Adding insult to injury, the OECD advice to girls: “if you want to be successful, be a good boy!”

Monday March 9, as part of March on Gender – FAST FORWARD TO GENDER EQUITY, Andreas Schleicher1 presented the results of OECD studies related to gender equity (link to video recording). What the studies clearly elicit is the fact that girls on almost all accounts score better than boys, whether in terms of creativity, willingness to cooperate, literacy, sciences etc. In short, take at random a cognitive, social or emotional skill and you have over 90% chances to be right if you bet that, in the same age range, girls outperform boys. 

Yet, there is a gender gap…

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Competency Badges: the tail wagging the dog?

Introduction

More than three decades ago, I started a journey exploring how technologies could contribute to making one’s competencies more visible, especially for those who didn’t have the chance to receive a formal qualification. Started in the world of formal1 education this journey led me to pay increasing attention to the informal world in which we spend most of our life (including during our schooling years!).

After discovering the competency portfolio2 I became actively engaged in the work on ePortfolios (that led to many European projects and conferences) and, more recently, Open Badges. While the “normal” trajectory should have led to my becoming an ardent defender of “competency badges”, it did not go that way. Quite the opposite in fact: from my positive experience with competency-based education and qualifications, I also learned that these are far from flawless, not primarily because of “the human factor”, but from the implicit message they convey: only formal recognition has value, that which is not formally recognised has little or no value.

In focusing our attention initially on competency badges we were shifting to another level the problem Open Badges were designed to solve, i.e. making informal learning visible. Initially, 99.99% of the time Open Badges were being used to formally recognise informal learning and competency badges sold like hot cakes. What Open Badges also had to offer, and was neglected at the time, is their potential to make informal recognition visible: if probably over 90% of our learning is informal, then, for sure, 99.99% of all recognitions are also informal—cue: the recognition by an employer of a formal qualification is informal!— and not visible.

This is what in 2016 led to the authoring of the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration and today’s article.

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It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (2/3)

Are blockchains to credentials what the embalming fluids are to thanatopraxie, a means to keep the appearance of life to the dead?

In the previous post, we examined some of the blockchains shortcomings: over-hype being second to their defective and noxious relationship to trust—and the human race in general. In this post we are looking at one particular application of the blockchain technology in the field of education: Blockcerts1. While an interesting piece of engineering (with still a number of serious issues to be solved) my contention is that it is the wrong solution to a false problem, or to be more specific, it is the exploitation of an immature technology in a attempt to solve a problem with a vision anchored in the past: the [antediluvian] credentialing system, when a credential was for life.

Thanks to the blockchain priests, credentials are not just for life anymore, but eternal life! We will die, for sure, but if we believe in the Blockspell our credentials will survive us, eternally!

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It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (1/3)


Metaphor for blockchain-centred systems—when a part becomes the whole

Why Blockchains?

The rationale for the initial development of blockchain technologies like Bitcoins, was to solve the problem of double spending while simultaneously:

  • Getting rid of regulatory bodies — the dream of the proponents of anarcho-capitalism also called libertarian anarchy, one of the ideologies widely shared between the alt-right, Trump and Silicon Valley (c.f. their track-record in tax dodging).
  • Getting rid of the need for trusted authorities to secure transactions — which resulted in creating an ecosystem that works best when everybody is at war with everybody. Trust is a mortal sin as trust between the miners could lead to collusion and cheating.

“Cryptocurrencies are among the largest unregulated markets in the world. We find that approximately one-quarter of bitcoin users are involved in illegal activity. We estimate that around $76 billion of illegal activity per year involves bitcoin (46% of bitcoin transactions), which is close to the scale of the US and European markets for illegal drugs.” – Foley, Karlsen, Putniņš, Sex, Drugs, and Bitcoin: How Much Illegal Activity Is Financed Through Cryptocurrencies?

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It’s about Trust, Stupid! Why Blockchain-based BlockCerts are the wrong solution to a false problem (0/3)


Prolegomenon

Blockchains have become both a kind of a fashion item and a religion. Not having one on display can be considered as a sign of bad taste, ignorance, misplaced skepticism, Luddism or heathendom.

This series of posts (3) is a rebuttal of the blockchain bandwagon on to which so many are willing to jump without engaging their brains: remember Farmingdale (link), a $24 million iced tea company had its stock jump 200% when it declared moving into the blockchain business? How engaged were the brains of those who decided to invest in the 1,000+ cryptocurrencies (link) that failed in 2018? And if 92% of blockchain projects have failed (link) does it mean that the other 8% have succeeded? Or that they are on the soon-to fail waiting list?

