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How we are building a Learning City in Ghent

By Dries Vanacker on Feb 23, 2019


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Wouldn’t it be great if students could work on real, authentic and often wicked problems that are based on the needs of the community or stakeholders in the city where they study? Wouldn’t it be great if a city could become a part of their learning trajectory to become young professionals?

Here at Artevelde University College we think it would! And therefore we developed Gentlestudent!

Gentlestudent focuses on meaningful and profound learning and does so in constant dialogue with the students and the initiatives in the city of Ghent, building a City for learning. With Gentlestudent, Artevelde University College provides an online platform where citizens, organisations and students can find each other. On this platform residents and organisations can post very concrete ideas and needs which are then translated in to learning opportunities for students in higher education.

Artevelde University College encourages her students in the first instance with confidence in their vigor to act professionally, to think critically and to become the person in the world they can and want to be.

This platform offers (Gentle) students via beacons (small smart devices that send out a bluetooth signal to smartphones) that are available in Ghent, learning opportunities that make a positive and social contribution to the quality of the city. For the (Gentle) students this platform is an opportunity to make their social engagement visible. They can find ideas and needs and then offer themselves to realise a creative solution or action. They also receive a badge for their realised learning opportunity.

Cities for learning

Students are inextricably linked to life in a city, where they face challenges during their study period and often take their first truly independent steps in life. The city is not only an important ‘living’ environment for students on their way to adulthood but can also be considered as a dynamic learning centre where they can seize many learning opportunities. Various community service learning projects show that enrolling students in authentic community projects is not only enriching for the city, but for the professional development of students as well. Such projects promote in-depth learning, but also require a great deal of coordination and support from educational institutions and the professional field.

Open Badges as micro-credentials

In order to provide future-oriented education to students, Artevelde University College defined five Artevelde-wide learning outcomes: digital literacy, sustainability, global citizenship, entrepreneurship and research skills. These learning outcomes are linked to 21st-century skills which we believe every professional will need in the future. Moreover, Gentlestudent works according to the principles of gamification in which game design elements are used in a non-game context. This form of gamification is made possible thanks to the use of open badges which function as micro-credentials. Such a credential illustrates and confirms the acquisition of a specific skill. In our case it shows the successful application of a 21st-century skill in a specific context. Such a credential, in the form of an open badge, also includes the concrete description and achieved objectives that are linked to a specific learning opportunity.

Gentlestudent enables students to collect various badges. The value of an obtained badge can be compared to obtaining a paper certificate, but in a digital form. This micro-credentials is unique and provided with the necessary metadata so that the uniqueness of the open badge can be ensured. The earned badges, which are based on open standards, can be gathered on various platforms.

Getting ready to pilot


From October 2017 until April 2018:
-a team of five students in their final year in the Bachelor programme Graphical and Digital Media designed the visuals of the Gentlestudent platform, app and Open Badges
-these developers were considering the needs and requirements of their fellow students who are the target group within this initiative

During July 2018:
-a different team of five students, participating during the Open Summer of Code (an initiative of Open Knowledge Belgium) started working on the technical development of Gentlestudent
-one of the challenges was the communication between the native app and the Estimote beacons ensuring push notifications when a student is nearby the learning opportunity
-the other main challenge was to develop a platform that is Open Badge-proof and complies with the GDPR-regulations

Open Source:
-developing a platform that uses Open Badges and that was being developed via the Open Summer of Code means that the platform and app are Open Sourced
-the documentation of the platform can be found via the Github page of Gentlestudent

Final steps:

Artevelde University College, its stakeholders and the developers are among other things currently working on some final touches on the platform to be able to launch it during the week of 15 October and to be able to present it during the ePIC 2018 conference about Building Open Recognition Ecosystems in Paris.

-the Gentlestudent pilot in Ghent is going to be organised with students from Artevelde University College
Participating departments are: the departments of social work, nursing and teacher training primary education
-the pilot is going to run until the end of the current academic year (end of June 2019)
-the main objective is to test and evaluate, both of the approach and the technology behind the platform.
-the evaluation is going to enable us to making the platform accessible for all highered institutions and their students in Ghent in order to make the learning opportunities available for all students studying in Ghent.

So, stay in touch and keep an eye on

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written by Dries Vanacker
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