Digital badges and the purpose of education

We have now come to the end of the sixth topic – Recognition – in Stephen Downes’ E-Learning 3.0 MOOC.  For me, this has been the least satisfying of the course topics so far. I have been trying to work out why this is so, and think it must be because I have somehow failed to ‘recognise’ what it is all about ;-). At some level, which I am finding it difficult to identify (I am hoping that writing this post will help), I have not been able to align my own knowledge and understanding with this week’s course content. This has been somewhat demotivating.

I started off on the wrong foot. When I saw the topic ‘Recognition’ I thought we would be digging into how knowledge is distributed across a network and how we identify or see this as knowledge. I thought this might lead to further discussion about how we learn across a distributed network. And, yes, on one level the topic was about this, but it was much more about ‘giving’ (or collecting) recognition for knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours and keeping track of this through the award of badges.

It took me until the end of last week to realise that the topic wasn’t really about assessment or learning, but ultimately about how to automate the issuing of records of achievement in the form of badges. This is what Stephen worked on for most of the week; he has shared his learning on how to do this on his Half an Hour blog. See the Badge API and Setting Up Badges. He is rightly pleased with this outcome. A job well done. He could award himself a badge 🙂

Meanwhile the rest of us were exploring how to create a badge in Badgr or similar sites, with greater or lesser degrees of success. See the end of this post for links to participants’ posts. A very useful post was shared by Random Access, who, it turns out, has extensive experience of working on Open Badges with the Scottish Social Services Council. I liked the video explanation of Open Badges shared in that post, which I’ll include here, and the emphasis on authentic learning experiences and reflecting on learning. It’s worth watching the video and reading the whole post.

Stephen also emphasised authentic tasks in his summary for this week. He hopes that these will be designed by humans to balance the possibility of biased algorithms. I think this is one of the things that has been troubling me. It has all felt a bit detached from the learner – a mechanism for determining at scale ‘what counts as success’ and how we measure that success.

As well as badges, Stephen discussed competencies and competency frameworks. He writes in his summary for this week Badges, certificates and awards are recognition entities. So are endorsements, references, and plaudits. I have said in the past that the recognition entity of the future will be a job offer.’ This of course has implications for the purpose of education. I really hope that there is more to education than collecting a personal backpack of badges to prove to employers that we are who we say we are, and that it is more than an encounter with robots or algorithms (Gert Biesta talks about this in his video talk about The Beautiful Risk of Education – with thanks to @mark_mcguire for sharing this in the #el30 twitter stream).

Stephen shares the draft writing of his weekly summaries in a Google Doc, which is a great example of open practice and the summaries are so very helpful This week he wrote:

The traditional educational model is based on tests and assignments, grades, degrees and professional certifications. But with xAPI activity data we can begin tracking things like which resources a person read, who they spoke to, and what questions they asked – anything.

This concerned me – so I commented:

Is this what we really want? How can we avoid living in a ‘Big Brother’ /panopticon world?

Laura Ritchie replied:

In reply to Jenny – to me this is more about the possibilities of a more broad understanding and acceptance of evidence rather than a surveillance model. I doubt Stephen is suggesting ‘spying’ on students or tracking/mapping, but that instead it could be something they catalogue as part of ‘evidence’ for some task/concept.

I doubt it too, but that’s not to say that this couldn’t happen. In fact, unless the purpose of education remains really clearly thought through and all these developments are clearly underpinned by clarity of purpose, then I think it would be easy to slip into practices which might be detrimental to learning.

Biesta sees the purpose of education as going beyond student-centred education. He sees it as learning what it means to live together in the world. Ronald Barnett hopes that the student will develop a sustained will to learn. (Barnett, T., 2007, A Will to Learn. Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty. Open University Press ). Etienne Wenger discusses in depth, in his book, Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning and Identity, issues related to how learning changes who we are. These are just three of many authors, not to mention philosophers, who have questioned the meaning and purpose of education.

