Mlibrarian Badges

Introductory comments

Thank-you for the opportunity to present at OE4BW. I’m very sorry not to be there with you in person in Vipava. My family and I are on holiday in France this week.

I’m also grateful to Sandhya Gunness and Lance Eaton for being my mentors. We were a great match. Thanks to Mitja Jermol and Tanja Urbancic for bringing us together.

The project that I have been working on can be divided into three phases.

  1. The production of a mLiteracy toolkit intended as a basis for interventions in public libraries.
  2. A series of two day professional development workshops for librarians who want to enable better use of mobile devices in their library community.
  3. A set of mLibrarian badges to acknowledge and reward the community of librarians who implemented projects that involved the use of mobile devices.

Today I’m going to be presenting about the third part of the mLiteracy project – mLibrarian badges.

I’ll tell you a bit more about the process that we went through in producing these badges, the challenges that we faced and lessons that were learned. But before we get into this, a bit of background.

Introduction to the project

MLiteracy is a project that was initiated almost 3 years ago by the Goethe-Institut in response to the new opportunities for reading via mobile devices. Across the developing world, hundreds of thousands of people are reading full-length books on mobile phones. Reading in the mobile era, a UNESCO report, explored how mobile technology was advancing literacy and learning in under-served communities around the world.

Brigitte Doellgast, Goethe-Institut’s Head of Library & Information Services in Sub-Saharan Africa identified the possibility of combining this growing mobile trend with local social publishing projects. We conducted ethnographic research into libraries. We observed how the combination of mobile devices and free WiFi had attracted a new set of patrons to libraries. We also saw how some librarians had recognized this as an opportunity. They recognized a need to promote a positive use of mobile devices among their current and new patrons.

We also looked a reading initiatives that we driven by a mission, rather than profit. These projects (we refer to them as “social publishers) offer access to open access reading materials via the web. Those who are concerned about literacy and reading, but have limited access to print books, can practice reading skills with these materials. African Storybook, Bookdash, Fundza and Nal’iBali are some of the local organisations that distribute open reading resources in a digital format. Stories are licensed under Creative Commons They are often available in the local language or can be translated online. The materials are also contextually appropriate with local characters in recognizable settings.

The mliteracy project is aligned with UNESCO’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) and can contribute towards at least three of the SDG targets, namely innovation, quality education and equitable development.

Target Audience

This focus of this project was public libraries. We asked ourselves “how might we leverage the use of inexpensive mobile devices to facilitate story telling and reading, particularly among children”. The target audiences within libraries were

  • mobile enablers, interested in preparing libraries and their services for a connected world,
  • workshop facilitators, responsible for structuring a professional development workshops and
  • librarians, wanting to be able to better connect with children and their care givers who have access to a mobile devices in their library

The first two parts of the mliteracy project were successful. 40 activities were included in the toolkit and almost 200 librarians attended the workshops. The next challenge was to find a mobile friendly route to recognize the application of learnt skills and acknowledge the work of librarians who took what they learned and implemented it.

Why Open Badges

Recognition is often paper based. Certificates are extremely popular in the local training circuit. Since this was a course about learning new things about mobiles, reading on mobile devices and the use of apps and sites on the internet,  I decided to avoid glossy cardboard and use web-enabled credentials.

I thought that an interesting possibility was open badges. The idea of micro learning in a workplace setting appeals. Open badges allow for micro-credentials, the have an infrastructure that is inter-operable and the open badging approach is widely understood and the backpack can be shared across different technology platforms. Open badges also contained meta data (a concept all librarians understand) baked into the badges, which meant that each credential could be interrogated.

 Developing Open Badges

I applied to join the OE4BW project and Lance Elton (USA) and Sandhya Gunness (Mauritius) were the two mentors selected by OE4BW for our team. We took the project from an Excel spreadsheet to proof of concept that contained  a structured collection of missions and reflections that led to three mLibrarian badges.

