One of my (many) interests in Open Badges is in relation to trust. Oblivious to Open Badges images, I 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.
While it might take some time before seeing an end to OBI asymmetry, I would like to explore in this post another possible path for establishing trust: using evidence to establish networks of trust.
What makes a good piece of evidence?
One of the current limits I see with the practice of Open Badges is the fragmentation of evidence. Each piece of evidence is presented as something produced by one person and one person only. This is the result of the influence of traditional forms of assessment where learners are required to provide individually produced pieces of work, tests or exams in order to get some form of feedback or credit. Of course, group work is sometimes used as a source of evidence, but its importance remains marginal with regard to the dominating individualistic forms of assessment. Moreover, when taking place, group work is generally practiced within the confinements of a discipline, which is yet another testimony to the fragmentation or our educational system.
Traditional forms of assessment are therefore twice fragmented: individualistic and discipline fragmentations are the rules governing our assessment and credential systems. Evidence of this fragmentation is to be found in the artefacts produced for assessment and credentials. There is a third fragmentation (and probably more!): it is the academic and formal nature of most of the artefacts produced during learning: they have no value outside the closed walls of schooling and academia. In which real life situations do we have to use multiple choice questions, yet, this is a form of assessment many teachers love to use — and with Moodle, it is soooo easy to deliver an Open Badge just for responding correctly to a multiple choice question!
So, if the quality of evidence used for assessment in formal education is generally poor, when not mediocre, what could make a good piece of evidence? In my opinion, a good piece of evidence should have different characteristics:
- it is cross-disciplinary, connecting different elements of different competencies (i.e. knowledge, skills, attitudes and values). Put differently, it can be used to deliver more than one Open Badge.
- it is connected to other pieces of evidence produced over time and across contexts. In other words, a piece of evidence used to deliver one badge is either used in one or more Open Badge, and the other pieces of evidence used for that badge are also connected to other badges
- it connects people, through the value chain of the artefacts submitted as evidence of learning. The artefacts could be produced collaboratively or be one individual contribution to a larger system produced / consumed with others, etc.
The corollary of this proposition would be that a poor piece of evidence can be identified when:
- it is valuable only for one discipline or subject
- it is not connected to other pieces of evidence
- it does not connect to other people (beyond the teacher!)
A few years ago I formulated the hypothesis that, using adequate technology, if two members of the staff of an 80 employees enterprise would write their own résumé, at the end of the exercise, the CV of the other 78 employees would be partially completed. We could even imagine all CVs being 90% complete, by asking only 10% of the staff to write their own résumés — this would of course require to be validated/falsified with proper testing, but here is the gist of the argument.
An enterprise is a social environment where people collaborate, directly and indirectly. So when Mary writes her CV she reports what she has done with Lyn, Paul, Ramon, her clients, subcontractors, contractors, etc. And when she does so, each piece of information is automatically shared with Lyn’s, Paul’s and others’ résumés. Paul’s and others can then decide to validate it or not, publish it or not. By validating the additions to their CV, symmetrical trust links are being established between Mary and the others.
To make such a scenario possible, we would need proper social computing, beyond today’s ePortfolio silos. xAPI and Open badges could definitively contribute to such a solution!
We Built that Bridge!
Mary’s company, a civil engineering firm, was recently part of a consortium to build a bridge. At the end of the construction, the contracting authority decided to issue a badge to all the people who contributed to the successful achievement of the project. It is not a competency badge (how could the contracting authority know the details of the competencies of each individual?), but an achievement badge. It is a testimony to all the individual contributions.
The badge is pushed to the backpacks of each of the contributors, contractors and individuals. Now, each recipient has the possibility to create a narrative where the Bridge Achievement Open Badge (BAOB) provides a link to that bridge, hence to all the other people who have contributed to its making. Although it is not a competency badge, this badge is a testimony to the combination of all competencies involved in the building of the bridge.
The bridge is a piece of evidence that is shared by many. It does not state precisely what is the contribution of each of the participants, but the combination of this badge with another piece of information, like another badge delivered by an employer or a co-worker could easily make the distinction between Mary, the chief architect who led the design team from Tom, who also happens to be an architect who worked on the project… in the catering service… as he was currently without any clients and took this job as a means to maintain a minimum revenue at a difficult time of his career.
If the BAOB was placed on Google Map at the location of the bridge, someone clicking on it could see all the contributors, contractors and people. Drilling further the backpacks of the participants it would be possible to generate a representations of all the competencies involved in this project as well as the pathways that led them where they are today. Revealing actual career pathways would certainly be a powerful source of information for study and career guidance!
The world is my portfolio!
In the near future, looking at a building, a piece of equipment or any object through Google Glasses one could be in the position to find out where it comes from, who contributed to its design and production, how it traveled to its current position, hence giving the opportunity to establish contact with all the actors of the value chain. Looking at a house one could find out, not only who the architect is, but who the contractors were, whether the owner is satisfied or not with their services, where the roof slates were bought from and at what price (this is a piece of information a vendor could provide without having to ask permission of the house owner). As we might be able to do the same with people… is it our future to be reifed to a CCTV ?
Beyond the dystopian vision of a transparency dictatorship, what I would like to convey is the idea that an ePortfolio does not have to be confined to a limited space. We should be able to use OpenBadgeMap (akin to OpenStreetMap rather Googlemap!) to show our journey and place the artefacts we have produced and our contributions, the people we have worked with or for. The artefacts we have produced are more than just artefacts: they are connectors, connectors to other artefacts, to ideas, places and people. Artefacts are trust connectors.
This would give an altogether different meaning to the slogan “badge the world!“