Should your LMS be HQ for your Open Badge eCredentials?

I just heard that Discendum, the developers of my favourite eCredentialing solution, have joined the D2L Partner Network in order to develop a Brightspace LMS plugin for Open Badge Factory.

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Brightspace has a huge footprint in Canada, so this pleases me no end. It actually pleases me more than last year’s news that Brightspace had introduced their own integrated badging solution, matching Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas.

Why is that? Because your LMS may not be the best platform to run your Open Badge system.

Backstory

It took me a while to realize this. I’m actually partly responsible for Open Badges coming to Moodle: in late 2011, I connected Totara Learning to the DML competition and the “Moodle as Issuer, Mahara as Displayer” project was born. This brought Open Badges to Totara LMS and Moodle in 2013.*

But I’ve changed, largely from working with Eric Rousselle at Discendum over the past couple of years. (Full disclosure: Learning Agents is launching a Canadian eCredentialing service in early 2016 built on Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport technology.)

I love working with Discendum because I find them clear thinking, practical souls. They’re always concerned with finding value that customers will pay for and they look for the simplest technology paths to deliver that value. This is what’s made them the leading edtech provider in Finland (OK, it’s a small market. But still.)

And they know LMSs. They built their own (Optima), which is popular in Finland and they are Totara LMS partners, with clients in several countries. They’re also a Mahara ePortfolio Partner, with a large national multi-site Mahara similar to New Zealand’s MyPortfolio. ePortfolio is why we met at Serge Ravet’s ePIC 2012 conference, when Mozilla took Open Badges on tour in Europe and changed how we think about ePortfolios.

Eric was intrigued by the potential of Open Badges at ePIC and brought the notion back to Discendum in Finland. The Discendum team liked what it discovered in early experiments, but found the Open Badge community a bit anarchic back then. They decided there was a niche for them to fill: a non-US provider focused on the needs of learning organizations seeking to build trustable and sustainable badge systems, flexible enough to integrate with diverse workflows and demonstrate the quality of their learning.

Small pieces, loosely connected

What they’ve developed is a loosely coupled system that works *with* LMSs, but remains independent. Badges are triggered and displayed inside LMSs and other systems, but they’re created and managed inside the external badging platform. They’ve even decoupled issuers from earners, which will provide even more flexibility down the road:

OpenBadgeswithOpenBadgeFactory_v24_ECOSYSTEM

From Open Badge Factory: A Badging Platform for Canada

Note: Salava, the open source Community Edition of Open Badge Passport, has recently been released on GitHub.

What are the benefits of this approach? Well, Discendum and I have developed this matrix comparison with an LMS-centric approach. It’s focused on Moodle and Totara LMS, because that’s what we know best. It’s propaganda, but sincere propaganda:

OpenBadgeswithOpenBadgeFactory_v26_MATRIXFrom Open Badge Factory: A Badging Platform for Canada

We’re in good company

Discendum is not alone in this loosely coupled thinking, although they’ve taken it further than most. If you look at the Badge Alliance list of Badge Issuing Platforms and EduAppCenter’s open LTI app collection, you’ll see lots of flexible connectivity between LMSs and independent badging platforms.

Dan Hickey wrote a really interesting post last year about the increasing complexity of LMSs over time and how they tend to lose touch with their design origins as they keep on bolting on new features in response to customer demand. Phil Hill has labeled the LMS as the Minivan of Education (i.e. convenient, but stodgy and a bit embarrassing.) I think of them more as retro-fitted camper vans, bulging with awkward add-ons that sometimes leak at the seams.

Dan Hickey reported recently that he was meeting engineers at Instructure to “share the wish lists of ten Canvas users regarding badges, outcomes, and ePortfolios.” I do think Canvas is better equipped than many of its LMS competitors for continuing relevance due to its more modular, externally pluggable design. For example, Canvas already has LTI-based connectivity with Canvabadges, Acclaim, Badge Safe, Badger and Open Badge Factory.

Serge Ravet also wrote a great post about his frustrations in making Moodle LMS work together with Mahara ePortfolio to track competencies for a European project (he blames me for luring him into using Mahara). Serge suggested that Mahara ePortfolio have a badge issuer plugin for Open Badge Factory. Now it does. How flexible is that?

So here’s a top 3 summary of why you should think about housing your badge system *outside* the LMS:

  1. Specialized badge systems can focus on doing one thing well, away from the control of integrated omnibus applications
  2. Control and quality
    Trivial things can be badged (“great login, here’s a badge!”) and badge strategies can be scattered and fragmentary.
    – Links inside badges start breaking as courses and accounts are deleted and even LMSs are migrated. This often means they’re no longer valid. (Badge rot is REAL, man…)
  3. Flexibility!

And in conclusion…

So if you’re a learning organization (or a learning unit within one) and concerned about quality,  here are some things for you to think about:

  • Can I issue badges from my different systems and diverse workflows: face to face workshops, synchronous e-learning, within the LMS; and in other assessment and recognition contexts: ePortfolio, online community, testing applications…?
  • How is evidence handled? Is it archived within the LMS, or exportable to a separate location?
  • Where are the issued badges stored and how secure are they?
    • What happens when we delete the course?
    • What happens if we change our LMS?
  • Can I control who creates and issues badges?
  • Are the badges globally accessible and copyable within and across systems?
  • Do I have a global picture of my badge system and can I track how well it’s achieving its goals?

