Embracing Technology Enhanced Learning and the Future of Technology in HE

Earlier this week I gave at keynote a the Embracing Technology Enhanced Learning Forum  in London. The event was organised by Inside Government who brought together a wider range of speakers from across the sector to talk about a range of ways technology is not only being embraced by HE, but is well and truly embedded into practice.

I was there in my capacity as Chair of ALT and it was lovely to share “the stage” with fellow Trustee Peter Bryant and also to hear from our current Learning Technologist of the Year, Chrissi Nerantzi. Maren Deepwell our CEO was also in attendance and she has written a very useful overview of the day with her reflections.

I was asked to speak about the future of technology in HE, with particularly in light of the TEF.  Events in the recent UK Government cabinet reshuffle gave me a really nice in, around the dangers of predictions and the transient nature of seemingly important metrics.  The new Minister for Education may not be as concerned with the TEF as his predecessor, and a review of HE might be of more importance in his future to do list.

So in my talk, I took a leaf out of Audrey Watter’s book, and asked the audience to think about the the hype and reality of predictions particularly around technology and the stories we tell and get told to us about educational technology.   I also took the opportunity to highlight the results of the ALT annual member survey, which is a really useful source of data about the concerns of the learning technology community. All the date from the surveys are also openly available.

In terms of our future now, and immediate future present, VLEs, electronic assessment and feedback, and collaborative tools are key priorities and have been for the last three years.  Now, whilst many may shake their heads in despair, wondering why the prediction of “the VLE is dead” hasn’t come to pass. I have to take more pragmatic and practical stance. VLEs have been embraced by the sector, they provide a key platform to engage and manage interactions, groups and assessment and feedback.   What I think we need to be celebrating is the importance of collaborative tools. They are want allow great flexibility for both staff and students within and outwith the University and the VLE.  We need to creating and sharing more stories around that.

The other key thing I wanted to highlight in terms of embracing technology and being able to increase staff and students digital confidence and capabilities is the need for staff development. Again and again in the ALT survey the most important enabler for technology adoption and use is people. Staff development is key,  and initiatives such as CMALT  are a fantastic way to reflect and share use of technology.

So the only prediction I was, and still am, willing to make as part of my presentation is that the future of technology in HE is about people. What we do with it, how we share how we use it and how we create and share our narratives. We shouldn’t have to sit and listen to vendors telling us what our future is;  why myths such as learning styles will make any kind of technology more useful and engaging for students and ergo their profit margins.  We need to embrace the future on our terms, with our priorities, our data and our knowledge and expertise.



From the bell curve to the cyborg, designing anonymous learning spaces: reflections on #altc part 2

Broken Glass

Once again all the #altc keynotes knocked it “out of the park”. Three very different perspectives, approaches and presentations yet all three complemented each other beautifully. From Bon Stewart’s opening around the need to challenge the new norm(al) of ed tech and re-balance the bell curve tradition with more of Haraway’s Cyborg manifesto, to Sian Bayne’s thought provoking take on the need for anonymous spaces to fight back against data capitalism, to Peter Goodyear’s closing talk around the need to re focus the way we think about and enact the design of learning spaces, I got what you want from any conference – insight, challenges, and a fair  bit of chin stroking “hmm”.

Like many of the attendees (physical and virtual), members and extended community of ALT, I work daily in and around the the normal (aka controlled, monitored and managed) institutional learning spaces.  I also work/share/interact in a variety of online, non institutional spaces such as this blog, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. Every day I move between some of the fuzzy boundaries between these institutional and corporate spaces. There is a core of “me” in all of them, but as with everything, “me” is very context dependent.

In my professional life, open practice is central to my own sense of belonging. That has been part of my educational and digital journey.  Being able to share in non traditional spaces has allowed me to develop my own sense of scholarship, and reflection. Whilst I really do believe that open educational practice and not just open educational resources can make a significant difference in terms of access to education and the growth and sharing of knowledge, I have always been wary of binary definitions and the either or choice of open or closed. During the conference I was reminded of this post I wrote a few years ago on that very topic. It heartens me to see that this is now being more recognised and spearheaded  through the work of open education researchers like Catherine Cronin whose research has concluded that open educational practice is a continually negotiated process.

