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.”
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”).
“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.
Kerri Lemoie (@kayaelle) has taken the ambitious task to lead the Open Badge community in exploring further the field of taxonomies. I was not able to attend the last conference call, but I took some time to go through the Etherpad of the meeting and here are my latest thoughts on the matter.
In Over 2 Millions Types of #OpenBadges ! Don’t you think that’s wonderful? I explored the typology of Open Badges and the idea of a taxonomy to conclude the inanity of any attempt at enumerating the different types of Open Badges. In a later post, The Celestial Emporium of #OpenBadges Taxonomies I concluded that, considering that a taxonomy would need to be finite to have any practical value, it is very likely that such a taxonomy would provide an over-simplified representation of the world, an illusion of understanding — as if the mere fact of naming things increased our understanding.
After exploring critically the concept of taxonomy, in this post I’ll try to explore a more practical approach. After all, if people feel the need for taxonomies, it might be interesting to know what the actual needs are and what are the possible solutions to satisfy those needs.
Taxonomy, Typology or shopping list?
In the discussion on taxonomies, we need to take into account that there is a difference between a typology and a taxonomy:
The etymology of both words gives clues to their differences. In Greek, táxos means an order, onom- means name, so the word “taxonomy” means naming genus or species. “Typo-” means a type of organism and -logy means a study. Nelson Orringer · University of Connecticut (source)
Moreover, proper taxonomies must respect some basic principles: 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?
This post is an extract of a position paper, Key Competency Badges, a reflection based on the work done in the TRANSIt project in relation to the acquisition of key competencies.
How to combine Open Badges with key competencies? To what result? One way to approach this question is to recognise that key competencies are just one particular group of competencies, so what is good for the recognition of competencies in general, is likely to be just as good for key competencies. As there are already plenty of Open Badges used to recognise a large range of competencies, then it is just a matter of extending current practice.
What is implied with this approach is that Key Competency Open Badges will need key competency standards similar to the UK key skill 2000 introduced above. While it might seem unproblematic to define standards related to the mastery of mathematics and foreign languages, things might get more complicated with digital competencies and even more with the sense of initiative and entrepreneurship and social and civic competencies. For example, the French authorities decided to remove ‘entrepreneurship’ from the European key competency labelled “sense of initiative and entrepreneurship.” The French version is “autonomie et initiative”  (autonomy and initiative).
Open Badges as Trust Relationship
One of my (many) interests in Open Badges is in relation to trust. Oblivious to Open Badges images, I 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.
We need to address the current asymmetry in the type of technologies developed for education: we have many teaching technologies (LMS, electronic whiteboards, OER, etc.) and substantially less authentic learning technologies. Evidence of this asymmetry, amongst others, is to be found in the fragmentation of the learning landscape and infrastructure, something obvious when a pupil moves from one school to another or when studying at different institutions. How can we put an end to this fragmentation? How can we create a truly Open Education Space (OES)? By making learners the designers, builders and operators of their learning environments, the authors of their learning contexts!
While, thanks to the rise of knowledge media, we now have many practices based on / leading to user generated contents, what we now need are technologies and practices leading to user generated contexts. Why not build digital learning environments based on the MineCraft paradigm, i.e. using a technology accessible to everybody? Why should Moodle and the like be left in the hands of the teaching high priests? The issue is not just to make Moodle more ‘open’ or to give students authoring accounts (to mimic what their teachers do?) but to create new tools, with which they would be empowered to design their own learning environments.
Make learners the architects of their co-constructed learning environment(s)! This is a very different view from the individualistic PLE, or the course-focused MOOC (prefixed with either a ‘c’ or an ‘x’). A User Generated Context should be more like a co-designed / co-constructed / co-operated open learning environment, a self-generated learning context — autopoiesis.
I will christen this new object: COOLE (CO-constructed Open Learning Environment). Probably what we need for the development of an Open Education Space (OES), beyond institutional boundaries.
How to make learning COOLE?