On the other hand…

If it’s just about gamification within a course, then who cares? Fill your boots, as they say Down East in Canada. But think twice before you make these *Digital* Badges into *Open* Badges, i.e. portable into other contexts. Let’s be careful about handing out Open Badges like stickers, because that can degrade them as a skills currency.

 

* Footnote:  reviewing at a HASTAC interview from that time makes me wonder what happened to the “Mahara as Displayer” part. Totara had ambitious plans to make Mahara part of a federated backpack system, but the only Mahara displayer I know of is made by Discendum.

Join us at the ePortfolio and Identity Conference ePIC 2016.
The Call for Contributions is now open:

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Co-Curricular Records: Better with Open Badges and ePortfolios

This post should interest Higher Education readers in North America, but it may mystify other audiences as much as when I first shared these thoughts in London at ePIC 2014.

But I need to get it off my chest as a companion piece to last week’s discussion about ePortfolios and Open Badges. It’s about the transition from education to work and the employability soft skills that the higher education experience is supposed to foster:

DeakinHallmarksv01
From Deakin Hallmarks

Future posts will explore more actual workforce applications of Open Badges.

 

What is a Co-Curricular Record (CCR) Anyway?

According to this Masters research study by Kimberly Elias, student life coordinator for campus involvement at the University of Toronto:

The CCR provides a database of activities that allows students to search for opportunities beyond the classroom. Competencies and skills are linked to each activity, which will help students see the connection between their engagement and development. Students will be encouraged to reflect on the competencies and skills gained through their experience. These experiences and competencies are then printed on an official institutional document.

The CCR, also called a Co-Curricular Transcript (CCT), is usually part of campus micro-site portals operating out of Student Services. Campus organizations maintain their own storefronts in these virtual malls, complete with web pages, events management, newsfeeds, social media connections, forums, membership rosters, etc.

In the CCR module, students can find and track participation in campus activities: attendance at events, volunteer hours, etc. Prior to graduation, they can request a comprehensive report which can be endorsed by Student Life.

From the institution’s  point of view, it’s a way to demonstrate the learning value of engaged campus life. From the vendor’s point of view, it’s a way to harvest a bit more revenue out of their clients’ engagement with their micro-site technology.

 

The Promise of Co-Curricular Records

The 2010 video that leads off this playlist goes a little over the top, but other Canadian CCR promos and tutorials in the sequence promise similar benefits:

 

Recognizing Learning Outside the Classroom

It’s true that there are many opportunities for informal and non-formal learning. Here’s a list from a Trent University Student Affairs study:

  • One-time workshops (ex. attendance at a workshop on academic skills)
  • A one-time volunteer commitment (ex. volunteering to lead tours at an Open House)
  • A longer-term volunteer commitment (ex. volunteering once per week at the Seasoned Spoon)
  • A completed program (ex. completion of the Impact Leadership Program)
  • Membership on a team or in an organization (ex. member of campus rec volleyball; member of Trent Penpal Program)
  • A leadership position within an organization (ex. member of the executive for the Trent University Anthropology Society)
  • An award (ex. Otonabee College Athlete of the Year)

However, I do believe this is a better fit for young, full time “serial students” who lack work experience than for older students resuming their education and/or doing it part-time while working. This latter group is growing compared to the former.

 

One Stop Shop for Engagement

The CCR database itself is a great way to find campus activities. Participation in these increases attachment to the institution and there’s a correlation between this and student success. University of Toronto’s CCR listed over 1,500 activities in its first year and up to 4,000 were awaiting approval in early 2015, according to this recent article.

 

Attesting to Employability Soft Skills

Check some of them out in this sample CCR used in the Masters study above: Leadership, Self-Awareness, Communication, Critical Thinking… sounds great!

 

Preparing for Job Interviews

Just like a portfolio, reviewing your CCR can remind you about episodes from your student experience that you can have ready for behavioural interviews when you’re asked: “Tell me about a time when…”

 

What’s Wrong with Co-Curricular Records?

Another Silo That Still Excludes Lots of Lifewide Learning

  • Only activities and organizations approved by the institution (usually at the Senate level), generally on campus
  • No academic experiential learning, research (nothing for credit)
  • No activities external to the institution: employment, voluntary community service

I think this is about spheres of control within the institution. Co-Curricular Records are usually run out of Student Affairs. Experiential and Work-Integrated Learning (Co-op, Service, Research Partnerships, etc.) is under academic control. But these boxes need not limit creative thinking on the part of administrators.

Further, outside the institution, students may be learning as much or more from experiences such as employment, travel, hobbies, blogging, causes or community service. Maybe they even took a training course, or a MOOC from (gasp!) another provider. Maybe they delivered a course, or mentored somebody, and deserve recognition for that. But who’s going have the time to recognize it? Probably not Student Affairs.

 

They Can Be Superficial Laundry Lists

Technically speaking, CCRs are just reports from the campus portal database. They report what’s easy to measure, or upload: participation in events, membership, hours of service, etc.

