Tag Archives: Open Badges

If we build them, will they come? The stickiness of Open Badges.

So I thought Twitter was just a phase… How wrong I was. It bewilders me: what makes one social media application ‘stick’ and another one wither away into an html graveyard? This was the concern for those attending a session on The Realities of Badging at the Opening Education Practices in Scotland Advisory Forum in October. Open Badges (OBs) are digital image files created by Mozilla Firefox and are being taken up by some educationalists as a tool for recognising and rewarding non-academic activities [think boy/girl scout badges for the digital generation]. These files contain metadata about what skills, qualities, and level of achievements the badge holder has attained, as well as information about who has issued the badge, and even its verification by a third party. The value in their portability and imagery emerges when students add them to their social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and WordPress, in order to showcase their employability

For OB’s to ‘stick’, a reciprocal affiliation needs to develop between HE and FE institutions and employers. With such few trials of OBs in existence in the UK, the qualities of this relationship are unclear. For universities, there is no point spending resources creating OBs unless employers agree to value OBs, understanding what they represent and what weighting they carry. Employers are reluctant to offer their unreserved support for OBs until they understand the purpose and currency of OBs through regular adoption and use by HE and FE institutions. A charity director at the session summed up this catch-22 situation with her somewhat rhetorical question, ‘if we build them, will they come?’.

In her blog post Evidencing Employability Skills with Open Badges, Grainne Hamilton, a former Jisc RSC Scotland employee, summed up three possible barriers to making OB’s ‘stick’ for employers:

  1. Employers want to immediately understand the value behind a badge. They don’t want to spend time clicking through to the detail of a badge unless they feel it will reveal something worthwhile

  2. Employers are concerned with badge apathy and are likely to be put off the concept of badges if they come across too many badges that are irrelevant to them in a given context

  3. It is probable that new trust networks will develop but initially it is likely badges from issuers employers already know and trust will be valued more.

Grainne’s blog post offers some solutions to these problems, including tagging, clustering and endorsing badges. However, for me, there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed around employability and the use of Open Badges: one of articulation. Wouldn’t handing out badges, albeit in shiny digital formats, simply reinforce the cognitive acquisition metaphor of ‘skills’ that can be ‘transferred’ from one place to another? As my colleagues in the Careers department argued when asked about OBs, the issue isn’t how we represent the skills attained – a certificate, digital badges or LinkedIn – it is how the student then articulates their understanding of this skill in relation to the workplace during an interview. The issue isn’t about how easily the employer can understand or recognise the significance of a LinkedIn endorsement or an Open Badge for Digital Learning, it is about how the student recognises and translates their non-academic experiences into professional responses about workplace practice. As educators, this is where our focus needs to be directed in order to better understand and enhance graduate employability.

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Opening up to OERs

In an attempt to demystify the practices surrounding Open Educational Resources (OER), Open University (OU) and the Scottish Funding Council have come together to launch the Opening Education Practices in Scotland (OEPS) Advisory Forum. I attended their first meeting last week at Edinburgh Training and Conference Venue to find out what it was all about.

Firstly, what are Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices?

OER

Our understanding of Open Educational Resources is grounded in established notions of openly licensed content. We have a specific focus on freedoms afforded by openly licensing content (allowing “The 5 Rs”: retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute) and the degree to which design development and distribution accounts for equity and openness.

OEP

We think of Open Educational Practices as those educational practices that are concerned with and promote equity and openness. Our understanding of ‘open’ builds on the freedoms associated with “the 5 Rs” of OER, promoting a broader sense of open, emphasising social justice, and developing practices that open up opportunities for those distanced from education.

OEPS project working definitions

The OEPS project has been set up to encourage the incorporation of OERs into daily teaching routines as well as to develop, share and inspire OE best practice in Scotland. OEPS aims to achieve this by developing a peer network and by creating an online hub. The project itself will run from 2014 to 2017 but aims for its outputs to be sustainable well beyond the life of the project.

The hub itself will be based on OpenLearn Works – an existing OU platform designed to share learning projects. They envisage the main users to be practitioners, providers and researchers while the majority of browsers to be informal, learners and students. The idea is that communities can exploit the resources and systems on OpenLearn to genuinely produce positive widening participation change. During the project, OEPS aims to turn OpenLearn into an online hub by:

–          Adding more content

–          Improving the search functionality

–          Giving clearer guidance on creating and uploading OERs

–          Creating alternative formats

–          Becoming mobile-friendly

–          Adding new support mechanisms

–          Becoming interoperable with other platforms

–          Creating a user profile so users can gather and curate profiles and make connections with other users.

I homed in on a couple of useful OER applications that an online hub could facilitate during the mornings’ discussions:

  1. Using OERs to shop courses. OU found that 31.5% informal learners use OERs to try out university-led courses before they sign up. With university fees as they are these days, you want to be sure the course is right for you so this seems an incredibly savvy and sensible use of OERs.
  2. Undertaking guerrilla research. OERs can be used to do research in a much shorter amount of time than conventional pathways by blogging about research ideas or using existing data. This is not an argument to replace traditional research, but to enhance it.

However, in his morning plenary speech – ‘The Battle for Open’ – Prof Martin Weller (Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University & ICDE Chair in OER) highlights that although OERs are no longer on the periphery of education and openness has, so-called, won the battle, it is the meaning of openness that is now up for grabs. In attempts to spread the philosophy of openness, we could in fact create closed resources where contracts and licenced software packages start to close down the opened spaces.

Weller

After lunch, the afternoon flowed into a series of workshops arranged to encourage discussions around current OER practices and initiatives, both in the workplace and in HE and FE. One workshop I found very timely for my own interest was on Open Badges. John Casey (City of Glasgow College) summarises the day’s discussions about the challenges facing Open Badges in his blog post ‘Taking Care of Business’: The Realities of Badging. My next blog post will look at these issues in more depth.

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