ArtForms Leeds, Sheffield Hallam University and DigitalME Launch New Arts Engagement Project

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ArtForms Leeds, Sheffield Hallam University and DigitalME launched a potentially groundbreaking new engagement and research project, BadgeLab Leeds, on Thursday, 18 September 2014. Supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts - Nesta, Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council - this project seeks to engage young people (ages 7 to 25) in various aspects of the arts by offering Open Badges as an incentive for taking part in arts based activities.

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BadgeLab Leeds

The badges created as a result of this project could well represent a paradigm shift in the way we think about recognizing skills.

ArtForms Leeds, Sheffield Hallam University and DigitalME officially launched BadgeLab Leeds with a workshop for creating Open Badges that will be offered by contributing arts organisations and practitioners. Open Badges were first developed by Mozilla, the global non-profit foundation better known for creating the Firefox web browser. Functioning as a new form of digital credential, Open Badges recognise and showcase skills on the web in a format that can be displayed in multiple contexts. The project will also lead to long awaited research that will focus on the central question of how effective open badges are in increasing engagement with the arts.

Many schools have begun adopting Open Badges in order to recognise skills that fall outside traditional qualifications or to acknowledge smaller ‘bite-sized’ chunks of learning. As well as investigating whether Open Badges could be a useful complement to traditional qualifications this project is also investigating whether they could be a useful incentive to lead learners on to take other qualifications like the Arts Award.

In addition to schools, the NHS, the Open University and the iDEA award, a new competition sponsored by the Duke of York and Nominet Trust, are all using badges to mark achievements. At the badge workshop on 18 September, badges were created for den building, clay pot making, physical robot building, Minecraft robot building and more. Buzz First Floor, a West Yorkshire Playhouse initiative for young people with learning disabilities worked on creating badges to reward their students for a variety of activities. The overall aim of this project is to get young people engaging with the arts and to make sure they feel rewarded for doing so.

In addition to the project’s engagement aims, the research element of the work is likely to be very revealing. Open Badges are a relatively new form of technology and as such, they have not been the subject of much research thus far. The research element of this project is led by Andrew Dearden of Sheffield Hallam University, whose team will be employing a range of methods to assess the effectiveness of badge issuing in arts engagement work.

This research will explore whether Open Badges can broaden, deepen and diversify engagement with the arts. It will also explore whether badges are a useful complement or alternative to the Arts Award. The findings could inform impact research for engagement projects in charities, museums and galleries as well as corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Tim Riches, CEO of DigitalME, said ‘Innovations often happen in the arts first. It is fitting that this early research into the engagement potential of Open Badges is about arts activities. Artists often come up with breakthrough practices that then spread into the wider community. The badges created as a result of this project could well represent a paradigm shift in the way we think about recognizing skills. These badges operate across different learning contexts and they represent a truly connected learning experience’.

Participating Arts Partner Organizations are First Floor (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Playful Leeds, Boffin Projects, Studio 12 Leeds and The Den Experiment.

About DigitalME

DigitalME is a non-profit organization that offers consultancy on the creation and design of open badges as well as badge technology.

About the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts

The Digital R&D fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund to support collaboration between organisations with arts projects, technology providers, and researchers. It is a partnership between Arts Council England, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta.

We want to see projects that use digital technology to enhance audience reach and/or develop new business models for the arts sector. With a dedicated researcher or research team as part of the three-way collaboration, learning from the project can be captured and disseminated to the wider arts sector.

Every project needs to identify a particular question or problem that can be tested. Importantly this question needs to generate knowledge for other arts organisations that they can apply to their own digital strategies.

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