Students are encouraged to register in a CCR in their first year to identify opportunities, track engagement over time, reflect and produce a well-curated picture at the end of their student careers. Some may do this. For many others it’s a batch process at the end of the final year, with minimal reflection, before, during or after submission.

And not all CCRs seem to support reflection. I don’t see it in the example above. In one example I saw that does, the “reflections” were small text fields, more suitable for activity summaries.

Associated competencies (those all important Essential Outcomes or Graduate Learning Outcomes) seem to be keyword clusters based on the above example, either pre-selected by the campus organization or mouse-clicked by the student, with no further explanation or justification.

There’s no provision in CCR systems for supporting evidence that I’ve seen. The record itself is the evidence. As a related issue, there’s no integration with other achievements, either within the CCR or in other systems, such as an LMS.

 

They’re Published and Shared On… Paper?

This is the part that I really don’t get in 2016: it’s a paper transcript – with “security features” for the signed version, which is “an official institutional document”. All the C20 bureaucracy of the academic transcript with none of the academic credit.

Heck, even academic transcripts are starting to be shared over networks: Digitary for example, or IMS Global’s eTranscript initiative (which has adopted the Open Badges standard, BTW):

cbe20wg20et20pilot

How many employers do you think will demand to see a signed affidavit of your co-curricular activities as a student? Well, I can tell you from the employer focus group in the Trent study:

  • Minimal interest in the inclusion of an extra document
  • Information from a co-curricular record can be integrated into a resume or cover letter instead
  • The resume and cover letter are an opportunity to take  everything in a student’s portfolio and link it together; the co-curricular record could be one component of such a portfolio
  • Rather than adding an extra document to an application, students should use the document as a tool for reviewing their co-curricular experiences and reflecting on what skills/learning achievements were gained from each

I can’t believe it’s still a static piece of paper… yikes. I’d be happy if anybody out there can tell me differently.

 

How Can We Make Co-Curricular Records Better?

Dreaming in colour? Let’s see.

 

Open the Silos: Departmental Isolationism and Vendor Lock-in

Let’s find feasible ways to recognize more of the different forms of learning across our lives, both on and off campus. Many CCRs are already often modules of larger systems that also track Work Integrated Learning, but that’s just a bigger silo. Can it connect to your LMS? Your ePortfolio platform? Other institutions?

This is beyond Student Services, the Registrar, even the Senate. It means being ready to work with other stakeholders outside the institution, even recognizing external credentials, or at least allowing them to be mixed in with yours. You can’t own it all.

So let’s not build or rent huge proprietary data silos to try to beat LinkedIn at its own game. (Are you listening, publicly-funded Canadian job-matching websites?)

Let’s think smaller pieces, more loosely joined and working together, sharing information based on common standards:

ePandCCR_v18_SmallpiecesOpen Badges, ePortolios and Co-Curricular Records from dpresant

Smaller systems that can be part of larger ecosystems: institutions, communities, sectors, regions… Let’s think open talent streams, not proprietary technology pipelines: from K12 to PSE, from PSE to the workplace, between sectors or even between countries. (A future post will further explore the social benefits of open standards and frameworks).

 

Make Recognition Modular: Achievements = Open Badges

One way to open up silos is to recognize skills and achievements with portable Open Badges that pass as a common eCredential currency between them.

Instead of a static, signed list of achievements published from a vendor’s locked-down system, let’s sign each achievement so that it can stand on its own and be exported and dynamically remixed with other relevant contextual evidence. That’s how Open Badges work: they’re an eCredentialing standard to recognize achievements.

 

Get Past the Paper, Remix in a Digital Universe

Have an “official” signed document if you must, but why not also leverage the network effect of modular eCredentials built with Open Badges? Curate them in ePortfolios and flexible Badge Passports;  align them to goals with other relevant evidence, display them on social media including LinkedIn and make them discoverable across online communities.

20160120_ePandOpenBadges_BACCrev2_FriendsBenefits

Open Badges, ePortolios and Co-Curricular Records from dpresant
thx @kateycoleman for “Friends…”

 

Options for making your Co-Curricular Record solution compatible with Open Badges and ePortfolios

If you’re still kicking the tires, talk to your prospective vendors about interoperability with ePortfolios and more modular recognition approaches such as Open Badges.

If you’re already committed to a platform:

  • Nag your vendor to upgrade the platform to also publish Achievements as Open Badges, either:
    • internally, such as in Moodle, Blackboard and WordPress or (even better):
    • via API to an external badge issuing platform like Open Badge Factory, Badgr or Credly. This is probably easier for the vendor and will be more stable over time (“smaller pieces…”)
  • If your vendor won’t budge (they do often seem to be in charge), consider having students apply for Open Badges separately, based on Achievements in their CCR and other supporting evidence you prescribe, such as in their ePortfolios. This could be a good way of getting them to select, reflect and connect their learning more authentically!

 

And finally…

Yes, this was long. But I think it’s important to refactor all the sincere effort by so many people in so many institutions who are committed to preparing theirstudents for the world of work.