However I am also cognisant that I work within a very privileged, western norm(al) context – with just the right amount of left wing intellectual beliefs, views and aspirations.  Open education can be a way to break down/across/beyond barriers but with the words of Maha Bali’s #oer17 keynote still in my head, we (and I mean we in the global north) need to be very wary of imposing our norm(al) through our “gift” of open education.  We need to do more to understand “other” sensibilities and contexts if  open education is to be an enabler of  the Haraway’s manifesto by way of  “uniting diffuse political coalitions along the lines of affinity rather than identity.”

But it’s that identity issue that is so problematic for the widespread adoption of open education.  Working in open networks is almost always predicated on identity. OERs are predicated on licences which provide various levels of identification. For many,  the notion of “putting yourself out there” is scary and a barrier to sharing.

I have always seen the need for parallel closed spaces with education, however Sian’s talk has made me consider the role and need for what she called “anonymous, ephemeral spaces” within an educational context. (see here for more).  As open becomes more mainstream will it be subsumed by the monsters of ed tech?  Does the open education community need to  be embracing and creating more anonymous spaces or is open really all about ego, identity and increasingly in this digital world, another gateway for data collection?

Sian reminded us that we need to start work with our students (and staff and the wider community) about data citizenship.  We need think of ways we can allow and embrace ephemeral spaces in education.  Not everything needs to be tracked, not all data needs to be stored, analysed and sold back to us and our students. Some times you just need a safe space to laugh and/or moan, where you don’t have to “be yourself” or perhaps the self people expect you to be.

As Amy Collier recently pointed out in her article on digital sanctuary we need to be asking

“What responsibilities do universities and colleges have in providing sanctuary for student data and for students’ digital footprints?”

I often find sanctuary in open spaces, but it is a constant struggle.

As an aside during the conference I had a conversation with Lorna Campbell about growing up in small communities where everyone knew everyone and what everyone was doing.  We both loved moving to the city and having that sense of anonymity – of people not knowing or caring or making assumptions about you.  I still value that. I am also aware now that the UK has a huge amount of CCTVs so I am being watched quite a lot. This again has pros and cons. Last week some kids threw a stone through my window, which has been a right pain and pane to get fixed. One of the first things the police asked was if there was a CCTV camera nearby – typically there wasn’t. So those kids can’t be identified through that, but I bet many, if not all of my near arguments with every type of self service checkout machine about “unexpected items in the bagging area” has caused much hilarity for many a supermarket security guard and has me marked (possibly quite rightly) as a bit of a mad woman. But I digress.

It’s all very complicated which has lead me again to Amy Collier and the work  she and Jen Ross did around  the concept of “not yet ness” – the need and value of “mess and complexity in digital education“.  In so many ways we are not there yet.

The final keynote from Peter Goodyear brought us back from the mainly digital spaces Bon and Sian highlighted to the physical space and the need to rethink how we are designing learning spaces. How we in education need to be thinking more about the complex ways we connect the physical space to the activities we are designing to the resources we are using.

Peter argued for increasing need for design thinking to help us understand the new landscapes we are creating between the physical and digital worlds. We need to understand more about what are students are actually doing when they learn to help them and us develop what he call epistemic fluency. Wouldn’t it be lovely if whenever new learning spaces are being designed activities were at the forefront instead of chairs and power sockets. . .

So much to think about I’m not quite sure how to end this post, but end it I must as my brain is starting to hurt.  Much, much more to think about. . .


Some of my #altc spaces and my new norm(al) (part 1)

This was my final thought at this year’s annual #altc conference. What a week it was in Liverpool.  The conference co-chairs Helen O’Sullivan and Pete Alston and their committee pulled together a fantastic three days where we it felt we truly did move “beyond islands of innovation” and really did explore the “new norm(al)”. I need a bit more time to fully collate my thoughts from the three amazing keynotes so there will be another post.

One of the overarching themes from the keynotes was space – formal and informal learning spaces, physical and digital formal and informal learning spaces and the myriad of social, open and closed spaces above, below, around them. I had a quite different conference experience this year as I interacted in a number of different spaces across the three days.

