Towards an Ethical Framework for #OpenRecognition

“Open Recognition” is the association of two words that, when taken independently, cover such a wide range of connotations and values that they can easily become confusing, while, when combined, they provide a powerful concept to discriminate between open/closed, recognition/rejection, inclusion/exclusion. For example, the very first Open Badge technologies were designed in such a way that individuals were de facto denied the right to recognise others, and therefore prevented the development of Open Recognition practices. The technology standard was open, the software implementing the standard was also open, but the recognition process was mainly closed. The 2.0 Open Badge Standard creates the conditions to put an end to this discrepancy and enable the emergence of Open Recognition ecosystems.

While a new standard creates new opportunities, it does not eliminate poor practices of the past, such as linking a collection of Open Badges to the awarding of free pizzas or other “extrinsic motivations.” With the emergence of an even more powerful technology it is becoming critical to define an ethical framework for Open Badges in support of Open Recognition. Can we learn from our mistakes to mitigate the consequences of the next ones we are prone to commit?

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Open Badges and Quality

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

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Open Recognition and its Enemies (4) — Quality Assurance

“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.

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Open Recognition and its Enemies (2) — No Informal Learning without Informal Recognition

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.

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Beyond #OpenBadges: #OpenSignatures — the power to act, rather than the power to pack!

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

#OpenBadges: the BOTOX of education? — #BeyondCredentials

Two weeks ago, during the Badge Alliance weekly Community Call (link) when Nate Otto presented the outcomes of the Badge Alliance Board Meeting, one of the slides (c.f. below) triggered a discussion on whether Open Badges are “just about credentialing”:

Are Open Badges about credentialing?

Are Open Badges just about credentialing?

Earlier in April, Carla Casilli posted her reflections on “Open badges + credentials: the value of the not-credential” (link):

“Right now, we still need badges to flourish in the non-regimented space of not-credentials—a world of value that has yet to be fully realized or appreciated—where the sliding scale of social and cultural currency changes depending on context.”

Doug Belshaw responded to Carla stating: “ I just can’t see a situation where a badge wouldn’t also count as a credential — even if that wasn’t the original intention” (link). Doug further adds:

“What badges don’t have to be, even if they’re wholly contained within the ‘credential’ circle, is traditional. They can recognise all kinds of knowledge, skills, and behaviours — as well as all kinds of things we haven’t even thought of yet!”

While defending that badges are credentials Doug Belshaw claims that “badges don’t have to be […] traditional,” yet it is precisely because badges tend to be “traditional” that Carla Casilli writes “we still need badges to flourish in the non-regimented space of not-credentials.” Could there be a connection between thinking of Open Badges as credentials and the reason why they are not being more used in the “non-regimented space”?

“While Open Badges could become an authentic rejuvenating medicine, many are only interested in an educational BOTOX® for a cheap facelift.”

With the growing interest of institutions of formal education in Open Badges, I am afraid that we are more likely to witness the transformation of Open Badges technology and practices to fit the needs of formal education for conformance rather than the other way around. While Open Badges could become an authentic rejuvenating medicine, many are only interested in an educational BOTOX® for a cheap facelift — Don Presant detailed one such example in Problems with “Badges for Food”.

My claim is that the vocabulary we use to describe Open Badges and the processes they support can make the difference between authentic transformation and masquerade — and avoid BOTOX®  mishaps! Continue reading

What relationship between #OpenBadges and competencies?

Recent posts by Timothy Freeman Cook (@timothyfcook) explored (here and there) the relationship between Open Badges and competencies.  I would like to build on Timothy’s ideas.

I have rearranged in a table the initial elements of what Timothy calls “the atomic elements of learning”:

 Atom  Equivalent Definition  Learner’s perspective
Competencies Standards Definition of learning one ought to acquire What should I learn?
Pathways Courses Relationships between learnings In what order should I learn?
 Badges Credentials Proof of a learning accomplishment Did I learn it? 
 Resources Opportunities Something one can use for a learning experience  How can I learn it?

For Timothy:

The more I sketch and dwell on it, the more I am convinced that the concept of the pathway is actually something that should apply, separately, to each of the 3 elements.  […]

The 3 primary elements are:

  1. Competency
  2. Credential
  3. Resource

and each of these can be expressed on a graph with a linear or non-learner ordering or nested relationships. […] A competency graph is a prerequisite structure.

While later in the post is the following definition: “[the] competency graph is a map” I would like to explore now this idea of mapping and graphs.

What are the frameworks of learning?

Good competency standards are designed by performing a functional analysis, i.e. the analysis of all the activities contributing to achieving the purpose/mission of a sector (e.g. automotive, hotel & catering industry) or domain (e.g. management, administration, sales, engineering). The functional analysis is a mapping exercise, just like explorers drew maps of unchartered territories. Functional analysis takes into account all the activities, from the most basic (e.g. feed-in a copy machine) to the most complex (managing finance). The outcome is a competency framework.

Unfortunately, very few competency standards are built this way. Most of them are the result of task analysis leading to a fragmented representation of the territory. Moreover there is often a confusion between competencyqualification and training frameworks.

When a competency framework is produced, there is not yet an indication that a certain competency is at level 1 or 8 (there are 8 levels in the European Qualification Framework, link) nor that one competency must be acquired before another. The attribution of levels to the different competencies is based on the spectrum of routine/unpredictable tasks, basic/complex required knowledge, the degree of responsibility for oneself and others, etc. The result is a qualification framework. The organisation of competencies through prerequisites leads to a training framework.

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