From ePortfolio to Open Badges – on the Individuation of Technical Objects


In 2004, during the second international ePortfolio conference (La Rochelle, France) a group of participants agreed to launch a campaign on the theme ePortfolio for all! Their objective was “by 2010, every citizen will have an ePortfolio!” 10 years later, despite a growing number of ePortfolio initiatives worldwide, we are still very far from achieving this goal.

This text is an attempt at exploring why the global adoption of Open Badges is likely to succeed and how it might feedback into ePortfolio technologies and practices. For that purpose, in the perspective of the genesis of technological objects, I draw a parallel with the evolution of computer technology from the early generation of computers to the advent of integrated circuits and computer chips (CPU, central processing units). The emergence of Open Badges will be analysed as a result of the evolution of ePortfolios, their concrétisation (reification). ePortfolios are more abstract, Open badges more concrete as the result of an individuation process.

While the genesis of technological objects and the process of individuation has been described with talent by philosophers like Gilbert Simondon and Bernard Stiegler, this post simply aims at inviting the members of the ePortfolio community to reflect on their practices and the possible futures for ePortfolio technologies.

On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects

In Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, 1958) Gilbert Simondon describes the concrétisation of technical objects as the ability of objects to become more autonomous, self-regulated, in relation to the associated milieu in which they operate. This process has a corollary, abstraction, which is when an object becomes more dependent on its associated milieu, as is the case with a number of genetically modified organisms — e.g. induced sterility in order to control the crop market, regulations, etc.

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What have I learned from Moodle and Mahara?

I am currently working on a project ( 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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ePortfolios & Open Badges at the Service of Learning eQuality

Monday January 13th, I was invited to present how Open Badges and ePortfolios could contribute to the quality of learning at a seminar on quality in distance education organised by the FIED (Fédération Interuniversitaire de l’Education à Distance).

I took the opportunity develop further a reflection started  in 2007 with the publication of a green paper entitled From quality of eLearning to eQuality of learning (link). The objective was to explore an alternative path to the mechanistic, and too often trivial, approaches to quality and eLearning.

Quality as Learning

One of the questions raised in the green paper was:

What would the consequences be if we moved our reflection from quality of learning, to quality as learning?

In response, the green paper proposed:

to shift the focus from quality of eLearning to eQuality as learning, i.e. reflect on how digital technologies can provide support for improving all forms of learning – instruction and training, face to face, at a distance, or mixed, formal and informal, personal and organisational – making the quality process itself a personal and organisational experience.

ePortfolios & Open Badges to the Service of Learning Quality from Serge Ravet
(The presentation accessible on Slideshare has no sound, but the original presentation was recorded and will be soon available, in French)

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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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Recognition and Accreditation of Competencies in 2030: How Different?

Wednesday 16 October 2013, I was invited to give a keynote address at a conference[1] in Warsaw celebrating the publication of 300 competency standards[2] at the initiative of the Department of Labour Market from the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Participants included the State Secretary from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, representatives of social partners such as the Polish Craft Association, the Polish Chamber of Commerce, different employer associations and trade unions.

It was interesting to witness how much has been achieved 6 years after the publication of 200 qualification standards and my first visit to Warsaw when on the 18 December 2007 I was invited to give a keynote at a conference entitled National Occupational Standards as a Tool for Employment and Education Policy. The brief for this year’s keynote was to invite the participants to explore the potential of those newly published competency standards to support, recognise and accredit learning.

What follows is the abstract of my presentation[3].

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Open Badges to the World

An Open Badge describes a criteria– and evidence-based trust relationship between an issuer and a recipient. Criteria, evidence, issuer and recipient are represented as a set of metadata ‘baked’ into a picture, the actual visual representation of an Open Badge. What I would like to explore is how metadata could connect Open Badges to the rest of the world by making criteria easily accessible, shareable and reusable by applications and services beyond the realm of Open Badges. I will focus more precisely on badges awarded for the acquisition of competencies.

When a badge is delivered in recognition of the acquisition of a new competency or a series of competencies, the badge issuer provides the information relative to the awarding criteria via a URL. The URL points to the definition of the criteria.

Some of the questions that (should) come to mind when designing a new badge are:

  • are there existing criteria or definitions that could be used to issue this new badge? Has someone already delivered a similar badge? Is there an existing competency framework to refer to?
  • where should those definitions be stored? On the original issuer server? On a public space?
  • who else might be interested in using those definitions beyond the delivery and exploitation of Open Badges?

Today, competency frameworks are used for many different purposes:

  • designing a job description
  • hiring employees
  • finding project partners
  • planning continuing professional development
  • tagging portfolio evidence
  • tagging learning resources
  • reviewing annual performance
  • accrediting  prior learning
  • awarding a badge
  • and much more…

For example, when someone compiles a portfolio for accreditation of prior learning that will lead to the awarding of a badge, the same criteria will be used to tag evidence, narratives, xAPI statements (experience API) and Open Badges. Continue reading

My ePortfolio, our Badge!

[The first idea for a title was: User-Driven Badges vs User-Driven ePortfolios.]