Of course I was there in the physical campus in Liverpool and in my “normal” conference mode twitter space. In addition,  I was one of the onsite buddies for three Virtually Connecting Sessions where I had the pleasure of being part of an extended conversation with each of the keynote speakers. They joined me and some other onsite delegates in a dedicated space beside the main lecture theatre where we connected with some virtual friends from all over the world.  What an absolute pleasure that was. ( I also had a bit of a fangirl moment of finally getting to meet Bon Stewart in person).

Being able to have a more intimate but simultaneously extended, international, diverse conversation really did bring another level to my conference experience. It was such a pleasure to be able to be part of an extended conversation around the questions, issues, and challenges that all our keynotes raised.  It also meant that on the final day, we were able to reclaim a bit of the q&a space that a fire alarm stole from the end of Peter Goodyear’s keynote.  The other great thing is that I (and the rest of the world) can go back and revisit those conversations to help reflect on the conference overall.  You can view all of the sessions from the Virtually Connecting Website.

I was also involved in a combined #altc #LTHE tweet chat, again with Bon and Sue, who joined James Clay, Debbie Baff and myself in the VC space.  That was another great extension of the conference to those who couldn’t be there in person. Though I did find it a bit meta to be in a room with 4 other people where we were all tweeting and not really speaking. I don’t know about you, but usually my tweet chat experiences are me on my sofa with my ipad being taken out of that space into the tweetchat space.  But it was great too and you can see the collated tweets in this storify.

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The final space I want to mention is that as of the AGM on Tuesday afternoon, I have moved into a new space with ALT as I am now Chair of the association. Having been Vice Chair for the past year, I have had a small taste of what this involves and I am really looking forward to this new role as we move towards realising the first full year of our new strategy.  Another new norm(al) space for me.

It is often easy to forget, particularly after a major conference, that ALT is actually run by a relatively tiny number of staff.  The commitment, vision, collaboration, dedication, humour and patience of Maren, Jane, Martin, Jane, Kristina and Tom ensure that ALT punches well above their combined physcial weight! Their work has made being an Trustee, Vice Chair and now Chair an absolute pleasure. They truly do serve our membership and our extended community well across many spaces.

Getting set for #altc

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Only 4 sleeps to go until the biggest and best learning technology bash in the UK, the #altc conference starts in Liverpool.
The title of this year’s conference is Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al) , every day of the conference is jam packed with presentations and great keynotes.  This year’s conference co-chairs Pete Alston and Helen O’Sullivan and the conference committee have done a fabulous job.
Open-ness is one of the four pillars of ALT’s new strategy so, as ever, we are trying to open out the conference to those who can’t be there in person. All the keynotes will be streamed and then the recordings will be available via the ALT YouTube channel. A number of the sessions will also be lived streamed too – just look out for the YouTube logo beside sessions in the programme. And of course all our community will be active across a range of social media.  If this is your first time at the conference here is some great advice about making the most your time from James Clay.
Along with Martin Weller, I’ll be an onsite buddy for a number of Virtually Connecting Sessions – more information and the full schedule available here. Again all these session will be streamed and shared online after the live sessions.  On Tuesday afternoon there will be a special #LTHEchat session with Bonnie Stewart starting at 4pm – more info here.
There’s also still time to vote in the community choice award for the Learning Technologist of the Year awards – so please if you haven’t already, check out this year’s amazing finalists and get voting.   You can also listen to a bit more about the conference in two featured podcasts from Radio EduTalk.  Preview 1 and Preview 2.
This year is a very special one for me as I take over as Chair of the Association – more of that next week. I will be on the ALT stand every lunchtime so if you are there in person please come over and say hello.
I hope even if you can’t make the conference in person you can get involved at some level and be a part of what looks set to be a very fun and memorable conference.

Weaving our way around the complex tapestry of strategy, practice and policy, in learning technology: ALT Scotland meeting


(image: unsplash)

This week saw the annual ALT Scotland group face to face meeting. This year’s years location was the stunning new City of Glasgow College campus. What a learning space that is!  You can see more here – it really is every bit as good as the video illustrates.

As well as chairing the morning sessions, my colleague Professor Linda Creanor, also presented an overview of institutional strategic developments on digital learning here at GCU.

