Monday January 13th, I was invited to present how Open Badges and ePortfolios could contribute to the quality of learning at a seminar on quality in distance education organised by the FIED (Fédération Interuniversitaire de l’Education à Distance).
I took the opportunity develop further a reflection started in 2007 with the publication of a green paper entitled From quality of eLearning to eQuality of learning (link). The objective was to explore an alternative path to the mechanistic, and too often trivial, approaches to quality and eLearning.
Quality as Learning
One of the questions raised in the green paper was:
What would the consequences be if we moved our reflection from quality of learning, to quality as learning?
In response, the green paper proposed:
to shift the focus from quality of eLearning to eQuality as learning, i.e. reflect on how digital technologies can provide support for improving all forms of learning – instruction and training, face to face, at a distance, or mixed, formal and informal, personal and organisational – making the quality process itself a personal and organisational experience.
ePortfolios & Open Badges to the Service of Learning Quality from Serge Ravet
(The presentation accessible on Slideshare has no sound, but the original presentation was recorded and will be soon available, in French)
One of the issues I had with some of the approaches to quality is their potential negative impact on innovation, creativity and authentic learning: if the objective of a quality system is to ensure that the curriculum, all the curriculum and ‘just’ the curriculum is being achieved, then it is very likely that when a student will ask a question that is not directly related to the curriculum, the teacher might reply: “that is not in the programme, you don’t need to learn that for the test / exam” — well, it’s a fact that I must have heard more than 100 times this phrase during my entire initial education (I lost count beyond 100).
One risk with some of the ‘standards’ used in quality assurance is ‘conformity:’ having a quality process about checking the conformance of a service or a product against standards, does not naturally nurture innovation and creativity — forgers and crooks of all sorts excepted. Conformance is more prone to produce subservient behaviours than independent spirits:
Conformism is a term used to describe the suspension of an individual’s self-determined actions or opinions in favor of obedience to the mandates or conventions of one’s peer-group, or deference to the imposed norms of a supervening authority. (source: Wikipedia)
conventionalist, traditionalist, orthodox person, conservative, bourgeois, (old) fogey, stickler, formalist, diehard, reactionary; crawler, truckler, kowtower, groveller, puppet, spaniel; informal stick-in-the-mud, stuffed shirt, yes-man. ANTONYMS eccentric; rebel. (source: Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 2nd Edition)
While it makes sense to have detailed standards to protect consumers from unplanned cremation (c.f. BS 7177 for resistance to ignition of mattresses, mattress pads, divans and bed bases), quality in the field of learning is something entirely different: it is learning about learning. It is not something which is done to or even for learning, but as learning. Like assessment (which is also learning about learning), assessing and improving the quality of learning should be about reflecting on the learning process based on the collection of various data and the establishment of a shared understanding (learning community).
Hence the need for an organisational ePortfolio facilitating the collection of evidence required for engaging the learning community into an organisational reflective process.
Therefore the focus is placed on the use of technology to support quality, eQuality, rather than on the process of assessing the use of technology in learning.
In the presentation I also made an attempt to represent the different levels of openness, from the trust infrastructure to the societal level, with Open Identities (nothing to do with Open ID, which should be called Open Identifier rather than Open Identity), Open Employment or Open Government. This is a very first attempt and I’ll try to provide a more complete description and explanation.
European approaches to quality in eLearning
During the seminar, different quality assurance/improvement systems developed with the support of the European Commission. The main ones are supported by EFQUEL (the European Foundation for Quality in E-Learning) and the EADTU (European Association of Distant Teaching Universities).
You can read on the EX-CELLENCE website that “the E-XELLENCE label was established to reward the efforts of universities in a continuous process of improving their e-learning performance.  The E-xcellence Associates label is not a label for proven excellence but rather a label for institutions/faculties using the E-xcellence instrument for self-assessment and take measures of improvement accordingly.”
There are no standardised criteria applicable to every institution of higher education. Each organisation defines its own criteria to use them for benchmarking their own practice for improvement.