In particular, I encourage Canada’s newly formed CCR/T Professionals Network to critically analyze these well-intentioned remarks, particularly in the context of the following emergent CCR-related initiatives in the US:

…and this alternative approach to demonstrating Graduate Learning Outcomes from Australia, although it’s under academic control:

 

Addendum

I posted this to LinkedIn, where it sparked a conversation about Smart Evidence for Program Learning Outcomes, which is an emerging feature for the open source Mahara ePortfolio.

Do Open Badges Make ePortfolios Obsolete?

No, but Open Badges have been disruptive… and I mean that in a good way. Open Badges can make ePortfolios better and vice-versa.

KColemanbadgeEPKate Coleman – excerpt from video below

Why this post?

ePortfolio Pilot at the Local College

It’s sparked partly by a Mahara ePortfolio engagement I now have with Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (It’s also pretty cold here now and I have time to think.)

As I help facilitate the Train the Trainer workshops, I find I can’t stop talking about Open Badges and ePortfolios as #morethanfriendswithbenefits (thx Kate). As a result, they’ve asked me to present an updated version of my Open Badges presentation from last October’s CAPLA conference for their RPL@Noon next Thursday 21 January at 12pm CT. (Livestream link. I’ll link to the recording later.)

So right now, I’m refactoring the CAPLA presentation for a college audience, bringing ePortfolios and RPL explicitly into the mix. This post is prep, but it’ll go into more detail.

Increasing Traction for ePortfolios

In addition to the RRC gig and an ongoing Mahara gig at Carleton University, I’m seeing signs of life in recent posts by senior leaders in Canadian HE, such as this one about “Learning outcomes for life” by Peter Wolf at Queen’s. And earlier in 2015, Alan Davis, President of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, keynoted at a Carleton-organized ePortfolio summit on the need to document and validate the 90% of learning that happens outside the classroom (actual mileage may vary for the “70:20:10” ratio, but the principle is well-established).

DeakinPrime diagram; see also E-Learning Provocateur

Certainly ePortfolios are enjoying a surge of adoption in the US, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) with support from AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative and their famous LEAP rubrics, which fueled Deakin University’s innovative GLO Hallmarks initiative.

AAEEBL is currently chaired by Tracy Penny Light of Thompson Rivers University in BC. I wish more Canadian institutions belonged to this nonprofit organization that’s helping colleges and universities both improve and demonstrate the value of what they have to offer.

But There Are Issues with ePortfolios

Ideally, ePortfolios are individualized hubs for Personal Learning Environments that foster autonomous lifelong learners who can authentically demonstrate the kind of holistic outcomes that AAC&U’s LEAP rubrics are designed to assess. Alan Davis’ famous diagram illustrates this ideal in some detail…

What would Proust have done with an eportfolio – Dr. Alan Davis, EPIC 2013

… but in practice, ePortfolios are:

  • Hard work to develop (ironically, the chief reason it’s so valuable as a learning tool – “portfolios FOR learning”)
  • Hard work to assess (big problem for scalability and educator engagement)
  • Often poorly understood by stakeholders and/or hijacked from their learner-centred mission to meet the compliance needs of institutional  accreditation, resulting in a negative impact on learner engagement
  • Generally either siloed institutional technology platforms that can’t effectively integrate the entirety of a learner’s Personal Learning Environment, or fragmented “free” social media accounts that lack alignment with learning goals and whose data is owned and harvested for profit by a dotcom (Jim Groom’s commercial spinoff of  DS106, Reclaim Hosting, is an interesting exception.)

Yikes, sounds dire. Something was obviously needed to come to the rescue. Enter Open Badges.

Mozilla and ePIC 2012

Since their introduction at ePortfolio and Identity Conference (ePIC) in 2012, Open Badges have put the fizz back into this important international gathering, similar to how adding fresh yeast rejuvenates a bottle-conditioned Belgian beer (yum).

Open Badges have come to dominate subsequent ePIC events as a key innovation, enabling discourse about ePortfolios to escape from what was an increasingly stale intellectual space, popping the cork and pouring out new ideas (to torture the Belgian metaphor, although it’s coffee I have at my elbow, not beer.)

Here are some of those ideas, from a small selection of the community I learn from.

Kate Coleman – Portfolios and Badges – friends or foes?

My title for this post is a bit of a knock-off of a great cluster of discussion that Kate Coleman of Deakin University and David Gibson of Curtin University prompted early last year in this Feb 2015 instalment of the great Transforming Assessment series. Kate did a shorter version for a UK conference in April:

She sums up with these remarks in an online discussion after the first presentation:

I believe in the symbiotic relationship of open badges and portfolios for making:

  • badge claims
    (Don: i.e. targeted evidence packages to challenge for badges)
  • developing narrative for self and identity
  • learning about self, developing self efficacy
  • developing digital citizenship skills
  • creating badge context

Kate is pressing forward with these notions in her role at Deakin University (home of the GLO Hallmarks initiative mentioned above and DeakinDigital, which deserves a blog post all its own) and also as an international member of the Board at AAEEBL.

Serge Ravet – Open Passport: Reinventing the ePortfolio from Open Badges?

