“On the social plane, the understanding that identities are formed in open dialogue, unshaped by a predefined social script, has made the politics of equal recognition more central and stressful.”
—Charles Taylor, Politics of Recognition.
In my previous posts I tried to elicit the dangers associated with the increased colonisation of the world of (informal) education and recognition by institutions of formal education and how Open Badges might become the weapons of mass destruction of (informal) learning through what could be described as carpet badging — an expression borrowed from Dan Hickey who used it with a different meaning.
NB: when I use parenthesis, as in “(informal) learning,” it is just a reminder that ‘informal learning’ or ‘informal recognition’ only exists in relation to ‘formal learning’ or ‘formal recognition’ i.e. the learning/recognition that is not yet formalised. In rhetorics, ‘informal recognition’ and ‘informal learning’ are called pleonasms.
In this post, I will explore how we might be able decolonise learning and recognition, transforming what could become weapons of mass destruction into weapons of mass liberation: Open Endorsement!
Following yesterday’s post I’ve tried to structure some elements for an overview of the relationships between Open Badges and quality. This is just a rough draft, an ice breaker to open a conversation.
How do Open Badges and Quality Relate?
Open Badges and Quality can be related as in:
- Open Badges for Quality, as a means to achieve quality, e.g. using Open Badges as a vehicle for issuing quality marks or as a source of data for quality management
- Quality for Open Badges, as a means to achieve quality, e.g. design Quality badges
“There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable. There were only three types of faculties or powers in the individual’s constitution [reason, passion and appetite]. Hence education would soon reach a static limit in each class, for only diversity makes change and progress.”
John Dewey, Democracy and Education
After a quick pause with authentic friends of Open Recognition, we are now back on the tracks of its enemies—we will come back to more friends in the conclusion of this series of posts. This time we will focus on quality, or more precisely, how certain views on quality and Open Badges might have a damaging impact on the idea of Open Recognition.
This post will refer to the following definitions:
- Quality: “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfils requirement.” (source ISO 9000)
- Quality assurance (QA) “part of quality management focused on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled.” (source ISO 9000)
- Quality management (QM) includes all the activities related to quality planning, quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement.
In search of Quality
Quality is a subject of reflection, when not of concern, in the Open Badge community. A search on Google returns the following results: ”open badges” “Quality assurance” 17,500 entries, “open badges” “Quality” 630,000.
The first item returned by the query is a 2016 paper: Quality considerations in Open Badge initiatives, an introduction to a discussion paper “present[ing] data gathered from a “Quality Survey” and provid[ing] recommendations for quality assurance of Open Badge initiatives.” Although the low number of respondents (39 with 25 complete responses, mainly from the formal education sector) would not be sufficient to generate any significant statistical data or meaningful conclusions, the format and content of the survey, the responses collected and their analysis provide a useful insight on how the relationship between quality and Open Badges is perceived by segments of the Open Badge community and analyse the consequences of those views on the possibility to make Open Recognition a reality.
In my previous post I tried to find resources on how recognition works within the field of informal learning. Unfortunately I felt as though I was swimming against a strong current that kept me away from the shore. The ideas of recognition, validation, standards and accreditation of informal learning, not to mention quality assurance, are so entangled that we tend to forget that recognition has a life of its own and that validation and accreditation are only means at the service of one specific form of recognition: formal recognition.
Recognition is a social process and we need to understand whether Open Badges are as effective at supporting formal and informal recognition. And if not, what would be needed to support both forms of recognition as effectively?
Informal recognition in the Walhalla of Badges
To move my quest forward, I then went for a new search: “informal recognition” (with the quotes) that led this time to 66,400 results. Looking at the books tab, at the top of the list I could read: Giving and Receiving Performance Feedback, 2016 Federal Benefits Handbook [?!?!?!] and 99 Ways to Keep Employees Happy, Satisfied, Motivated and Productive…
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing anything about it, and I am much obliged to you for having taught me that.
—The Middle Class Gentleman (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme). Molière
In the previous post, I (briefly) explored the dangers associated with the formalisation of informal learning, how these dangers might be increased with the use of the first generation Open Badges, in particular how the Mozilla Backpack in that context “reduced individuals to the submissive puppets of institutional ventriloquists.” In this post and the next, I would like to expand the exploration of informal learning recognition, more precisely, how does informal learning operate within the informal space and from here imagine the tools that might contribute to making informal recognition visible, valuable. If Open Badges made informal learning visible, what could make informal recognition visible?
Recognition of vs. recognition within
Searching Google for “recognition of informal learning” then “recognition in informal learning” (with the quotes), the first query returned approximately 50,700 entries, the second only 1: “Course in Assessment of Informal Learning” © State of Victoria. It is a very comprehensive and well structured document containing a full description of the outcomes and competencies with performance criteria, range statements, etc. —I am personally indebted to Australia, especially the State of Victoria, for the many excellent resources on competency frameworks they have produced and used in my work. I wish that more course descriptions were just half that good. Despite the great quality and value of this document it is not what I was looking for. What I was looking for is information on how recognition operates within the world of informal learning.
Why have I not published lately?
A number of important events have occurred since my last post, starting with the disfiguration of planet Earth when a big orange blob fell and spattered across its surface. The fascination for this phenomenon has been a major distraction from my daily routine. I probably spend at least one hour a day trying to follow and understand what’s going on — why do people look like rabbits caught in the headlights, especially when the headlights are so dim? I must confess that under those circumstances, I find it difficult to follow Spinoza’s motto, nec ridere nec lugere sed intelligenre (neither laugh nor cry but understand) as I laugh a lot at what most likely makes my American friends scream or cry. With my attention focused on that part of the world I feel like that person who, in a plane, concentrates his mind on the flight events in the hope that it will help the plane land safely. The problem is that we are probably on Germanwings Flight 9525!
The other reason for my lack of public posts is that I had to digest what I was learning about the real impact of Open Badges and how people understand what they could do with them. Thanks to the notoriety and appeal of Open Badges (many find them “sexy”) and as there are not so many French experts on the subject, I have had the opportunity to be invited to meet a wide range of actors, both in the field of formal and informal education (and non-formal, but in the rest of this post, I’ll conflate non-formal and informal under informal). And what I have realised with great concern is that Open Badges are far from innocuous. They can have a very negative impact on learning and its recognition.
If we do not pay attention, Open Badges could become the weapons of mass destruction of informal learning!
For a long time I have played with the idea of picture-less badges and one-pixel badges. The reason for that was the over importance attributed to what I often refer to as the “pretty picture” playing the proverbial role of the tree hiding the forest of trust. Picture-less badges and one-pixel badges force us to reflect on how to get value out of the metadata embedded in a badge: what can we do with a badge if we don’t have a “pretty picture” to display?
One of the most disheartening and yet fascinating thing with Open Badges is our inability (or lack of interest) in using them to inform even the most elementary service related to badges. For example, I remember very clearly a session during my first visit at the Mozfest in 2012 where the idea of “badge the badger”was discussed, i.e. use badges to control the right to issue certain badges. Four years later, nothing has changed. For an external observer, that could be interpreted as if we do not really believe in their value beyond displaying “pretty pictures.”
Thanks to the work done with the 2.0 spec, things might change, but change will not happen solely with the publication of a new standard: to exploit its full potential we need the right technology and, moreover, the right mind-set. Using Open Badges as verifiable claims to control access to services could have been done with the current version of the standard. If it has not happened, it is not primarily the fault of a defective standard, but the mind-set of some of those involved in the Open Badge ecosystem, in particular the excessive focus on badges as micro-credentials rather than verifiable claims. Continue reading