Yesterday, during the Open Badges weekly meeting (link), Patrick McGee (1) from The Volunteer Centre Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde’s  presented Do A Bit, a project using Mozilla Open Badges, in conjunction with a volunteer passport, to increase participation in volunteering and to reward participants (2).

One particular element of the strategy stroke my attention: volunteers are invited to tell what skills they would like to be recognised with an Open Badge. It is not the organisation that is deciding what are the badges worth delivering, but the participants deciding on which badges they would like to have designed, just for them.

Although this is very much in line with a presentation I attended some time ago where teachers were inviting students to establish together their badges awarding criteria [I need to add a reference!], this made me ask the following question: could something like that have happened with ePortfolios? After all, aren’t ePortfolios, like Open Badges,  designed for making learning visible to others and oneself – reflective learning? At that point of my reflection, the answer is… probably not…

This post is a first attempt at explaining why, although ePortfolios and Open Badges are supposed to be user-centric, Open Badges have a greater potential to be user-driven, than ePortfolios.

My ePortfolio, our Badge

One of the main differences I see between ePortfolios and Open Badges is the social dimension. Collective ePortfolios remain a rarity, a good theme for an inspirational keynote address at a conference! Yet, when reflecting on the dialectic between individual and collective ePortfolios, one can ask whether:

  •  a collective ePortfolio is an aggregation of individual ePortfolios, or
  •  the individual ePortfolio is a projection, on the individual plan, of a collective ePortfolio?

There is probably no such thing as a personal narrative that is not deeply intertwined with other people’s narratives. The interweaving of our stories are like the threads of a social fabric. Yet the technologies developed for ePortfolios lead to the creation of personal silos of information where the natural interweaving of our narratives is fragmented. We have lost the opportunity of presenting the threads of our narratives in the context of a rich, dense and colourful fabric (a possible variation of T. S. Eliot’s Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?). And from that point of view, there is certainly no advantage in using an ePortfolio platform over a simple blog system — ePortfolio platforms remain still useful for institutions (that are mostly silos!).

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Open Badges are more than Pretty Pictures

One of the reasons why Open Badges are so popular is their ability to make visible what people have achieved. And the way to make the achievements visible is through the display of a picture. Several times in the past I have commented that Open Badges are more than pretty pictures and that there is a risk that the  pretty pictures might become to the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) what the proverbial tree is to the forest…

What gives value to the pretty picture is the metadata baked into it, i.e. the links to the issuer, the recipient, the awarding criteria and possibly the evidence informing the criteria. Without metadata (and the underpinning OBI trust architecture) a badge would be dumb. Conversely, a badge does not really need a picture to be made visible: from the point of view of accessibility, or simply good design, any picture should have an “alt” field properly informed, so a visually impaired reader could make sense of it. It should be the choice of the badge owner or reader to decide whether to see the picture or the textual version. This would be practical to compose a CV from a collection of badges without having to force a potential employer or client to figure out what those pretty pictures mean.

Why should the pretty pictures be dynamic?

There could be various reasons why the picture displayed by a badge should be dynamic, depending on the point of view:

  1. Issuer: an issuer can decide that a badge is valid for a certain period of time, after which the candidate needs to become re-accredited. Being able to provide a visual cue on the badge, such as changing from bright colours to grey, from sharp to fuzzy, or displaying a countdown to the expiration date, are some of the many options an issuer should be able to choose from.
  2. Recipient: a candidate could pledge for a badge and display a pie-chart indicating the % of progress towards achievement. This would be a means to show potential employers or clients ones current learning, not just past achievements.
  3. Reader: an employer reads a series of CV’s with 100+ badges, many of them totally new to her/him (except for those delivered by well known brands of education providers) and wants to use her/his CSS to create a display relevant to her/his own needs based on the baked metadata.

 Why Should the Design of Pretty Pictures be Consistent?

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Hello World!

Hello world! is a message well known to the apprentice programmer and webmaster: it is the typical output one tries to get when learning a new programming language or checking whether a system is operating correctly.

Such is the case: after many years of (extremely) irregular postings to my blog, I have installed an instance of WordPress and configured it in such a way that all my posting will go seamlessly to my different Twitter and Facebook accounts. This message is a means to test whether I have done a good job when configuring WordPress!

Hello world! is also meant to convey another, less technical, message: I have made the decision to keep a regular journal on learning technologies and identities. Why do I believe that the frequency of my postings will be less stochastic than in the past? Open Badges is the answer!

Open Badges is a truly open community, where every contribution, from the most humble to the most challenging, is welcomed, nurtured and reviewed with consideration by a community supported by the Mozilla Foundation. Being part of the Open Badges community gives one the sense of contributing to a global co-design exercise. Thousands of initial practitioners have delivered hundreds of thousands of badges, and their experience is directly fed-back into the design circuit. Open Badges is truly a learning technology, in the sense that the technology is the result of a learning process, a community learning process.

This is a very different experience from the one I had within the ePortfolio community. For example, when in 2010 I wrote the 10 ePortfolio challenges, the text generated some polite interest but no actual commitment. Conversely, after I wrote Open Badges vs Tin Can, within a few weeks two communities that had never worked together before (ADL/SCORM and Open Badges) joined their efforts to write a series of use cases and are now working on the specifications for a demonstrator.

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