Linda use the analogy of weaving to describe the way our team (Academic Development) has to move across the institutional loom weaving  between, above, below the various threads of strategies and policies that support enhancing practice and the adoption and the effective use of learning technology.  As the day progressed I think this analogy became more resonant for me. A lot of the threads we are working with are quite delicate, and to create an effective pattern we need to be quite expert weavers. That expertise can’t just be replaced by automated services. There maybe some high level patterns that we can share across the sector, but as they say but devil is always in the detail. And it’s the details, the human interactions, that really matter in providing effective learning.

As ever there were a really good mix of presentations from across the sector, touching on some key issues many of us are facing including: VLE procurement, with updates on the recent Scottish national VLE procurement framework; GSA (Glasgow School of Art)  also shared their decision and plans to change their VLE; copyright (this time from my library colleague Marion Kelt).

The first two presentations of the afternoon focused on lecture recording.  Presentations from the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow shared their developing policies and practice.

Edinburgh are in the process of developing an institutional wide policy and share some of the issues they are grappling with including opt-in or opt-out, copyright, is it capture or recording? longevity  and storage to name but a few.  This work is being driven as part of their overall student enhancement and engagement work.

From Glasgow, we actually got to hear the student voice about lecture capture.  Students want it. They can’t understand why, if the tech is in place, lecturers wouldn’t want to do it. Students will record parts of lectures anyway as revision aids.  Conversely though in the discussion it became apparent that students prefer more active, participatory forms of learning and teaching – not just traditional passive lectures.

This illustrated so clearly to me some of the underlying tensions around the use of technology. Lecture capture can be really useful, but it isn’t a magic wand. It costs a lot to provide a comprehensive system, and unless there is equally investment around thinking about the most effective ways of using that technology there is a danger of perpetuating the same old, same old.

Effective use of video is much more than just recording the traditional 1 hour lecture. Lecture capture sh/could be the catalyst for more flipped approaches, for more blending of shorter (at times) video based resources, for more in class active engagement.  But that requires rethinking of time, preparation, f2f, and online time. Many people are doing just that, but again they are weaving in and around of the neat 1 hour time pattern. 1 hour prep, 1 hour delivery (or maybe 15 minutes) , 1 hour follow up.   That needs to change.  Increasingly I am having conversations about rethinking of time in relation to learning and teaching.

The final presentation of the day came from Joe Wilson who gave us a round up of a number of open education conferences and events he has attended recently as part of the Open Scotland group. You can read more here and here .

Joe also highlighted some of the international open initiatives that are growing apace and have significant government support. Oh,  the irony of hearing that the Moroccan government have just published an open education policy based on the (community led)  Open Scotland Declaration, yet here in Scotland we are still finding it so hard to get the Scottish Government to engage in a meaningful way around open education policy.

All in all a really interesting and useful day in a great location. Presentations will be online from the ALT website over the coming days.

ALT 2017-2020 Strategy Launch

Greater than the sum of our parts

Never mind the UK Government’s UK government digital strategy,  the most important strategy launch this week is the ALT  2017 – 2020 Strategy.

As Vice Chair of ALT I have been quite heavily involved in the development of the strategy. We have made a concerted effort to get input from our members through an extensive consultation process on their priorities . This has to form the basis of the work of the association.  Our Chair, Professor Martin Weller summarised this approach perfectly:

“As Chair, I’ve found the manner in which the strategy has been developed as significant as the strategy itself. ALT champions open practice, and the development of the strategy was an opportunity to ‘walk the talk’. The webinars, face to face session, and online form were all examples of how we seek to gather input from all members. The strategy itself provides a clear direction for the Association and positions it as a key voice in educational technology both nationally and internationally.”

The strategy itself is based around three key aims:

  • Aim 1: Increase the impact of Learning Technology for public benefit
  • Aim 2: Provide stronger recognition of and representation for Learning Technology professionals on a national level
  • Aim 3: Lead the professionalisation of research and practice in Learning Technology

and highlights our values around our members, participation, our independence and our commitment to openness.

What we value

This year we also worked with Mr Visual Thinkery, Bryan Mathers, who joined one of our Trustee meetings and produced a fabulous set of images which we have been able to incorporate into the strategy. The images, like the strategy document, are available to re-use through a CC licence. All are available here.

You can read more of my thoughts on the strategy and its developments on the official strategy launch blog post.  I am looking forward to continuing to work with and for the ALT membership in implementing the new strategy.