Serge Ravet of ADPIOS (better known as the impresario of the ever-evolving ePIC conference) is collaborating with Discendum Oy of Finland on a DML-funded project, based on a brilliant proposal.

Discendum’s Open Badge Passport is a more robust and flexible alternative to the Mozilla Backpack, but remains compatible with it. It can act as a micro-portfolio: its Pages improve on Collections in the Backpack: not only can you arrange badges on in the order you want, you can curate them with additional files, headings and text boxes. (See example at the bottom of the page.)

But Serge (as usual) is more ambitious:

To explore this issue, one needs to understand that Open Badges are much more than “Digital records of achievements, skills, interests, affiliations or roles” (Mozilla); they are also connectors between people, places, organisations and ideas!

And adds elsewhere:

With Open Badges, ePortfolios won’t be simply “open” they will also be “distributed” and “shared” and it is these qualities that will contribute to making them “trustworthy.”

Serge is currently pursuing this via blockchains and open ledgers. His vision: a distributed eportfolio owned by the learner, unbeholden to any institutional or corporate interest, that can be aggregated on the fly, and where the roles of issuer, earner and consumer interweave. I’m sure we’ll hear lots about this at ePIC in October (did I mention that it was in Bologna?)

G. Alex Ambrose – Pairing Digital Portfolios & Badges to Recognize Informal Learning

Alex Ambrose is another prominent member of AAEEBL, with a gift for expressing these ideas in ways that speak well to more mainstream audiences. As he says here in his great presentation to the Badge Alliance in August 2015 (also cited in my last post):

Why Digital Badges Need ePortfolios:

If digital badges are going to be evidence-based and transferable… the ePortfolio platform is best optimized to deliver that evidence and provide a logical space to showcase the badge.

Why ePortfolios Need Digital Badges:

If we want to keep the eP EKG pulse alive and connect employers to ePortfolios that communicate specific competencies…. digital badges provide the motivation and opportunity for the students to make their learning visible.

At Notre Dame, Alex is  exploring relationships between Open Badges, ePortfolios and even Co-Curricular Records (I’ll be exploring CCRs in a future post). His presentation, linked above, is well worth reading and you can also read the Badge Alliance discussion from the August presentation.

My Take

ePortfolios Can Effectively Demonstrate Soft Skills

Reflection, direct and indirect evidence, curation, alignment to rhetorical purpose or aspirational goal – ePortfolios can authentically demonstrate a lot of things, and Open Badges can recognize them.

Don Presant: Open Badges – CAPLA 2015

Open Badges and ePortfolios are Symbiotic

That’s pretty clear; I don’t have much to add to the others above, except that Open Badges can be the hardened pieces of evidence that can make ePortfolios more articulatable (is that a word?) What I mean is that badges and ePortfolio evidence can be recognized at a higher level such as Milestone badges, which can be combined with other Milestone badges and other ePortfolio evidence (and other forms of RPL assessment) to achieve even higher level recognition such as a DeakinDigital post-graduate credential. Gaps between badges can be filled by other eportfolio evidence and new learning in a fluid way. (I think this needs a diagram – future post!)

LinkedIn May Be One Kind of ePortfolio, But It’s Not Free and It’s Not Enough

Don Presant: Open Badges – CAPLA 2015

We Can’t Get Too Far Ahead of Users

This is one of the reasons I’m a bit nervous about blockchains. I think we have a long *social awareness* row to hoe, and we should be thinking more about that.

For example, we need to convince people why “Open” is important and how LinkedIn is not enough, otherwise they’re just going to take the easy route being offered by some digital badge providers and end up locked inside gated online communities.

Open Badge Passport is Awesome

This example from my own personal Passport has it all: badges, headings, notes, even embedded video! It’s basically a one-page ePortfolio whose contents can be remixed in other Pages for other audiences. You can see from this example why I’m so anxious to bring this to Canada. (See my Jan 1 blog post.)

I expect lots more from Open Badge Passport in 2016. AND its Canadian equivalent, TBA soon.

Another long post…ack! My goal is to get these under 1000 words.

Addendum: Badge Alliance Community Call

This blog post and another from Serge Ravet on his blog provided the agenda for the Jan 20, 2016 Community Call of the Badge Alliance. See below the presentation I threw together for that meeting. Here’s the Etherpad record.

 

“Badge” or “Credential” – What’s in a Name?

A lot. Words are really important. As an advocate for Open Badges to the often unaware, I’ve learned the hard way that I need to be clear about who I’m talking to as I choose my words and the order that I say them. I’m very careful about how I use the word “badges”.

Guides_8488348265_dd2ab5bd0a_o_crop.jpgGirl Guides of Canada CC-BY

I’ll start by saying that the scope of my work up here in Canada goes well beyond K12 and After School programs – I’m also working to convince:

  • Adults (badge earners) that badges will help them advance their careers
  • Educators and trainers (badge issuers) that badges will enhance their brand of learning rather than damage it
  • Employers (badge consumers) that badges represent a better way to evaluate and map the capabilities that matter to them.