A recent call for tenders by the European Commission for the Study on Blockchains: Legal, Governance and Interoperability Aspects specified:

“The study will enquire for legal and regulatory aspects related to blockchain-inspired technologies and their applications as well as for socio-economic impacts of the Blockchain technology. […] The study should reinforce or complement the work of the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, while providing useful and meaningful inputs for the deployment of a EU Blockchain Infrastructure in 2019.

So, now it’s a given, there will be a “deployment of an EU Blockchain Infrastructure in 2019” and therefore we just have to study “legal and regulatory aspects” to “reinforce” the work of the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, an “observatory” who’s primary mission is not to “observe but :

to promote blockchain in Europe by mapping existing blockchain initiatives, analysing and reporting on important blockchain themes, promoting blockchain education and knowledge sharing and holding events to promote debate and discussion.”

The general contractor of the so called “observatory” is ConsenSys AG, a blockchain technology provider… It’s a bit like if Shell had been contracted by the European Commission to lead an observatory on global warming… Or the Vatican an observatory on paedophilia… It’s true that each of them have first hand experience with the subject matter.

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Are micro-credentials the mortal enemy of culture?

The title of this post is inspired by a text written in 1935 by the French poet Paul Valéry which I received from my friend and colleague Philippe Petiqueux (@misterppqx).

The opening words of Paul Valéry’s text are:

“I never hesitate to declare that the diploma is the mortal enemy of culture. The more important diplomas have become in life (and this importance has only increased because of economic circumstances), the lower the performance of education has been. The more control was exercised and extended, the worse the results became.”

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Kirkpatrick and Open Badges: Can do better!

Ensuring that the competencies acquired during training are actually transferred to the workplace—what the “Kirkpatrick methodology” defines as assessment level 3-—is a classic human resource management problem. How to address it? And more specifically, how could Open Badges contribute to its resolution?

Open Badges according to Kirkpatrick …

In an attempt to address this question, I went to Kirkpatrick Partners where I discovered a whole range of badges, from simple participation badges (“Kirkpatrick Session Participant”), up to those issued after demonstration of the application of Kirkpatrick Methodology (“Kirkpatrick Certified Professional”).

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The World Brain Experiment

“We want a reconditioned and more powerful Public Opinion. In a universal organisation and clarification of knowledge and ideas, in a closer synthesis of university and educational activities, in the evocation, that is, of what I have here called a World Brain, operating by an enhanced educational system through the whole body of mankind, a World Brain which will replace our multitude of unco-ordinated ganglia, our powerless miscellany of universities, research institutions, literatures with a purpose, national educational systems and the like; in that and in that alone, it is maintained, is there any clear hope of a really Competent Receiver for world affairs, any hope of an adequate directive control of the present destructive drift of world affairs. We do not want dictators, we do not want oligarchic parties or class rule, we want a widespread world intelligence conscious of itself. To work out a way to that World Brain organisation is therefore our primary need in this age of imperative construction.” World Brain, H. G. Wells, 1938

“We want a reconditioned and more powerful Public Opinion”

Those words were written by H. G. Wells in 1938, the year Hitler made a triumphal entry into Vienna to celebrate the Anschluss with Austria, the year of the Munich Agreement consenting to the annexation of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia in return for peace (!), the year of the Kristallnacht when Jewish shops and synagogues were destroyed and their owners later fined for the destruction!!!

To many, the world of 2018 might not look as bad as the one of 1938… But what would a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide have to say about today’s world (800,000 Tutsi murdered)? An Iraqi living in “liberated Irak” (between 180,807 and 202,757 civilian deaths) or a Syrian (+500,000 killed, 5.1 million refugees and 6.3 million internally displaced)? To add insult to injury, let’s not forget that Syria’s rulers used the informed advice of Alois Brunner, an Austrian SS officer who worked as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant and ran the notorious Drancy camp. What goes around…

While one might find disturbing similarities between the annexion of Crimea by Putin to that of Sudetenland by Hitler, or between the Russian involvement in Syria and that of the Condor Legion during the Spanish war, this is probably not what we should worry about most. What should worry us is the withering of “public opinion” and its bodies, the free press, the trade unions and the political parties, its fragmentation at the most atomic level, the individual, under the influence of the new mass media, the ill-named social media.
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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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The Open Recognition and its Enemies (5) — Saved by Open Endorsement!

“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!

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