Badges - New Currency for Professional Credentials

Employers (wk.3) #OpenBadgesMOOC

Badges - New Currency for Professional CredentialsHere we are, week three and challenge three. You can read all my posts from this MOOC on the OpenBadgesMOOC tag (when I’ve written them)!

Week 3 – Employers
The natural ‘end point for badges in any education setting is for those who have earned the badge to show them off for personal gain. This personal gain obviously will point to their employment prospects, at some time or another, and therefore employers will need to know what they are looking at, and why.

During the online session there was mention that “employers are in the early phase of early adopter stage for badges” (@sharonlflynn) but I have not seen evidence of this, and what type of employer (large, small, graduate employer, etc.)? Certainly Open Badges can only gain mainstream adoption in learning environments (MOOCs, degrees, adult education, social learning, etc.) if the employers recognise and value the output and badge criteria. 

 

“For users to feel comfortable adopting a system of currency, governing rules and regulations must be accepted, adopted, and adhered to by all participants. Many employers are bound by regulation, industry standards, and best practices … employers need employees with competencies and skills that further business objectives and meet compliance requirements for their industry. Employers look to learning providers to ensure that graduates cum job seekers meet employer requirements.”
Blackboard course materials.

If we link the last sentence (above) to the widely touted statement that we are preparing students for a world and job market that has moved on from the studies they are undertaking then badges are a perfect way for students to showcase and demonstrate their prowess in all aspects of learning … depending on the quality and criteria of the badges issued and earned: there is no point  student having a badge that is for simply completing a course/programme. The badge needs to reflect a skill or achievement or process or something from the course, not simply attendance.

What we must also remember, when issuing badges and when we are looking at someones’ Mozilla backpack, is that badges are new and that someone completing an online course (e.g. the ALT ocTEL course) in it’s first run would not have earned any badges, but the next cohort might (if the plan to implement badges goes ahead). Someone may not have a badge if it was not issued: i.e. they would have earned it if the organisation was issuing badges, but they took the course before badges were part of the course infrastructure.

Badges are good if they have not only meaningful criteria applied to them and that they are issued in a consistent and considered manner. Critics of the system claim that false and meaningless badges will devalue the job application, which is a fair assumption, but the ecosystem is being designed that at least, using the standard of the Mozilla Backpack, the badges are genuine, if not relevant. It will then be to the detriment of the job seeker if they don’t have any badges of value.

“Employers will ultimately determine whether badges are practical, and much will depend on how easy they are to use.” Young (2012)

Badge Design Lab
Now this sounds good – weekly support (in addition to everything else on offer in the MOOC) for advice for the practical application, design, and ‘baking’ of Open Badges … a couple of them with Mozilla badge experts too!

Challenge 3 – Competency Frameworks
The ecosystem for badges is growing and this time  it’s the prospective employers that are added. We’ve looked at badges and those who issue them (and why), but what value do badges hold in the current market place and for job seekers? Do they hold any value other than a nice-to-have feature?

This could, in light of the ecosystem I’m working on (see Challenge 2), be a very difficult challenge to complete. I am looking to badges to provide certification for skill-based activities, not the learning itself, and that the target audience are existing staff. While the skill and associated badge will be valuable to the individual it is by no means integral to a job application or job description. Yes, the ability to demonstrate understanding and experience in dealing with online discursive activities is is important for an academic who is working, or hopes to work, in online or blended learning programmes, but there are other more formal and recognised qualification that are sought after.

Badges, in my example (see Challenge 1), may have more value to the staff member who’s earned them when they display it to their students, when the students can see that the experience and knowledge gained during this short online course on moderating discussion activities. Will students have more respect for their tutor or the activity if they can see that the tutor has taken the time to follow and ‘pass’ the activities in their own learning journey so they can help and improve the learning journey for the students? Could you therefore think of the student body as the ‘employers’ in this case as they are the ones who will appreciate or accept the badge ecosystem in respect of the tutor’s skills?