I find it helpful go beyond words and provide visuals like the matrix below, in an effort to avoid simplistic responses (follow the link below if some of it’s hard to read):

OpenBadgesforRPL_2015_v03_MATRIX02crop.pngCAPLA 2015 presentation – Don Presant (slide 22)

All Open Badges are Digital Badges but not vice-versa

Doug Belshaw has been working with City & Guilds and its stakeholders on this issue. His Venn diagram is very useful, as is the rest of his blog post from September 2015:

05

…but I agree with him that it’s a messy situation when diverse individuals and communities get involved. Context again. We can’t control how people use language, so we need to find persuasive levers that work in the different situations (messes?) we find ourselves in.

The “B word”: Help or Hindrance?

Words can have helpful, engaging associations or be perceived negatively as labels, “red flags” and triggers. And it varies by context. In most *adult* contexts, I’ve found that bringing Scout badges into early conversation triggers frowns from Early Majority tire-kickers and sneers from Late Majority scoffers. In terms of the technology adoption life cycle, “badge” can be an edgy, fun  metaphor for us as Innovators and early-Early Adopters, but we need to be flexible if we want to get inside the heads of the pragmatists across Moore’s Chasm.

technology-adoption-lifecycle

So I’ve learned to avoid the word “Scouts” in elevator pitches when I’m describing Open Badges to adults for the first time. Badges is not the even first term out of my mouth. Much as Doug describes in his post above, I’ll say “digital credentials using the Mozilla Open Badge standard” or even “the Mozilla/IMS Global standard” if they’re HE nerds and I really want to avoid the word “badge” in the first few minutes.

Once people wrap their heads around the concept and start getting their feet wet, you can open up the discussion. But the early sequencing of concepts and labels is crucial when you’re trying to persuade busy people who are hearing about it for the first time.

Concerns about terminology are really holding some people back, especially up here in cautious Canada. A Director in one Canadian college is attempting to prevent his institution from doing *anything* until he decides (in dialogue with other concerned colleagues across the country) what he’s going to call them. Not what they are, or how they’ll connect to Graduate Learning Outcomes or industry sector standards: what they’re going to *call* them…before they even start to experiment.

However, over at Notre Dame University, this perception of the trivial nature of “badges”  and avoidance of the term “credential” is actually providing useful space for experimentation: it’s enabling G. Alex Ambrose to do some pretty cool early work integrating Open Badges with Co-Curricular Records and ePortfolios off the radar of formal oversight, as he explained in a presentation to the Badge Alliance in August 2015:

You’re saying digital badge rather than Open Badges – how significant is that? and how did people respond to badges vs micro-credentials?

  • the distinction between digital and open is not significant with administrators — it’s one step more philosophical than they grasp
  • some badges are only open to students on the campus
  • open adds another level of complexity
  • not fond of “micro-credential,” stay simple for stakeholders to work with

Others actively reach out for the term “micro-credential”, even though, as people like Serge Ravet complain, it’s a fragmentary, incomplete term – why not also meso- or even macro-credential? I happen to think that’s precisely why it’s deliberately micro: “It’s not a full credential, it’s just a sub-credential.” This verbal ploy puts your initiative comfortably on the edge of the academic/professional radar, indicating some rigour but not endangering the institution’s core credentialing mojo.

So, digital badges can recognize co-curricular achievements at Notre Dame University or Continuing Education programs at Madison Area Technical College.

And micro-credentials can recognize CPD for educators at Digital Promise…or provide modular induction pathways for entry-level candidates into professional bodies.

This last idea comes from Knapp International, a consulting company for credentialing bodies. Their report from a 2014 virtual Town Hall is an interesting read overall, but I found this page particularly helpful:

Microcredentials≠Digital Badges
We also clarified that although digital badges could be used to represent micro-credentials, the two concepts are not interchangeable. Digital badges are a means of representing accomplishments and these accomplishments could include certifications, micro-credentials, academic degrees or achievements not formally recognized as “credentials.” And micro-credentials could be represented by a paper certificate, digital badge, or both.
Yikes, academic degrees! Don’t tell the Academic Senate at your local institution…but doesn’t this speak to Serge Ravet’s issue of levels of granularity and weight?

It’s ironic: so much of this angst about terminology is centred on the proprietary concerns of academic institutions and their frequent bias in favour of “quality” over utility, which was part of what Open Badges were invented to circumvent. Yet, at least in North America it’s the academic institutions, particularly colleges and universities, who are dominating the dialogue about badging beyond K12 and after school. (Why is that? But I digress.)

Formative and Summative Recognition for Youth and Adults

We’re currently working on badge systems with LEARN Quebec, and that work is part of the inspiration for this post. LEARN provides services not only for students but also for teachers, related staff and communities in minority Anglophone communities. They’re learning how to present the opportunity of Open Badges to these different audiences. Basically, it’s boiling down to saying “badges” to youth and “micro-credentials” to adults.

The diagram below needs more work (suggestions welcome), but I’m starting to adapt my model from above to situate digital badges, open badges and micro-credentials among other forms of recognition:

OpenBadgesforRPL_2015_v03_FOR_UPLOAD_revBlog02_RecMATRIX2crop.png

As I look at this and think back to some of the excellent #BadgeChatK12 chats hosted by Noah Geisel and his colleagues, I’m starting to think about how a learner would migrate from the formative to the summative, from youth to adult…and how the terminology would track that.