Stephen believes that’ new decentralized network technologies will enable individuals to manage their own credentials’ ( see this week’s summary). In his final paragraph he writes:

These developments represent a signal change in the deployment of both learning analytics and artificial intelligence in education in the years to come. Today, such systems focus on process, and centrally and institutionally designed, and benefit teachers and employers far more than they do individual learners. Indeed,  the only people not benefiting are the learners themselves, with their own data. And that’s what can and must change.

Having reached the end of this post I realise that I do understand that if teaching and learning are to happen at scale across a distributed network, so that there is the potential for anyone anywhere to have access to an education, and learners can be in more control of their learning,  then we need new systems to recognise and validate this education. I suppose my concern is whether these new systems can or will encourage the type of purpose for education so eloquently discussed in such depth by authors such as Biesta, Wenger and Barnett, and whether learners will ‘recognise’ that there is more to education than being awarded a badge, a certificate or even a PhD.

Update: 05-12-18

In addition to the comprehensive comment from Stephen below, in which he responds to this post, he has also now posted this video, in which he explains his thinking with respect to this topic – Recognition – and why he thinks it important.

References to Participants Blog Posts

Davey Maloney – http://daveymoloney.com/el30/el30-recognition-task/

Roland Legrand – https://learningwithmoocs.com/uncategorized/el30-task-congratulations-you-earned-a-badge/

Frank Polster – http://frankpolster.com/blog/elearn30/elearn-3-0-week-6-recognition-task/

Kevin Hodgson – http://dogtrax.edublogs.org/2018/11/30/when-you-give-yourself-a-badge/

Lou – https://learningreflections.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/week-6-recognition-task-create-a-badge/

Random Access – https://randomaccesslearning.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/recognition-assessment-realising-the-potential-of-open-badges/

Laura Ritchie – https://www.lauraritchie.com/2018/12/01/connected-learner-badge/

Matthias Melcher – https://x28newblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/el30-week-6-automated-assessments/

Badges are not sufficient

This week Stephen invited Viplav Baxi to join him in a discussion about this week’s topic – Recognition – for the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC.

They only mentioned badges briefly, but the task for participants this week has been to create a badge – see my last post.

I have been struggling to identify the key issues in this week’s topic.  I don’t think it is badges. As Stephen himself said at a keynote presentation in Delhi in 2012, to which he was invited by Viplav Baxi:

Badges are not sufficient, analytics are not sufficient, it’s the interactivity, it’s the relative position with everybody else in the network, that represents learning in this sort of environment. (Stephen Downes, 2012)

See – Stephen Downes. Education as Platform: The MOOC Experience and what we can do to make it better. Keynote presentation delivered to EdgeX, Delhi, India. March 14, 2012. Slides and audio available. http://www.downes.ca/presentation/293

See also Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada, p.541 https://www.downes.ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf

So what are we to make of the topic this week? I have watched the conversation between Stephen and Viplav, checked out some of the resources for this week (which I have copied from the course site at the end of this post), read the Synopsis for this week, and explored my own ‘library’  that I have collected over the years, not specifically on badges, but on assessment in a digital world, and how this might be changing.

I have a terrible memory, so having a library and a blog to refer back to is essential. My blog reminded me that I travelled to Greenwich in 2014 to hear Stephen give this keynote.

I blogged about it at the time. Here is a quote from that blog post, which seems to identify the key issues as I interpreted them.

“Stephen’s vision is that in the future assessment will be based not on what you ‘know’ but on what you ‘do’ – what you do on the public internet. The technology now exists to map a more precise assessment of people through their online interactions. Whilst this raises concerns around issues of privacy and ethical use of data, it also means that people will be more in control of their own assessment. In the future we will have our own personal servers and will personally manage our multiple identities through public and private social networks. Prospective employers seeking a match for the jobs they want filled can then view the details of these identities.”