Whether the ‘employer’ is a student or company the badge, as I have said before, is only as good or as valued as the rigour attached to the criteria and evidence submitted. Yes, anyone can issue and earn a badge, for all sorts of things. Yes, they could be valuable and worthwhile badges. But if the badge is not directly relevant to the individual and the job/role they are applying the badge to, then it is meaningless, and therefore working against the individual and not for them.

But what of the ‘competency framework’ for the badges? The competency needs to address the learning and is a statement of “knowledge, skills and/or behaviors students must master in a specific content or performance area” (Sturgis), and be sufficiently transparent enough that the student (can faculty) can see the outcome and how to obtain the badge. Will this change when badges are more widely accepted and part of the infrastructure? I think so, but for the moment we need to be careful and signpost them as much as possible. Here are the competencies for each of the four badges on the course, all based around participation in the activities and the learning outcome:

  • Open Badges - eModerator *Badge One: “The badge owner has demonstrated an understanding and engagement in learning how to create learning outcomes that are suitable for creating online discussion activities, and has gained experience with the features of different types of activities and their impact on the wider learning experience.”
  • Open Badges - eModerator **Badge Two: “The badge owner has created a discussion activity script and has critically reviewed a colleague’s script, and written a plan that will facilitate a discussion activity over a set time period (large and small cohort sizes).”
  • Open Badges - eModerator *Badge Three: “The badge owner has critically examined the benefits and/or limitations of employing student-led facilitation, and reviewed and created assessment criteria and an accompanying rubric for an online discussion activity.”
  • Open Badges - eModerator CompleteBadge Four: “This badge can be displayed by individuals who have successfully earned all three competency badges on the eModerator course at the University of Leicester. The owner of this badge has created scripts and learning outcomes for discursive activities but has also engaged with their peers and critically examined and reviewed assessment criteria for online discussions.”

[Created according to the 'small' and 'large' criteria described on the Mozilla Open Badge FAQ)

Students and their 'personas', as we are asked to describe them, will be a mix of academics who have limited or no experience in facilitating or generating online discussion activities. This is not to say that the course cannot be run for experienced academics in this area, as indeed the current cohort of students are actually very well versed in many aspects of the course contents. Here are some examples:

  • Newly qualified academic who has inherited a module where online discussions are already well established, and therefore needs to understand how to run and facilitate them as well as why they are being used.
  • Academic with vague understanding of online discussions and how they can be run (either pedagogically or technically) and is looking to introduce more of them for a more detailed or meaningful outcome.
  • The reluctant academic who has seen online discussions used well be their colleagues and who is now reluctantly investigating the phenomenon.
  • Experienced academic who has used discursive activities before with limited success who wants to build on their knowledge and experience to design and facilitate a stronger and a more meaningful activity for the student.

The idea is that the course can be enhanced by the use of badges as a motivating criteria. It is understood that not everyone will be motivated in this way but, at this early stage of Open Badges and the course, the novelty of badges and the academics selected to take the course will be sufficient to analyse and evaluate both the course and the use of badges. As I have stated before it is hoped this cohort will be able to help direct and formulate the badges and how we take them further within Leicester.

There are several different 'after badge' stories that could take place here, both centred around the course as well as the badges themselves. Probably the most effective use of the badge would be to look at the value the course (and successful earning of the badges) could pose to an academic if the badges are able to form part of a series of courses  (also using badges) for professional development and/or accreditation to professional bodies or courses. I am in about to resubmit my evidence-based  CMALT portfolio for Certified Members of the Association for LeEarning Technology (ALT) and courses like the eModerator course and badges would be a useful addition to the process and evidence.

