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 formal 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 portfolio 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
This is what in 2016
led to the authoring of the Bologna Open Recognition Declaration and today’s article.
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.”
“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?
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.
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.
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
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 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
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Are micro-credentials a disruptive innovation, just as micro-credits (micro-loans) were thought to be a few years ago? To answer this question we should first find out what can be qualified as a disruptive innovation? According to Wikipedia:
A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.
Open Badges are creating a new market, the market of Open Credentials (micro-credentials are just one type of Open Credentials) and establishing a new currency, or more precisely reinvigorating one of the oldest currencies ever: trust.
Trust has many properties. First, it’s free and when offered, it enriches both the giver and the recipient. And when the recipients of trust get richer (with trust), their increased wealth can trickle back to those who initiallyoffered their trust. While it might still need the philosophers’ stone (link) to be transmuted into gold, trust can nevertheless be transformed into real cash as one experiences when applying for a loan. Con artists and banks* also know how to make cash out of trust!
For the poorest, things are different. One of the few assets they cannot be totally deprived of is trust. Thanks to the Nobel Prize winning Grameen Bank (link) founded by Muhammad Yunus, they now have the power to convert trust into micro-loans.
Grameen Bank is owned by the borrowers and it is based on trust. It does not require any collateral from its borrowers. Since the bank does not wish to take any borrower to the court of law in case of non-repayment, it does not require the borrowers to sign any legal instrument.
Were micro-credits transformative?
What lessons could the Open Badge practitioners learn from the Grameen Bank and the many micro-credit organisations that have been spawned since its creation? Can we draw a parallel between micro-credits and micro-credentials in terms of empowerment and potential social transformation? Could Open Badges create the conditions for the emergence of a new economy?