Viplav and Stephen discussed the role of Artificial Intelligence in tracking students and scaling up assessment, a real need for Viplav in India given the huge numbers of students requiring assessment and recognition.  Stephen has written this week:

…. we need to think of the content of assessments more broadly. The traditional educational model is based on tests and assignments, grades, degrees and professional certifications. But with activity data we can begin tracking things like which resources a person reads, who they spoke to, and what questions they asked. We can also gather data outside the school or program, looking at actual results and feedback from the workplace. In the world of centralized platforms, such data collection would be risky and intrusive, but in a distributed data network where people manage their own data, greater opportunities are afforded.

This paragraph immediately raised concerns for me, about privacy. The thought of being constantly ‘observed’ in class and out of class feels very uncomfortable and I wonder to what extent the ethics of these new forms of assessment have been considered.

And then there is the question of what information is being gathered, and, as Stephen asks  ‘How do we know what someone has learned?’ Further questions must also be: What is knowledge and how do we recognise it? Will a certificate or a badge accurately represent a learner’s knowledge?

Connectivism seems to be the learning theory most applicable to the distributed web, proposing that:

Knowledge is literally the set of connections between entities. In humans, this knowledge consists of connections between neurons. In societies, this knowledge consists of connections between humans and their artifacts. What a network knows is not found in the content of its entities, nor in the content of messages sent from one to the other, but rather can only be found through recognition of patterns emergent in the network of connections and interactions. [i.e. in what people ‘do’ – see above]

See Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada, p.9

And on p.584 of this book Stephen quotes Rob Wall (2007) as saying:

“Literacy, of any type, is about pattern recognition, about seeing how art is like physics is like literature is like dance is like architecture is like …Literacy is not about knowing where the dots are. Literacy is not about finding dots about which you may not know. Literacy is about connecting the dots and seeing the big picture that emerges.”

Rob Wall. What You Really Need to Learn: Some Thoughts. Stigmergic Web (weblog). June 3, 2007. http://stigmergicweb.org/2007/06/03/what-you-really-need-to-learn-some-thoughts/ No longer extant.

This seems to describe how knowledge on the distributed web will be recognised, i.e. by trying the see the emergent big picture that a learner’s activity demonstrates. How this will be formalised to be able to award badges, certificates and the like, is unclear to me.

I don’t know if Stephen still believes that ‘badges won’t be sufficient’. He sounds more optimistic in his Synopsis, writing “with trustworthy data from distributed networks we will be able to much more accurately determine the skills – and potential – of every individual.”

But it makes sense to me to be cautious about badges. As Viplav Baxi said in the video (relating this to his context in India, but relevant, I think, in many contexts), it’s not all about technology and pedagogy, but also about trust and identity. A change of mindset, culture and beliefs will be needed, if new approaches to assessment which take advantage of the distributed web are to be adopted.

Resources (provided by Stephen Downes for the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC)

Testing for Competence Rather Than for “Intelligence”
David McClelland, 2018/11/26

“…the fact remains that testing has had its greatest impact in  the schools and currently is doing the worst damage in that area by falsely leading people to believe that doing well in school means that people are more  competent and therefore more likely to do well in life because of some real ability factor.”

How did we get here? A brief history of competency‐based higher education in the United States
T.R. Nodine, The Journal of Competency-Based Education, 2018/11/26

Competency‐based education (CBE) programs have spread briskly in higher education over the past several years and their trajectory continues to rise. In light of the spread of competency‐based models, this article provides a brief history of CBE in the United States.

Competency & Skills System (CaSS)
Advanced Distributed Learning, 2018/11/26

The Competency and Skills System (CASS) enables collection, processing, and incorporation of credentials and data (“assertions”) about an individual’s competencies into accessible, sharable learner profiles. CaSS will create an infrastructure enabling competencies, competency frameworks, and competency-based learner models to be managed and accessed independently of a learning management system, course, training program, or credential. See also: CASS Documentation.

