Learning Providers (wk.4) #OpenBadgesMOOC

Badges - New Currency for Professional CredentialsHere we are at week four and challenge four. At the moment of writing I’ve earned three out of four badges that have been issued, with my response for the third challenge updated to take into account the feedback and comments about the lack of details I made about the competency framework and individual student ‘persona’.

You can read all my posts from this MOOC on the OpenBadgesMOOC tag, when I’ve written them!

Week 4 – Learning Providers
I can see the benefit of looking at badges for the soon-to-leave-education school leavers, and those already in work either actively looking for a new role or to up-skill themselves. But please don’t ignore higher education and both staff and students in it. Undergraduate degrees (and postgraduate degrees too) have as much to do with life skills as the specific subject of the degree award, and badges are a new and clear way to showcase these skills if, as I’ve said before, the criteria is selected and applied carefully and considerately. 

Jeff Selingo (2013) poses the question about what happens if (or when) universities lose the ability or credentials to award their degree certificates? What happens to the learning then? Of course learning has still taken place, but how do the students display or prove it has happened?

“The day when other organizations besides colleges provide a non-degree credential to signify learning might not be as far off as we think … badges could recognize, for example, informal learning that happens outside the classroom; ‘soft skills’, such as critical thinking and communication; and new literacies, such as aggregating information from various sources and judging its quality. And in a digital age, the badge could include links back to documents and other artifacts demonstrating the work that led to earning the stamp of approval.” (Selingo)

I have earned some badges before, and hope to add a few more from this MOOC and other courses I may take in the future. These badges will not be a ‘certificate of learning’ or ‘certificate of attendance’ unless that is the criteria with which they are awarded. I hope these will be badges of achievement based on skill and competency in the given field of expertise. These will showcase my ability to think, research, collaborate, report, investigate, develop, discuss, plan, implement, action, manage, liaise, etc. and, as you can see, are not limited to or by the individual subject of the course.

I could earn many many badges for investigative or research activities, each one different and unique, but all highlighting a skill based around research. Each badge has it’s own unique criteria linking it to the course and subject, but not limiting it to it either. This will therefore be a collection of badges I can use to demonstrate and showcase this skill and ability, all from different sources and for different reasons, and all still valid and worthwhile.

“Employers might prefer a world of badges to the current system. After all, traditional college diplomas look elegant when hung on the wall, but they contain very little detail about what the recipient learned.” (Young, 2012)

Young questions the merit and “tyranny” of the degree certificate and whether something like Mozilla badges could replace it. I don’t want to get into that argument (I’m not an argumentative sort of person) but simply say why not both? The degree has a purpose and it is fulfilling it. As does the badge. One can signify a level of learning and self-motivation, the other can signify achievement or skill. They can exist together and, when planned and implemented in a proper manner befitting them both, why not complement and enhance each other?

But what about courses that are offered, and taken, because the certificate or qualification gains them some form of accreditation? One reason I took the PG Cert at Bournemouth University is that I gained status as a Fellow to the Higher Education Academy, which in turn has opened up other opportunities to me. Can badges still be offered along side, or in place of, these qualifications? I think it’ll be a very brave organisation that accepts these badges at the moment: would would ALT accept badges as ‘credit’ towards my CMALT qualification? Perhaps they would if it was a badge designed and issued (and implemented?) by ALT, or certainly in very close co-ordination with them. But these are professional organisations offering professional qualifications. Would AMBA (Association of MBAs) accept badges as a currency from a £20,000 a year MBA provider?

Mind you, if an accredited body like AMBA issued badges would the member associations (including employers of MBA graduates) accept them and the student as a sign of quality, engagement, skill, etc.?

Badges are not mainstream yet, nor do they look like being for a while either. If, or when, they are and that the infrastructure / ecosystem around them is more stable then perhaps organisations such as HEA, ALT, or AMBA would take them more seriously, but only if the quality of badges (and therefore criteria and evidence of the students earning it) is more rigorously defined and applied – these organisations are about the quality of the professionals who are members, therefore the students earning their qualifications need to be equally professional. Badges just aren’t there yet.

Challenge 4 – Accreditation and Validation

I think my badge-earning abilities will be put in jeopardy this week as I know so very little about course validation, and even less about programme accreditation. So how this will be applied to badges, or rather how badges will be applied to the credentials needed for validation or accreditation?

Badges can be used, as I’ve mentioned before, to demonstrate skills or achievements that the formal assessment does not take into account, and it is the formal assessment that is usually used to determine whether the student has ‘made the grade’ to obtain the official degree qualification, and therefore any accredited  qualification.

