My ePortfolio, our Badge!

[The first idea for a title was: User-Driven Badges vs User-Driven ePortfolios.]

Yesterday, during the Open Badges weekly meeting (link), Patrick McGee (1) from The Volunteer Centre Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde’s  presented Do A Bit, a project using Mozilla Open Badges, in conjunction with a volunteer passport, to increase participation in volunteering and to reward participants (2).

One particular element of the strategy stroke my attention: volunteers are invited to tell what skills they would like to be recognised with an Open Badge. It is not the organisation that is deciding what are the badges worth delivering, but the participants deciding on which badges they would like to have designed, just for them.

Although this is very much in line with a presentation I attended some time ago where teachers were inviting students to establish together their badges awarding criteria [I need to add a reference!], this made me ask the following question: could something like that have happened with ePortfolios? After all, aren’t ePortfolios, like Open Badges,  designed for making learning visible to others and oneself – reflective learning? At that point of my reflection, the answer is… probably not…

This post is a first attempt at explaining why, although ePortfolios and Open Badges are supposed to be user-centric, Open Badges have a greater potential to be user-driven, than ePortfolios.

My ePortfolio, our Badge

One of the main differences I see between ePortfolios and Open Badges is the social dimension. Collective ePortfolios remain a rarity, a good theme for an inspirational keynote address at a conference! Yet, when reflecting on the dialectic between individual and collective ePortfolios, one can ask whether:

  •  a collective ePortfolio is an aggregation of individual ePortfolios, or
  •  the individual ePortfolio is a projection, on the individual plan, of a collective ePortfolio?

There is probably no such thing as a personal narrative that is not deeply intertwined with other people’s narratives. The interweaving of our stories are like the threads of a social fabric. Yet the technologies developed for ePortfolios lead to the creation of personal silos of information where the natural interweaving of our narratives is fragmented. We have lost the opportunity of presenting the threads of our narratives in the context of a rich, dense and colourful fabric (a possible variation of T. S. Eliot’s Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?). And from that point of view, there is certainly no advantage in using an ePortfolio platform over a simple blog system — ePortfolio platforms remain still useful for institutions (that are mostly silos!).

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Open Badges are more than Pretty Pictures

One of the reasons why Open Badges are so popular is their ability to make visible what people have achieved. And the way to make the achievements visible is through the display of a picture. Several times in the past I have commented that Open Badges are more than pretty pictures and that there is a risk that the  pretty pictures might become to the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) what the proverbial tree is to the forest…

What gives value to the pretty picture is the metadata baked into it, i.e. the links to the issuer, the recipient, the awarding criteria and possibly the evidence informing the criteria. Without metadata (and the underpinning OBI trust architecture) a badge would be dumb. Conversely, a badge does not really need a picture to be made visible: from the point of view of accessibility, or simply good design, any picture should have an “alt” field properly informed, so a visually impaired reader could make sense of it. It should be the choice of the badge owner or reader to decide whether to see the picture or the textual version. This would be practical to compose a CV from a collection of badges without having to force a potential employer or client to figure out what those pretty pictures mean.

Why should the pretty pictures be dynamic?

There could be various reasons why the picture displayed by a badge should be dynamic, depending on the point of view:

  1. Issuer: an issuer can decide that a badge is valid for a certain period of time, after which the candidate needs to become re-accredited. Being able to provide a visual cue on the badge, such as changing from bright colours to grey, from sharp to fuzzy, or displaying a countdown to the expiration date, are some of the many options an issuer should be able to choose from.
  2. Recipient: a candidate could pledge for a badge and display a pie-chart indicating the % of progress towards achievement. This would be a means to show potential employers or clients ones current learning, not just past achievements.
  3. Reader: an employer reads a series of CV’s with 100+ badges, many of them totally new to her/him (except for those delivered by well known brands of education providers) and wants to use her/his CSS to create a display relevant to her/his own needs based on the baked metadata.

 Why Should the Design of Pretty Pictures be Consistent?

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Hello World!

Hello world! is a message well known to the apprentice programmer and webmaster: it is the typical output one tries to get when learning a new programming language or checking whether a system is operating correctly.

Such is the case: after many years of (extremely) irregular postings to my blog, I have installed an instance of WordPress and configured it in such a way that all my posting will go seamlessly to my different Twitter and Facebook accounts. This message is a means to test whether I have done a good job when configuring WordPress!

Hello world! is also meant to convey another, less technical, message: I have made the decision to keep a regular journal on learning technologies and identities. Why do I believe that the frequency of my postings will be less stochastic than in the past? Open Badges is the answer!

Open Badges is a truly open community, where every contribution, from the most humble to the most challenging, is welcomed, nurtured and reviewed with consideration by a community supported by the Mozilla Foundation. Being part of the Open Badges community gives one the sense of contributing to a global co-design exercise. Thousands of initial practitioners have delivered hundreds of thousands of badges, and their experience is directly fed-back into the design circuit. Open Badges is truly a learning technology, in the sense that the technology is the result of a learning process, a community learning process.

This is a very different experience from the one I had within the ePortfolio community. For example, when in 2010 I wrote the 10 ePortfolio challenges, the text generated some polite interest but no actual commitment. Conversely, after I wrote Open Badges vs Tin Can, within a few weeks two communities that had never worked together before (ADL/SCORM and Open Badges) joined their efforts to write a series of use cases and are now working on the specifications for a demonstrator.

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