Virtual Recognition Framework

Posted by: | March 14, 2012 | Leave a Comment

Take a look at the UBC Place and Promise consultation documents. The documents make a lot of references to engagement with students, volunteering etc. I believe that we can learn a lot from several trends that already exist and apply it to the success of the strategic plan. Let’s just think about:

  • Personal brand
  • Gameification
  • Location-based services

Personal brand

Education in itself is a huge component of a personal brand with regard to your career. UBC as an institution does not only grant a degree to students, but encourages students to contribute to society, to make a difference and the world a better place, e.g. in peer programs, learning exchange, activities in clubs and societies and much more. Traditionally, students receive degree certificates, transcripts and reference letters for such contributions. However, nowadays we have social networks and social graphs and online reputation that merges offline achievements and online statuses. A resume/CV is a great tool for an offline world, but it does not necessarily work in a connected environment. You can create extended profiles like on LinkedIN, but the lesson we can learn from Facebook is simplification. With the introduction of the like button they have successfully reduced interaction to a minimum component. A simple visual representation of someone’s achievements such as badges could work similarly. People create brands through their actions online, such as tweeting, blogging, posting etc., as well as through offline activities such as presentations, speaking engagements, their research, publications and much more. This raises the question of certification of contributions and skills. For some you receive certificates, for others you can get reference letters, but there are a lot of activities that get neither. I do a lot of professional development in my spare time which can consist of taking courses, reading books or self-study online. Technology allows everyone access to so much material these days (e.g. through Open Course Ware, Library Access to services such as Books 24×7, free online courses) that can be used to develop skills that it can almost feel overwhelming. However, it often is hard to prove that you really developed these skills if you do not pay for a course to get a certificate. I was intrigued by concepts such as the Drupal Guilds idea and recently a colleague mentioned Mozilla Badges which evolves around similar ideas of having people vouch for others like in an apprentice system. This already happens informally, e.g. in open source software development projects contributors earn credibility through their contributions to the community, the code they produce and interaction with other developers. Apart from the professional development angle this could easily be applied to volunteering and community engagement. All these factors are part of your personal brand. Employers want to get to know an applicant in their entirety before making an offer. Universities equally look at extra-curricular activities and students will have to show more often how they contribute to society.


I have always played games for various reasons. You might just want to figure something out / master it or you might be in it to be the leader, the best, the fastest or similar, ie. reputation. Whatever the reason is, the game can potentially reward and motivate you by providing the desired recognition or just the great feeling to have mastered a level. These reward elements have been around for a long time and not only within games, e.g. in bulletin board systems which use user ranks, voting systems or similar. It can be a powerful concept to motivate people to do things they might not even like, but still do because of the game elements. Wikipedia mentions a lot of applications for gameification, but it does not mention volunteering yet which I think could work very well.

Location-based services

This is probably an area which is truely new. Personal brand and gameification are trendy words for something that existed in a variety of forms before. Location-based services simply did not exist because the technology did not exist. Only with mobile technology does it make sense to incorporate the users location into the application. Foursquare and Facebook for example let users check in to places and Foursquare already gameified this with badges or ranks you can earn for that. Initially, badges were earned just for checkins, but now they can be combined with completing tasks. To support UBC’s strategic plan we could for example align the tasks with the goals of the university such as community engagement to gain points (gameification) and either tie these to the location (e.g. student can earn points when checked into the library and providing answers to questions of other students who in turn rate the usefulness of the answer which impacts  the point score) or create challenges between locations (similar to intramural sports, e.g. residence A vs. residence B to check who can bring up highest contributing members for tasks). The university is going to build new social hubs, called commons, and this concept could work well in that setting…


As described the framework would incorporate several of the above mentioned elements to provide easy options to motivate and recognize. The idea is to build a framework that defines how UBC status is earned, who can grant status (e.g. professional development providers), what status can be achieved through crowd-sourcing and what overarching categories and levels will be availabe. It would obviously have to provide technical security measures to make sure that the badges could not be abused. The framework will make it simple and easy to visualize these achievements (personal brands), e.g. with color-coded batches (platinum, gold, silver, bronze) or ranks (expert, novice).

Recognition could be provided for categories such as:

  • Professional Development
  • Volunteering
  • Community Engagement

Why do I think it could work when we already have letters of recommendation or certificates in place for this? Well, these letters are for a specific purpose and cannot be re-used in many cases. Moreover, the letters might be confidential and the person who is recommended might not even get to see it. LinkedIN provides open recommendations for all to see and I think that is a neat way of doing it, but this is typically used for work related recommendations, not volunteering or similar. And not everyone might feel comfortable to reveal a very personal recommendation letter openly on the internet. A badge would solve that problem and the innovation is just the simplifaction, easy visualization, gameification and adjustment to a connected world.

Within the last few years we have seen a change in how people manage their online personalities. In the early years of the internet, many users created fake names and tried to stay anonymous when engaging in online activities. However, now online personalities very much complement the offline real person and both work in harmony. There were some ideas of allowing students to create UBC profiles of the kind of Such a profile would allow perfect integration of UBC related badges through the recognition framework. The concept could easily be extended to acknowledge significant contributors like it is done sometimes with awards. An badges could be branded and pushed into social network profiles as well…

Potential negative effects

There is a growing trend of mental illness, stress and anxiety. This could potentially be caused by the feeling that students have to perform on so many levels, not only academically, but as a volunteer and mentor etc. One would need to evaluate how such a framework can simply be motivational without leading to stress for students who might choose not to volunteer or end up at the bottom of the leaderboard.


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