Reasons to be cheerful – #altc , and the rest

Let’s face it 2016 hasn’t had too much to be jolly about, but this week  during the #altc winter online conference I was reminded of the some of the good things in my  professional life so I thought I’d take five minutes and not rant.

During the open session on ALTs future strategy there was a quite a bit of discussion about the support ALT has, and continues to, offer around professional development. As I participated  (well, waffled might be more accurate) in the discussion, I was reflecting on my own career development and thinking about how I got started in the “crazy” world of learning technology. It was unplanned, unexpected but totally the right thing for me.

Like many of my contemporaries, I just sort of fell into a newly developing field. When I got a job as Learning Technologist, nobody (including me and my employer) really knew what a learning technologist was. However, I did have a very supportive boss who encouraged me to make the role my own. I will be forever thankful to Jackie Graham for giving me that opportunity.

Lots of my contemporaries have similar stories, or were working in disciplines where they saw the potential for technology to make a real difference to learning. Making that difference to learning was the key to all of us, where ever we came from.

We were all a bit different, experimental – long before edupunks were even thought of. I think most importantly we were willing  to fail  (partly because back in the day “stuff” just didn’t work very well) and laugh with and at ourselves. We often forget to acknowledge the role of fun in learning and career development.

That diversity of backgrounds is one of the things I still cherish. I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with so many clever people from such a wide range of academic disciplines, and they have all accepted me and valued my opinions, and my work and in turn influenced my own development.  Long may that continue.

So, I know it’s a bit schmaltzy , but  I just wanted to say thank you to everyone (especially you, dear reader) I have worked with, and continue to work with.  In these exceptionally unstable times, our communities, our networks will be need to be stronger than ever. In these physical and metaphorical dark days it’s good to remember that there are still some reasons to be cheerful.

Circles, triangles, trolls, games, neuro-myth busting, empathy and respect #altc16

It’s always hard to condense 3 days’ worth of conference ideas and discussions. The title of this post is my attempt to reduce last week’s #altc conference to under 10 words.  However almost a week after the start of the conference my mind is still trying to synthesise the myriad of ideas I gained from all the sessions I attended.

For me there were a few key themes which resonated throughout the conference. Pretty high on the list was developing (digital) capabilities around online learning at both personal and institutional levels. This is something the sector is really grappling with just now.  Fully online delivery is far from mainstream activity (say hello and wave goodbye MOOCs).

Sharing findings from research as part of  the Jisc scaling up online learning project, Helen Beetham described the challenges their desk research had uncovered as: lack of organisational structure and staff confidence, lack of linkages to mainstream activity, and lack of understanding of the online experience for both staff and students.  Something I can completely relate to. Helen also touched on the emotional side of online learning,  and how that is still under estimated, again for students and staff alike.

Fear is one emotion that I think anyone who has undertaken online learning has experienced at some point. Fear of the unknown, fear of “being online”, fear of where and how to communicate fear of sharing. I know I’ve experienced all of the above.  Fear and the dangerous side of being online were addressed squarely by Josie Fraser in her opening keynote “In the valley of the trolls”.

The keynotes were, as ever, inspiring and this year I think really captured the concerns and aspirations of the UK edtech/ed dev community. Josie opened the conference with a challenging and timely look at trolling. If online spaces such as twitter provide a “filter free amplifier”, in which AI so far can only emulate every kind of abusive behaviour we have invented, it is more important than ever to ensure that we are all developing the digital capabilities to know where, when and how to interact online.

But fear can also lead to closing down online spaces and online interaction. Josie questioned our use of shared spaces, the role of open education, about our ethical commitments and most importantly she raised the challenge and control paradox. We need to challenge the trolls, but can we/should we control them? What about our ethical assumptions around privacy? Sometimes anonymity is valid. We need to develop respect and our ethical commitment to developing respectful shared spaces where we don’t all necessarily agree, but we don’t have to degrade others with casual racism and sexism in process.

Respect, responsibility, and the power of education to change society was a central part of Jane Secker’s keynote “copyright and e-learning: our privileges and freedoms”.  Again Jane highlighted the tension between the fear of copyright (hello, copyright police,yes I have no illegal music downloads)  and the freedom appropriately copyrighted material (hello, Creative Commons) gives us all.