Do all early digital badges need to be Open Badges? Well not all, but if youth are earning them in several places across a community, it’s good to be able to collect them in one place. On the other hand, how many of these early badges will they want to be showing employers or Admissions staff later on vs. dumping them into a digital shoebox?

Are there natural break points where badges become “micro-credentials”? Should you be able to trade up some of your badges for micro-credentials? For at-risk populations, youth or adult, what are some techniques to move smoothly from early engagement and progress tracking to trustable “employment-ready” recognition?

Questions like these will be important for ecosystem initiatives, such as in the Cities of LRNG and in Colorado (see previous post). It will also be increasingly important for LEARN Quebec. I also see this in the future for Aboriginal Education. This an increasingly big deal here in Canada, now that we have a new government that’s calling for a fresh approach for this fast-growing segment of our population. I may visit the topic in more detail in a future post.

CONCLUSION: Open Badge Advocacy = Log-Driving

I think the historical Ottawa River footage that introduces this famous McGarrigle song says it all: it’s gnarly, so be nimble: anticipate, adjust, and learn from your mistakes!

 

OK, so this second post was still a bit long…working on it!

6 Predictions for Open Badges in 2016

About this Blog

So: a mere 23 years after discovering the World Wide Web at TVOntario, this is my first real blog post. It’s taken a while to distill my thoughts. 8->

I’ll be leveraging my edtech-soaked obsessions with digital identity, online community, lifelong learning and career development, and this will be a combination of speculation, evaluation, reportage and related rabbit holes from the perspective of an advocate and active participant. I’ve been pretty active on social media such as Twitter and  Slideshare; this should help fill the cracks with longer explorations of the ideas that I’ve been sharing there.

About this Post

Nothing like setting yourself up for trouble on your very first blog post, but it is January 1st after all, and it seems only natural to look ahead at the coming year. I may regret this 12 months from now. Or I may feel like a genius.

Open Badges have followed an interesting path since the idea was sketched on a napkin after the 2011 MozFest in Barcelona. 2016 will mark 5 years since their inception. Are they poised for the big time, or is this concept still “ahead of market adoption”, to quote Madison Area Technical College’s Academic Plan for 2014-2107?

List of predictions

  1. Coming to Canada: Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport
  2. Version 2.0 of the OBI Standard
  3. Endorsement by Third Parties
  4. Alignment to Frameworks
  5. Regional Badge Ecosystems
  6. October in Bologna: ePIC 2016

 

1. Coming to Canada: Open Badge Factory and Open Badge Passport

This is the one I have most control over: my company Learning Agents is working with Discendum to launch a clone of the complete Finnish solution on Canadian servers in early 2016.

I’ve been an early and staunch supporter of Open Badge Factory (the issuing platform) and Open Badge Passport (the complementary storage and display platform) since I invited Mozilla Foundation to introduce Open Badges at ePortfolio and Identity Conference (ePIC) in 2012. Mark Surman couldn’t make it except via this video clip:

…but Carla Casilli and Doug Belshaw (then at Mozilla) did a great job of inspiring the European ePortfolio community that June in London in 2012, including Eric Rousselle, CEO of Discendum from Finland.

Eric and his development team at Discendum conceived Open Badge Factory as a solution for educators and trainers to issue Open Badges in distributed learning environments (ePortfolio, LMS, online community of practice, face to face) but to manage them centrally, ensuring coherent issuer control and avoiding badge fragmentation (because “badge rot is real!”).

More recently, they introduced Open Badge Passport as a more robust and flexible alternative to Mozilla Backpack. This loosely coupled tandem of Factory and Passport should be more flexible than the tightly integrated competition. We’re betting so at Learning Agents, and I’ve been very impressed with the momentum of innovation that Discendum has been able to sustain over the past two years.

A micro-credentialing solution housed on Canadian servers will be “PIA-friendly” (PIA= Privacy Impact Assessment), and therefore more attractive for Canadian academic and public institutions who may be interested in micro-credentialing, but concerned about PIPEDA, the US Patriot Act and related privacy issues. The fact that it originates from a country which respects privacy and is known for its educational outcomes doesn’t hurt either.  The Canadian service will be re-branded to avoid confusion with the original that continues to be offered from servers in Finland.

More on this via other channels in the coming weeks.

 

2. Version 2.0 of the OBI Standard

Nate Otto has been doing a great job wearing half a hat as Interim ED of the Badge Alliance in addition to his duties at Concentric Sky. I’m hoping that 2016 will see greater stability for the mandate and funding of the Badge Alliance so that Nate and other stakeholders such as LRNG are able to steer the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) standard from 1.1 to 2.0, sometime in the summer of 2016.

The standard has holes in it and anyway must continue to evolve in a changing environment and growing awareness of its potential as a building block for learning and recognition pathways. Details of the scope of changes for 2.0 are still sparse, but watch the OPEN BADGE STANDARD WORKING GROUP for details as they emerge.

