathway is a curricular continuum from entry-level skills to industry certification or other formal recognition.

Pathways are illustrated using Badge Maps, like the one shown below:

Pathway showing progression of Large Badges representing learning milestones along the way to a LabVIEW Industry Badge

Each important learning milestone along the way is represented by its Knowledge Badge in the diagram. The student’s latest progress is highlighted, as is the next step.

Badge maps provide clarity on the long-term value of student accomplishments, specify the “reward” outcome of a learning strand, illustrate a feasible progression toward it, and motivate students to continue pursuing it.

Earning Badges: Programming Badge Example

To unpack the processes which govern and moderate badge issuance, consider the following badge (as viewed from the CS2N website):

Expanded detail info on a badge

The badge’s icon, name, date of issuance, and basic description appear at the top. A Details roll-down reveals additional information describing the badge’s exact requirements, links to the Pathways in which it appears, and its expiration date if applicable.


Pathways links

Clicking on a Pathway link in the Badge details shows the Badge Map for one of the Pathways that this Badge appears in. The NXT-G Level 2 Badge shown in the example has two links, indicating that it appears along two separate pathways. The terminal achievement for each pathway is indicated by the link’s name.

Pathway showing progression of Large Badges representing learning milestones along the way to a LabVIEW Industry Badge

Clicking “National Instruments Certified LabVIEW Associate Developer” opens the curriculum map shown above, which leads toward National Instruments (NI)’s Certified LabVIEW Associate Developer badge, a qualification developed in coordination with – and directly equivalent to – NI’s own existing certification program.

Each major milestone along the way to the final LabVIEW certification is represented by a Knowledge Badge in the diagram. The location of the current NXT-G Programming Level 2 badge is highlighted, as is the next step. These features are chosen to reinforce the motivational and guidance functions of Pathways to aid learners.

Earning Badges

Requirements text

CS2N encourages automated detectability and awarding of badges to enable self-paced learning whenever possible. The first Requirement listed for this badge is automated – completing a standard computer-administered online exam.

The second Requirement listed for this badge notes that a human instructor approved credit for completing a specific Challenge. Human instructors remain vital to effective content delivery in many settings, and CS2N has an entire top-level category of Teaching Badges dedicated to the development of their pedagogical capabilities. It is these same Teaching Badges which grant an instructor the ability to certify student accomplishments.

Once an instructor earns a Teaching Badge, he or she is granted limited administrative rights within CS2N to approve a student’s competency toward earning a badge.

The Teaching Badge thus serves a dual purpose to promote the teacher’s desirability as a candidate in a hiring decision: she will be both certified as capable, AND able to sign off on student progress for credit within the CS2N system. The system, meanwhile, benefits from added robustness against “gaming” by requiring human gatekeepers to sign off on key points in the process.

Requirements text, closeup on "Approved by D.Williams on behalf of LEGO Education"

Once a teacher earns her Teaching certification, she is able to approve badges “on behalf of” affiliate organizations which have authorized her to do so. This affiliation with a well-known issuing organization or designated PD provider strengthens the badge’s claim to legitimacy, and provides promotional incentive for the organization in the process.

Training Network

Chart of training system, showing the CS2N badge system overseeing Teacher Certifier organizations, who certify Teacher Trainers in organizations that offer the service, including for-profit, informal education, formal education, and robotics competition providers

In order to reach as many learners as possible, CS2N collaborates with an extensive network of dissemination partners such as LEGO Education, FIRST LEGO League, the Boy Scouts, and Project Lead the Way. These organizations maintain professional development networks at scale that are already tuned to work with their particular content areas.

Teacher-trainers offer Professional Development on behalf of these organizations and issue Teaching Badges. CMU trains the teacher-trainers (e.g. LEGO Education Certified Teacher-Trainers (LECTT)) either directly or through partners’ development networks. Ultimately, every badged certification traces back to CS2N and its partners.

Badge Approval Hierarchy for this example badge: CS2N -> LEGO Education -> Teacher Trainer (LECTT) -> Teacher (D. Williams) -> Student

CS2N and OBI

Prior to the release of the OBI specifications, CS2N was designed to issue, store, and display proprietary badges. This functionality is typical of many current and future badging systems – isolated “islands” of badges.

CMU’s goal is to connect the CS2N “badge island” to the rest of the OBI ecosystem with as little additional investment as possible, establishing a precedent and model for other such communities to follow.

To accomplish this, CS2N will add an outward-facing public Web API that makes CS2N badge information accessible to other OBI systems. This small change should enable CS2N to join the OBI ecosystem as an Issuer, providing badge records to external OBI agents specializing in Backpack and/or Display capabilities.

Additionally, systems that support OAuth authentication and the REST protocol (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) can verify – by requiring that the individual securely log in to CS2N – that the profile being imported does in fact belong to the requestor.

Once this API is implemented, CS2N users over the age of 13 will have the option of making their badge records public and sharing them through the CS2N site and the OBI Web API.  Users under the age of 13 are barred by law from sharing identifiable information over the internet – CS2N does not allow such users to make their information public, and already features numerous privacy safeguards for such users.

Team and Impact of DML Funding

The team dedicated to developing this functionality is highly qualified but currently underfunded to implement the full range of features described above. Following funding cuts at CS2N’s primary sponsor (DARPA), Badge system development was scaled back to include only Small (motivational) and some Medium (interim progress) badges.

Key personnel include (see appendix for extended descriptions):

  • Ross Higashi, CMU Robotics Curriculum Developer, directing badge development
  • Robin Shoop, Director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy
  • Timothy Hunkele, Software Engineer, leading CS2N systems integration
  • Christian Schunn, Faculty University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC), overseeing evaluation
  • Sam Abramovich, Doctoral Candidate,LRDC, researching Badge Motivation

Additional personnel needed to implement the system would include:

  • A front-end web developer to design and implement interfaces (e.g. for teacher-to-student credit issuance and administration)
  • An assistant back-end database developer to implement APIs for OBI compliance
  • A full-time curriculum developer to map curriculum pathways in badgeable ways, and assist in their implementation

By returning this project to its original scope, CS2N will be able to implement a badge system which will be of direct benefit to CS-STEM students and teachers, provide a platform which other highly qualified CS-STEM projects can leverage, and serve as a worked example for future development of sustainable, scalable, value-adding structures for badges.



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