In the example I’m using (an internal Blackboard course on creating effective discussion activities) there is no current validation or certification used or required for the course, the outcome, or the student. However, it has been discussed that ‘passing’ this course could form some element towards a cumulative professional development ‘portfolio’, not that there is one (yet). In fact part of the course is the evaluation of badges by senior academics and whether they think the ability to earn a badge for activity will affect their participation, or not.

As this is a course about developing techniques to create, manage, and assess online discursive activities it could quite easily form part of a series of similar ‘developmental’ courses where academics could learn about other technologies and techniques (think reflection, investigation, group work, etc.). Here badges could be used independently of each other but towards a common aim and, when brought together as part of a whole programme of study, generate a portfolio of badges which are accepted towards part- or full-certification to (e.g.) the PG Cert in Academic Practice in Higher Education? This is obviously out the remit and boundary of my initial study and implementation of badges, but will form part of the submission to committees for consideration across the Institution.

Obviously, if the badges are aligned to the pre-existing learning outcomes and assessment criteria this would be easy(er) to achieve the validation and accreditation, but I think badges should to be aligned to how the task or assignment was approached, not whether the student passed it, and what kind of skill can the student take forward into the world of corporate enterprise, therefore making them a better ’employee’. These are skills that are not, to my uninitiated mind, always formally assessed in the majority of cases.

And what of the personas / students? I’ll expand on them here from the previous weeks challenge, and how badges, from a learning provider’s perspective, can help them:

  • Academics are more than likely required to have gained FHEA accreditation through studying a PG Cert (see above) or other such training course, as part of their probation. With badges as part of this and other ‘training’ or ‘development’ course they could be used to demonstrate learning skills to take forward in their careers.
  • Badges can be used to demonstrate their own skills in developing and facilitating online discussions (in my example) so, when it comes to new programme validation, the paperwork can show and support their background in this.
  • Validation boards and accrediting agencies can see, at a glance, the skill set of the team involved in an existing or proposed programme, and where (if any) gaps need to be filled or addressed.

We must also remember that these individuals are already under a great deal of pressure to teach and research, and therefore do not necessarily have the time to investigate and implement another new scheme which, for some, may not have purpose. For some the students is attending to ‘read’ towards the current degree certificate, and that is enough.

What about ‘after the badges’ … in all these cases the academics can, and hopefully will, use the badges as evidence on their profile when applying, for example, for senior fellow status of the HEA or other professional or affiliated body (it’s not just about the ‘new’ job, but also about new ‘role’ or new ‘responsibility’ in an existing job). These badges should also act as evidence and credentials on their profile when handling paperwork connected to new modules or programmes, and the requirements of bodies such as QAA who are supporting “emerging developments (how the Higher Education Achievement Report is supporting student development and planning, Open Badges” (Quality Assurance Agency, 2013).

If an institution starts to award badges for demonstration of learning for professional, not student, development then how do we attach credibility or value to them? Is it enough to say that the University of Leicester has awarded a badge (include the badge description, criteria, and evidence), for example, to me for an eModeration course? The badge in this example is really only of value to anyone using it within this single institution, unless … would the badge, and therefore the person it was issued to, have more credibility if it was awarded by a professional organisation who was working with the institution? Examples could include the Higher Education Academy (who’s Fellow status is much sought and the accredited membership that a successful PG Cert students obtains) or the Association of Learning Technology (as part evidence towards their Certified Membership status), or even the Quality Assurance Agency?

If badges are to be used, and used well, then it is likely that a coherent plan of action and implementation is needed at an Institutional level, and this is likely to require input from all and any interested department that is involved in the award of degree certificates and accreditation. This will bring its own challenges to the proceedings, but we must not lose sight of the original plan which is to ‘award’ credit for achievements that can be taken forward by the individual into their new role or responsibility.

Quality Assurance Agency. November 2013 ‘Bringing it all together’: the thirteenth Annual Residential Seminar of the Centre for Recording Achievement. Available online: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Newsroom/Events/Pages/13th_CRA_Annual_residential_Nov13.aspx [Accessed on 2 October 2013]

Selingo, J., 2011 Think different? Not on College Campuses. Huffington Post, 22 September 2011. Available online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-selingo/think-different-not-on-co_b_977072.html [Accessed on 27 September 2013]

Young, J., 2012. ‘Badges’ Earned Online Pose Challenge to Traditional College Diplomas. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8 January, 2012. Available online: http://chronicle.com/article/Badges-Earned-Online-Pose/130241/. [Accessed on 30 September 2013]