Jane reminded us of the power and necessity of information literacy and IPR as a human right. We need to respect and acknowledge other’s work. However in our increasingly digital age, sharing has changed. We need to ensure that we aren’t just fostering copying skills but that we also encourage reuse and creation, with proper attribution.  There are many myths around copyright and licensing that once again digital literacy development and sharing through communities of practice can help to alleviate.  All this with cake, cats, star wars and a great history lesson.

More myths were explored in Lia Commissar’s keynote “education and neuroscience”. There are many myths and legends around how our brains work.  A little knowledge can be dangerous and it is amazing how much acceptance of there is in our society of “stuff” that has no scientific research basis. A case in point is learning styles.  I can see why people have empathy for that idea, we all have preferences but  . . . and before I go into fully rant mode, I would urge you to watch Lia’s keynote and join the neuromyth-busters and find out more about some fascinating neuroscience research projects in formal education settings.

One area Lia pointed to where there is a research focus on is games and gaming was the focus of Ian Livingstone’s keynote “code:connect:collaborate”.  Ian’s career has spanned the development of the current gaming age and culture, and for a non gamer and non adventure book reader he gave a very entertaining overview of his career and that sector.

He also emphasised the “real world” skills and learning environment that gaming can naturally foster including collaboration, safe social spaces, problem solving, continuous assessment, a safe place to fail. However games and coding aren’t a panacea for education.

Ian did mention the gender imbalance in the gaming industry but not the  very unpleasant side of – in particular Gamergate,   which Josie highlighted in her opening keynote. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to redress that kind of behaviour and to ensure online spaces are safe, collaborative and respectful to all.

Supporting coding in schools and in the curriculum is great, but it is only part of “the digital”, ensuring digital capabilities are recognised and supported in the curriculum is just as important.

“The digital”,whatever that actually means,  is something that our final keynote double act of Donna Lanclos and David White have been talking and writing about for a number of years.

Their more discursive keynote “being human is your problem” looked at some of the realities of trying to exist in our education systems and the messiness of not only being human but being a human interacting increasingly in digital spaces.

Technology is not the answer, it’s part of the answer and part of the problem. Culture change, or perhaps evolution, is what we really need to address.  But that is hard, so often it’s easier to buy something shiny rather than support (neuro) mythbusting culture change (hello and goodbye digital natives).

Donna and Dave were both adamant that we should move away from thinking about “them” and “us” in institutions, arguing that we are “them”, they are “us”.  I’m not sure sure about that, there are always tribes of them and us – staff/students/managers/senior managers/  the list goes on. Again maybe that takes us back to where Josie started the week around respect and empathy between all our academic related tribes.

One thing that Dave said towards the end of the session was that we need “less triangles and more circles”.  He was referring to an early model of digital literacy from Beethham and Sharpe, but I think it summed up my impression from all of the conference, not just the keynotes. We aren’t all working towards a pinnacle or peak, our work is far more iterative and circular, perhaps more spiral like to give some sense of movement (not a spiral of despair I hasten to add).

So thanks again to the conference chairs, committee and ALT for providing the space for all our triangles and circles it was a great conference this year. I haven’t even mentioned all the great sessions I went to and chaired, the annual awards, #altplay.  I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Liverpool next year.


An election worth your vote #altc Trustees 

I know we all probably have a bit of election fatigue just now. However outside the crazy world of politics,  in the slightly less crazy world of learning technology,  there is one election that is worth your consideration and vote – the ALT Trustee elections.  

There are three fantastic nominees this year –  Bella Abrams, Lorna Campbell and Chris Rowell. You can read their statements here,  they all bring a tremendous range of experience and expertise.  But they need your votes.  Being a membership organisation, ALT relies on members to support and guide its direction. In these afore mentioned crazy times, the need for a strong, non commercial, voice for supporting the effective use of technology for learning and teaching is more important than ever.  So if you are a member of ALT make sure you vote, this year for the first time we’re using an electronic voting system.  And if you’re not a member, why not think about joining? I know from experience that receiving peer support and validation from being  voted in as a Trustee of ALT makes the role even more special.   The results of the election will be announced at this year’s ALT conference.  

picture of  ALT member badges