From ePortfolio to Open Badges – on the Individuation of Technical Objects

Introduction

In 2004, during the second international ePortfolio conference (La Rochelle, France) a group of participants agreed to launch a campaign on the theme ePortfolio for all! Their objective was “by 2010, every citizen will have an ePortfolio!” 10 years later, despite a growing number of ePortfolio initiatives worldwide, we are still very far from achieving this goal.

This text is an attempt at exploring why the global adoption of Open Badges is likely to succeed and how it might feedback into ePortfolio technologies and practices. For that purpose, in the perspective of the genesis of technological objects, I draw a parallel with the evolution of computer technology from the early generation of computers to the advent of integrated circuits and computer chips (CPU, central processing units). The emergence of Open Badges will be analysed as a result of the evolution of ePortfolios, their concrétisation (reification). ePortfolios are more abstract, Open badges more concrete as the result of an individuation process.

While the genesis of technological objects and the process of individuation has been described with talent by philosophers like Gilbert Simondon and Bernard Stiegler, this post simply aims at inviting the members of the ePortfolio community to reflect on their practices and the possible futures for ePortfolio technologies.

On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects

In Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, 1958) Gilbert Simondon describes the concrétisation of technical objects as the ability of objects to become more autonomous, self-regulated, in relation to the associated milieu in which they operate. This process has a corollary, abstraction, which is when an object becomes more dependent on its associated milieu, as is the case with a number of genetically modified organisms — e.g. induced sterility in order to control the crop market, regulations, etc.

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What have I learned from Moodle and Mahara?

I am currently working on a project (http://www.transit-project.eu/) the objective of which is to help secondary education teachers in developing the competencies they need to support the acquisition of key competencies of their pupils as defined by the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning Framework published by the European Commission. The course we are developing will be adapted to the different national contexts of the project partners.

The Key Competences framework comprises 8 key competencies:

  • Communication in the mother tongue
  • Communication in foreign languages
  • Mathematical, science and technology competencies
  • Digital competency
  • Learning to learn
  • Social and civic competencies
  • Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Cultural awareness and expression

I will detail in another post my criticism of this framework (which is like the wedding of the carp and the rabbit) but for now I will simply indicate that there is a much better and more properly structured framework developed by the Scottish government. It is called Curriculum for Excellence.

The Four Capacities —  the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

The most obvious difference between the European and Scottish frameworks is the implicit vision of the individual: one is fragmented, the other holistic. The European Framework lists a set of skills, a kind of micro-curriculum organised in a series of subjects/disciplines — most of them are already taught in the current curricula. It is also extremely tame: one of the goal is not to create entrepreneurs, but simply to have a “sense of initiative and entrepreneurship!” While the European framework seems to be oblivious to the identity construction process, the Scottish framework clearly states that its goal is to produce successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. The skills are a means to achieving that high level goal, which means that teachers and communities are encouraged to develop their own curriculum (examples). The European Framework lists a minimal set of skills for the learners, the Curriculum for Excellence sets a global context for the reinvention and the co-creation of many curricula with all the members of learning community.

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Open Badges Unite! Connecting Open Badges through Evidence

Open Badges as Trust Relationship

Open Badges as Trust Relationship

One of my (many) interests in Open Badges is in relation to trust. Oblivious to Open Badges imagesI can’t help but see Open Badges as primarily a trust relationships between Open Badge issuers and Open Badge holders, or recipients. Trust is expressed through an assertion which is informed by a series of criteria and evidence, eventually represented by a pretty picture. The current implementation of Open Badges does not (yet) fully exploit the potential of  trust relationships: as the chain of trust is fragmented  (we cannot establish that A trusts B who trusts C who trusts…). Far from being learner centered, i.e. badge holder centered, the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) is badge issuer centered. What connects badges together are the badge issuers (one issuer can trust many recipients). The user-centeredness of Open Badges rests in the discourses and not (yet) in the technological infrastructure. OBI is asymmetrical, and the asymmetry, if not corrected, will ultimately profit the institutions, not the individuals, and favour the concentration of Open Badges services, like Credly, into the hands of a limited number of providers.

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