Version 1.1 brought us Extensions, which enabled all kinds of new functionality, and we haven’t harvested anywhere near the total benefit of that yet. Because Version 2.0 is a major upgrade, expect some things to break from previous versions of the OBI, but also expect accessible migration paths.

 

3. Endorsement by Third Parties

The most obvious example of Endorsement is a standards organization endorsing badge issuers and/or the badges they issue, but could also include consumer or stakeholder community endorsement, such as by employers, industry associations or regional networks.

whats a badge really worth

Bryan Mathers, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This is one of the barriers holding back cautious potential issuers and consumers from adopting Open Badges. Endorsement is now theoretically possible via Extensions in version 1.1 of the OBI, which have already been used to enable distributed issuing networks (“badge sharing“) and geolocation. Version 2.0 of the standard may also have a role to play.

Expect to see one or more OBI-compliant implementations of Endorsement in 2016.

 

4. Alignment to Frameworks

This is another “popular” barrier to adoption for early and late majorities. Assuming an Open Badge is of “good quality”, where does it fit, what is its relevance? How can you use it to recognize the skills and abilities of the earner? The OBI makes Open Badges technically “portable” between contexts, but how is a badge in one context meaningful in another?

One way is to align the badges to standards. This is already starting to happen with Teacher PD and the ISTE standards (see both Digital Promise and  PD Learning Network in the US)  and in the world of IT with the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) framework (see QualIT example from New Zealand and this proposed model from South Africa…there will be one from Canada in 2016, if all goes well.)

However, the OBI doesn’t currently support Alignment very well…in the standard it’s just a single URL with an open text description. What’s needed is is a standardized way of referring to a framework and where this badge fits in that framework. This will improve things such machine readability, discoverability and modular development pathways, helping Open Badges achieve their potential as developmental building blocks in interoperable skills ecosystems. Myknowledgemap‘s Justframeworks.com from the UK may be useful in this regard. It’s a simple solution that avoids leveling where possible, although I am sure there will be other solutions that are more complex and may still be simple enough to work. I was hearing again recently about Simon Grant’s InLOC specification in this regard.

Expect to see some meaningful progress on this file on several fronts in 2016.

 

5. Regional Badge Ecosystems

What if you gave a badge and nobody cared? This is true of far too many badge systems. Open Badges are easy to do…badly. A common shortcoming is an over-emphasis on what’s easy for a single instructor to do: formative, “gamified learning” learning strategies to engage (torture?) students inside the context of a course. If there’s no meaning for the badge beyond that course, no redeemable, summative value outside of the context, why:

  • …should students care, especially if they’re uncomfortable with certain aspects of gamification?
  • …bother making it a portable Open Badge?

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with using digital badges for gamification inside a context – Khan Academy is a decent example of this. But that’s not why Open Badges were invented, hence the tagline: “Get recognition for skills you learn anywhere.” For ongoing meaning, there has to be a summative recognition value to the badge:

800px-Open_Badges_napkin_sketch_crop

Source: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges

Summative recognition implies someone doing the summing up: the badge audience (or “consumer”). It can be an audience of employers, admissions officers at educational institutions, or any entity that needs to assess the capabilities of a candidate. A clear awareness of audience is typically missing in hasty badge implementations. Good badge system design engages badge audiences early, sometimes even giving them a chance to co-create the badges. Then, when candidates approach them with these badges, they are a familiar currency.

All well and good, but it can be an exhaustingly incremental process to build badge audiences org by org, or even sector by sector. What if you could bring a representative group of stakeholders together for a community or region to put Open Badges and common skills frameworks onto the local radar and vocabulary?

Excitingly, this is what’s starting to happen in these places:

  • Cities of LRNG (formerly “Cities of Learning”, but I guess they re-allocated the vowels) in Chicago, Dallas, Washington and Pittsburgh, soon to be followed by many more.
    This example is stronger on the “supply” side (i.e. issuers over audiences), but has good funding and great potential.
  • Colorado – a potentially converging cluster of: Colorado Community College System Badge Consortium (presentation), Colorado State University , and Aurora Public Schools (see Badge Summit advertised June 2016)

I also have hopes of helping get something similar going in BC’s Lower Mainland. I’ll be encouraging and tracking all this in 2016.

 

6. October in Bologna: ePIC 2016

Serge Ravet started this conference about ePortfolios in 2003 and I’ve attended every one since 2004. It’s my favourite conference, because it’s always been about staking out new territory.

In recent years, I’ve played more of a role in helping with the programming. I was able to introduce Open Badges in 2012 with Serge’s enthusiastic approval, and since then Open Badges have gained in prominence every year. That’s not surprising, because they represent a less monolithic, more modular and often complementary enhancement to the mission of ePortfolios.

This year, Serge’s organization ADPIOS is partnering with CINECA, the Italian HE consortium behind the new Bestr badge solution, to offer ePIC 2016 in the fascinating city of Bologna:

I *think* the dates will be October 27-29. We’re still finalizing the details, but should be able to issue the Call for Contributions soon.

This promises to be a banner year for ePIC. I’ll be returning to it in future posts as the year progresses.

In closing

Wow, this took a while; I hope it hasn’t been too long a read for you. I’ll be working to get quicker and pithier in future posts.