To explain the idea to librarians, I looked at Scouts, their badges and used the process of earning a badge as an analogous concept to explain how mlibraian badges would work. I explained that in a badge system, the organization

  • Creates a badge and issues the criteria that accompany the badge,
  • Judges the evidence that has been collected,
  • Endorses the effort and validity of the efforts of the individuals and
  • Issues the badges

The challenges

The challenge facing the whole mLiteracy project was how we would implement the this initiative where WiFi is erratic and and many employees adopt a  “train me” mindset to any technology intervention. To address this challenge, we opted to use What’sApp as the main channel of communication (most librarians had this app installed on their mobile devices and many were able to use it without incurring additional data costs). What’sApp groups were formed, so that even those who had a passive “train-me” approach could see what was being learned. Those who wanted to know more information could request assistance.

Open badges were developed in way that took cognizance of the limitations of free Wi-Fi and the widespread use of Watsapp. Textingstory, a chatstory app that can be used for writing and recording text based communications, was used to author a scenario. These “chat story” conversations were intended to be sent to the mLiteracy What’sApp group members. A copy of the text story conversation was also posted onto YouTube and accompanied by transcripts on Google Sites.

Communicating about mLibrarian badges (as a concept) was not a problem. Finding a way to explain how these badges can be displayed was more difficult. As far as I am aware, there are not many examples of open badges issuing via any messaging service. The Whataspp platform does not have an API that intersects neatly with the open badge infrastructure (OBI). The idea of a badges “backpack” does not translate easily into a mobile environment. The backpack concept might work well in a LMS or on a widescreen, but the concept of the badges “backpack” does not translate neatly into a mobile device.

The badges that you see in this presentation and online are at present, an expression of an idea. Collecting evidence, submitting it and the assessment of the evidence has yet to be attempted. The main reason for not implementing the badges with librarians yet is a lack of any formal endorsement. This endorsement of mlibrarian badges depends on an outside body, and until this endorsement is secured, the value accorded to these badges will be limited.

Lessons Learned

Mlibrarian badges require broader organisational legitimacy. Without the backing of management or the endorsement from a professional body that is recognized in the library community, the amount of effort taken to earn a badge will not match the reward.

MLibrarian Badges are primarily about demonstration and acknowledgment. They are premised on the relationships developed during the mliteracy process. The open badge infrastructure (OBI) offers a structure for the issue, validation and display of badges. The process associated with helping librarians become mlibrarians is far more important than earning a credential. A tangible reward, whether they be paper based or web enabled, is important. But a badge or certificate is not the key to being mliterate.


I learned that the mlibrarian badges need to be located within a community of librarians who are already familiar with using mobiles for reading. Becoming mLiterate is already a challenge. Getting librarians to the point of understanding open badges and the OBI requires even more effort and time. MLibraian badges cannot stand alone. They will need to be re-framed as a part of the community of practice. The badges and the activities around them need to be seen as an opportunity to continue with the the  conversational approach to professional development that was initiated in the face to face workshops.

The Mliteracy toolkit and workshops were well researched, formally conceptualized and refined. The mLibrarian badges are an attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of using digital badges as a reward system. But the mLibrarian badges have not been piloted. Open badges have potential to be used in the project, but are at present still a proof of concept.

Beyond open access

October has been Open Access Week. It’s an event that I have been celebrating for the past five years. This year, my commemoration lies beyond the ivory tower.

Although I’m not an academic or a researcher, as an ed techie who is interested in evidence based practice, I value the many open contributions to scholarship that are shared by “intellectuals”. I am neither a teacher or a lecturer, but as person responsible for educational tools and resources, I am dependent on the generous sharing of ideas, manuals, images etc by peers, often enabled by Creative Commons.

This presentation has been put together post Wits. It is my attempt to articulate how “open” can straddle both research and teaching domains. Open Access is primarily about scholarship.  If we are to enable digital capability and teaching excellence in education, then we need to look beyond “access” and see a bigger OPEN picture. To do this, I suggest that we look at three broad domains.

  • Open content (OER, Open Access),
  • Open process (e.g. usually espoused by a particular open proponent ) and
  • Open infrastructure (distributed education, open universities)

If we are to understand what open enables in an education context, then we need a holistic understanding of the concept. The opposite of “open” is not necessarily closed. Binary thinking won’t help us understand what is meant by this commonly used term. To appreciate the value of a particular open initiative in an education setting, we need a broader way of looking at open.


Corrall, S. & Pinfield, S. (2014) Coherence of “open” initiatives in higher education and research: Framing a policy agenda. In: Breaking Down Walls: Culture-Context-Computing, 04 March 2014 – 07 March 2014, Berlin, Germany.