I have two Mozilla Backpacks: one for all my badges and another for just those directly relevant to Technology Enhanced Learning, (TEL). It is only this latter TEL collection that is worth adding to my LinkedIn profile. I may in future split the badges into further backpacks and, if necessary, have a separate backpack for each MOOC or course, thereby enabling me to showcase specific areas of learning in different backpacks:

Open Badges and LinkedIn

One purpose of using badges in this eModerating course is to provide some contextual information and usage so Open Badges can be taken to the various committees at the University of Leicester for consideration and further investigation. It will be at that stage of proceedings that policy and standards are researched and presented to management for the ecosystem and it's hopeful implementation. It is unlikely that, from my position, I will be involved in these stages but I hope I can continue to provide background and context for their use and implementation and then training and use within the College of Social Science.

Challenge 3 - Feedback
"Your questions about who the ultimate badge consumers are in your ecosystem and who will derive the greatest benefit are quite well taken. You don't actually describe your competency framework or indicate how and by whom competencies in your ecosystem are/will be defined. Nor do you speak to personas and user stories." (first submission: 7/15)

"Two concerns still, David: 1. You'll want to decide whether you want your badges to be participation badges or competency badges. Both are fine, but they aren't the same. (In Kyle Bowen's presentation during the "Learners" session, he distinguishes between "participation badges" and "skill badges". You find that discussion useful.) 2. While you have created additional archetypes/personas, you do not have an "after badges" user story." (second submission: 9/15)

"Great that you're sticking with it. Re-read your first submission on Challenge 1, and pat yourself on the back - your thinking has evolved noticeably in a short number of works. Cool." (third & successful submission: 11/15)

References
Sturgis, C. (2012). The Art and Science of Designing Competencies.  Competency Works Issue Brief. http://www.inacol.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/iNACOL_CW_IssueBrief_DesignComp.pdf [Accessed September 30, 2013]

Young, J. 2012 Merit Badges for the Job Market. Wall Street Journal. January 21, 2012. Available from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204301404577170912221516638.html. [Accessed September 24, 2013]

  • djalchemi

    Lots of useful thoughts here, David. I confess I hadn’t got as far as recognising the potential ‘unfairness’ that participants in the first run of ocTEL might feel if participants in later runs are given opportunities to earn badges that they didn’t have. So thanks for pointing it out (disclosure: I was the coordinator of the first run of ocTEL and am thinking about how we might implement badges in a future run, if there is one). It prompted to have a kind of internal dialogue (!) that went like this:

    - Well, participants in the first run could still apply for the ocTEL badges if and when they are made available using evidence from their work the first time around (assuming their blog still exists and we still keep their contributions to the forums available online).
    - Yes, but that’s still not fair, because when they took part in the original activities, they didn’t know what the criteria for the badges would be, so they couldn’t adjust their work and contributions to meet those criteria.
    - True, but (a) the way we offer the course does allow them the possibility to dip in (for free of course) and just do the relevant activities necessary to ‘top up’ their evidence to meet the criteria, and (b) we can’t make everything absolutely fair retrospectively sans time machine.
    Does that sound like a credible or plausible way forward?

    • http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/ David Hopkins

      I can understand the reluctance to issue badges to those who studied a ‘different’ course, especially if the materials or activities have changed between the cohorts. I know for a fact that I write and think very differently if there is something to be gained from it (publication, comments, retweets, badges, certificate, etc.) so it is probably best that badges are not issued retrospectively.

      Pity, there have been quite a few courses and training I’ve been involved in over the past few years that would have looked good in my Mozilla Backpack .. I’ll just have to go and do it again when they’ve got the badges ecosystem(s) in place .

      :-)

      • djalchemi

        I agree it’s a frustrating, but possibly inevitable, fact that accreditation can’t keep up in times or areas where things are changing rapidly.

        But if I implied reluctance to issue badges to people who studied a different course, or a different version of the same course, I didn’t mean to. I buy into the idea that Open Badges should be a measure of what you can do, not a measure of the particular hoops you’ve jumped through. Ideally someone highly competent in technology-enhanced learning ought to be able to get most of the ocTEL badges without doing any course at all. Tight coupling of accreditation to courses is pernicious because it serves the interests of the course provider (via learner ‘lock in’) rather than the learner.

        Thanks for reminding me of this!