What have I learned from Moodle and Mahara?

I am currently working on a project (http://www.transit-project.eu/) the objective of which is to help secondary education teachers in developing the competencies they need to support the acquisition of key competencies of their pupils as defined by the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning Framework published by the European Commission. The course we are developing will be adapted to the different national contexts of the project partners.

The Key Competences framework comprises 8 key competencies:

  • Communication in the mother tongue
  • Communication in foreign languages
  • Mathematical, science and technology competencies
  • Digital competency
  • Learning to learn
  • Social and civic competencies
  • Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Cultural awareness and expression

I will detail in another post my criticism of this framework (which is like the wedding of the carp and the rabbit) but for now I will simply indicate that there is a much better and more properly structured framework developed by the Scottish government. It is called Curriculum for Excellence.

The Four Capacities —  the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

The most obvious difference between the European and Scottish frameworks is the implicit vision of the individual: one is fragmented, the other holistic. The European Framework lists a set of skills, a kind of micro-curriculum organised in a series of subjects/disciplines — most of them are already taught in the current curricula. It is also extremely tame: one of the goal is not to create entrepreneurs, but simply to have a “sense of initiative and entrepreneurship!” While the European framework seems to be oblivious to the identity construction process, the Scottish framework clearly states that its goal is to produce successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. The skills are a means to achieving that high level goal, which means that teachers and communities are encouraged to develop their own curriculum (examples). The European Framework lists a minimal set of skills for the learners, the Curriculum for Excellence sets a global context for the reinvention and the co-creation of many curricula with all the members of learning community.

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Open Badges Unite! Connecting Open Badges through Evidence

Open Badges as Trust Relationship

Open Badges as Trust Relationship

One of my (many) interests in Open Badges is in relation to trust. Oblivious to Open Badges imagesI 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.

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Punished by Open Badges?

Punished by Rewards Book CoverWhy Open Badges Could Either Kill or Cure Learning?

As many Open Badges supporters, and self-appointed ambassadors, I had absolutely no reservation regarding Open Badges: I saw them as the natural development of the work I did on ePortfolios as a means to support, recognise and celebrate learning and achievements: I envisioned Open Badges as a means to create an open and distributed ePortfolio architecture.

I saw no evil in Open Badges. That is, until I learned about Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. As the book was written by Alfie Kohn in 1993, and revised in 1999, it does not address Open Badges. Yet, the book provides plenty of evidence from research eliciting the deleterious effects of extrinsic motivation on learning (and work), one of the most noxious legacies of B.F. Skinner, the psychologist described by Alfie Kohn as the one who “experimented with pigeons and wrote on people.”

This post is divided into 3 main parts:

  1. An exploration on the potential dangers of Open Badges practice (Open Badges as glorified gold stars) and infrastructure (asymmetry)
  2. An exploration of the potential benefits of Open Badges practice (Open Badges as distributed ePortfolios) and infrastructure (trust).
  3. What needs to be done ASAP[1] to minimise the risks and maximise the potential of Open Badges

One of the objectives of this post is to prepare the welcome of Alfie Kohn as keynote speaker at ePIC 2014. Shall Open Badges and ePortfolios pass the Alfie Kohn test? Whatever the results, his presence should contribute to raising key questions and possibly debunk some of the prejudices hidden in our practices.

In the Reference section of this post you will find some of the (very few) posts addressing the same issue as well as references to Alfie Kohn’s writings and public speaking.

Why Open Badges Could Kill the Desire to Learn?

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ePortfolio & Web 2.0

In a recent post on Web 2.0 & commercial ePortfolios, Helen Barrett commented an article in Campus Computing on commercial e-portfolio systems. She writes: “free Web 2.0 technologies could be a threat to some of the commercial tools, since students could replicate ePortfolio/PLE functions of many of the commercial tools using these Web 2.0 tools.”

In my view, this is debatable as I think we should differentiate between:

  • ePortfolios — that are documents, full stop
  • ePorfolio authoring systems — the tools used by the author
  • ePortfolio management systems — that are tools used by institutions

I formulated this distinction a long time ago in a position paper “For an ePortfolio enabled architecture.” The problem with many discussions on ePortfolios is that by using the same noun to express 3 totally (but connected) objects, it makes it very difficult to reach a common understanding.

For example, let’s take the discussion about “assessment ePortfolios” that some claim alter the “true nature” of ePortfolios — and I’m always a bit wary when people refer to the “true nature” of man made things! One one side, there would be the “good portfolio,” that belongs entirely to the individual, who manages it from start to finish (until death do us part) and, on the other side, the “evil portfolio”, owned by the institution who uses it as support to the grading system. What I claim is that this is like comparing pears and a stove then claim that all stoves are evil as they can be used to transform pears into “Poire Belle Hélène” — I agree that chocolate can be evil!

Let’s take the United Kingdom where around 500,000 qualifications (NVQs) are delivered each year to people who have built a portfolio — and more and more of those are now electronic. These portfolios won’t probably stand out for their creativity, and flowery designs might not be the norm. Nevertheless, these portfolios have provided an opportunity to millions of British citizens, who might have had no previous qualification, to have their contribution to society, their learning, be recognised. So, an assessment portfolio is not necessarily evil especially if it empowers people in their social and professional life.

In order to produce their NVQ ePortfolio, candidates use a platform, an ePortfolio Management System (ePMS) whose main function is to manage the assessment and verification workflow. And in order to facilitate the work of the candidate, these systems provide the basic functions of a contents management systems with one very useful feature: cross referencing (link each piece of evidence to competency statements, range and criteria and link each competency with evidence). The audience for this type of ePortfolio being assessors and verifiers (subject matter experts nominated by an warding body) it is important to elicit what is important to them (authenticity and range of evidence).

So, I’m not going to hold my breath until someone demonstrates how this kind of process will be made better, cheaper (individually and socially) with Web 2.0 tools. What could happen on the other hand is that Web 2.0 tools could transform the need of formal recognition, through a qualification, with the possibility of placing more emphasis on informal recognition by peers and communities of practice — I’m always amazed how the advocates of informal and non-formal learning, when discussing the issue of ‘recognition’ generally have ‘formal recognition’ as sole horizon…

On the other hand, if we accept that there is a clear distinction between ePortfolios and ePortfolio management systems, between individuals and organisations, then it is perfectly possible to have systems that are at the same time 100% centred on the individual and 100% centred on the organisation (or society), having Web 2.0 based individual ePortfolios and ePMS exploiting the information collected and organised in those ePortfolios — micro-formats is a good example of a standard that can be used locally in a document to facilitate interaction with external applications.

In the debate on whether an ePortfolio system should be centred on the individual or the organisation, my position is that it should be 100% focused on learning — the learning individual, and the organisation as a learning entity as well. ePMS should be part of the organisational learning infrastructure, creating a bridge between individual and organisational learning. But this should be a discussion for another post.