Educational Technology Sandbox Overview

eCampusOntario logo in Aubergine

Educational Technology Sandbox Concept

Support for the growth and expansion of technology-enabled learning and teaching is central to the mandate of eCampusOntario. In June 2017, eCampusOntario announced expressions of interest inviting its 45 member post-secondary institutions to participate in up to three different Educational Technology Sandboxes. The aim was to provide an opportunity to explore new tools to support technology-enabled learning in risk-free environments and across many spectrums. The three areas of exploration and their partner vendors were:

  • Open badging (CanCred)
  • Virtual lab simulations (Labster)
  • Experiential learning (Riipen)

The pilot projects included face-to-face, blended, and online delivery in both undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as in professional and continuing education. They investigated the technologies’ impact on the co-curricular record, faculty development, learner entrepreneurial initiatives, and mobile applications. Each institution set its own specific goals and terms of reference in collaboration with eCampusOntario.

Each sandbox period ran from September 1, 2017, until August 31, 2018, giving our institutional project leads a full year to use and evaluate the tool/platform. eCampusOntario supported project leads in collaboration with our partner vendors through orientation webinars, a Basecamp communication site, regular online clinics, and one-on-one online meetings.

The overall goal of these pilot projects was to generate a diverse collection of case studies based on the hands-on experiences of educators and learners at Ontario institutions. These case studies will be used to inform future decision making on potential shared services that will benefit Ontario’s post-secondary education environment.

Open Badges

The Mozilla Foundation introduced Open Badges in 2011 as a transformational learning recognition and exchange standard. Badging is an electronic alternative framework for recognizing “life-wide” skills and achievements based on formal, non-formal, informal, and experiential learning. Open Badges contain a trail of detailed information about how they were obtained, providing their own auditable, digital provenance. Their modular and flexible nature supports agile approaches to learning and offer potential alignment to skills frameworks.

Open Badges act as highly mobile “records of learning” that can be transferred between technology systems that support the open standard. They can also be shared on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, which greatly extends their reach and potential impact.

The Open Badging Sandbox gave partner institutions the opportunity to explore how Open Badges can be employed as digital evidence of an accomplishment, particularly in the areas of:

  • Alternative recognition of learning.
  • Recognition of prior learning.
  • Informal co-curricular learning.
  • Skills and knowledge required for transition to work.

Eight CanCred Factory enterprise-level environments were made available through the eCampusOntario Educational Technology Sandbox, and each institution had access to a unique branded environment via the badge-issuing platform. Institutions succeeded in developing, issuing, and managing their own branded badges.

CanCred logo

All badge data remains securely stored on Canadian servers that are compliant with the IMS Global Open Badge standard. A dedicated eCampusOntario Passport was also established as the common storage and display platform for Open Badges issued by the CanCred Factory environments. Badge earners were able to curate their badges in the Passport along with other evidence, such as documents, text, and embedded media using Apple’s Pages which can function as micro-portfolios. eCampusOntario and the CanCred implementation team fully supported project leads in starting up their Factory environments and the dedicated Passport, and offered guidance in their badge system designs and implementation.

Virtual Lab Simulations (Labster)

Virtual simulations in the classroom provide additional access and opportunities for virtual learning experiences beyond physical boundaries. Labster has developed a suite of virtual laboratories and simulations modelled on real-world science lab experimentation and apparatus interactions. These simulations can better prepare learners for lab work by affording anytime virtual spaces for open-ended investigation and exploration.

Labster reports its use by institutions as a method of improving learning outcomes while reducing the costs associated with delivery, support, and maintenance of physical laboratories.[1] For many learners, access to lab space at Ontario college and university campuses is limited. The opportunity to access virtual spaces via Labster gives learners additional opportunities to prepare for lab assignments through self-directed experimentation, 3D animation, and real-time assessment.

labster logo

Through its Educational Technology Sandbox, eCampusOntario obtained 1,100 individual learner licences from Labster for Ontario colleges and universities who wished run a pilot project to evaluate the platform in their science courses. Each licence granted the project leads and learners user access to the full suite of labs until August31, 2018. The project leads worked with the Labster implementation team to customize the educator/learner dashboards according to the goals and needs of each institution’s project. (Currently, Labster simulations are available for biology, biochemistry, biomedical science, and chemistry-related subject areas. For the full list of simulations, see https://www.labster.com/simulations/.)

The Virtual Lab Simulations Sandbox gave institutions the opportunity to explore how Labster can support and extend technology-enhanced teaching and learning, particularly in the areas of:

  • Simulation-based teaching.
  • Access and virtual versus physical learning spaces.
  • Experiential and experimental learning.
  • Occupational standards.

Experiential Learning (Riipen)

In alignment with the report prepared by the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility, the Experiential Learning Sandbox supported the provincial mandate to “ensure adult learners have access to quality experiential learning opportunities that are adaptable and appropriate to their needs.”[2] While it is not feasible for every program or discipline to embed a co-op, internship, or practicum component, every student should be supported to develop real-world experiences and build employable skills. Faculty collaborating to redesign standard, in-class assignments into relevant industry projects, mentored by experts currently working in the field, extends the boundaries of current, often simulated, classroom experiential learning. Riipen was the chosen partner to equip and assist with this work-integrated learning option.

Riipen leverages any student-industry engagement (hackathons, case competitions, co-ops, internships, etc.) to provide meaningful data to schools and to industry partners on the verified skills and competencies of individual students. A popular use of the platform is to enable educators to easily transform their existing assignments into industry-recognized class projects.[3] The Riipen platform helps organizations and industry to connect, and to track project engagement, performance, and satisfaction.The eCampusOntario Educational Technology Sandbox provided three institutions with the opportunity to explore Riipen’s experiential learning platform for student growth and employment preparation. Through this pilot, institutions had access to the following:

Riipen logo
  • An “educator module” with project management tools and real-time dashboard tracking engagement levels.
  • An institution portal on Riipen’s website as a central point of activity.
  • Riipen’s faculty success and customer success teams.
  • In-house specialists to reframe in-class projects for the workplace.
  • Canada-housed data on the project for review and analysis by the institution.

Educational Technology Sandbox Report Collection and Evaluation

Each institution participating in the Educational Technology Sandbox projects was required to submit three reports throughout the year: status, interim, and final. The status and interim reports provided valuable feedback and prompted additional support and guidance from eCampusOntario and partner vendors as needed before conclusion of the projects.

This publication is a synthesis of those reports, with the final reports providing the primary content. We felt it was important for the institutional voice to be retained, and therefore each case study is presented in the institution’s own words, in its chosen narrative, with minimal editing for correctness and consistency. Each chapter presents a summary and a case study for each partner institution, including a set of lessons learned. Where the institutional case study mentions additional data or documents, they are included as appendices or links are provided.


  1. https://www.labster.com/why-choose-labster/
  2. https://www.ontario.ca/page/building-workforce-tomorrow-shared-responsibility
  3. https://www.riipen.com/learnmore/