Knowledge as Recognition 
Stephen Downes, Half an Hour, 2018/11/27

In my view, knowledge isn’t a type of belief or opinion at all, and knowledge isn’t the sort of thing that needs to be justified at all. Instead, knowledge is a type of perception, which we call ‘recognition’, and knowledge serves as the justification for other things, including opinions and beliefs.

Beyond Assessment – Recognizing Achievement in a Networked World
Stephen Downes, 2018/11/27

ePortfolios and Open Badges are only the first wave in what will emerge as a wider network-based form of assessment that makes tests and reviews unnecessary. In this talk I discuss work being done in network-based automated competency development and recognition, the challenges it presents to traditional institutions, and the opportunities created for genuinely autonomous open learning. See also the transcript of this talk.

Digital Badges as Recognition of Success

Looking back through this blog, I am reminded that in 2012 I attended a SCoPE seminar on digital badges and wrote two posts about it. Reading back through these posts I see that at that time I had some reservations about badges.

In the first post of the two – #digitalbadges: SCoPE seminar on Digital Badges I raised these questions:

• Will badges promote quality learning or will they simply encourage people to ‘jump through hoops’?
• Will badges be ‘recognised/valued’ by employers – will they need to be?
• Will badges stifle creativity and emergent learning?

In the second post – SCoPE Seminar: Digital Badges Implementation – I reflected on the credibility of these badges, their value, their integrity, their status, what and who they represent. I wondered whether the badge system would promote the ‘completion of tasks’ approach to learning, more than a focus on developing a depth of understanding. And the discussion of the design and implementation of badge systems made me wonder whether this could ultimately disempower learners rather than empower them.

It will be interesting to see whether this week’s discussion in the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC, on how the distributed web can change the way in which learning success is recognised, will answer the questions and concerns I had back in 2012.

The task for this week is to:

Create a free account on a Badge service (several are listed in the resources for this module). Then:

– create a badge
– award it to yourself.
– use a blog post on your blog as the ‘evidence’ for awarding yourself the badge
– place the badge on the blog post.

To assist you in this, you can see this blog post where I did all four steps with Badgr. (I also tried to work with the API, with much less success).

Before I started on this task I found that I had already been awarded a badge by Matthias Melcher for completing the task he set for participants earlier in the course. He posted this task on his blog – el30 Graph Task – and I describe how I completed his task in this post.

Matthias’s award was a great help, as it functioned like an advance organizer  enabling me to know what I could expect to see and what I should look out for.

Here is the badge I received by email from Matthias via Badgr. I really like the design of the badge.

Clicking on download (as in the image above) took me straight to the Badgr site, which was used to create this badge, and by following Stephen Downes’ instructions, which he outlines in this post  it was quite straightforward to create an account and award myself a badge.

I now have two badges in my Backpack.

Clicking on a badge provides details of the evidence for the award, including links to the sites where the evidence is held. See image below.

Finally I created an E-Learning 3.0 badge collection.

Using Badgr is a straightforward and quick way to create badges, but it does seem critically important to ensure that the evidence of achievement is comprehensive and that the evidence boxes are completed.

The question that I hope will be discussed in this week of the E-Learning 3.0 MOOC, is whether and why digital badges are the way to go in terms of recognising success in learning on the distributed web.

Resources (provided by Stephen Downes and copied from the E-Learning 3.0 course site)

OpenBadges.me
2018/11/27

Free tools to issue Mozilla Open Badges. Design and award your own open badges: credential skills, recognize learning and create bite-sized rewards to support micro-credentials in your eportfolio.

 

Open Badge Factory
2018/11/27

“Open Badge Factory is a versatile platform for organisations wanting to create, issue and manage Open Badges. Suitable for any organisation, big or small, Open Badge Factory is a user-friendly and cost-efficient service to start issuing Open Badges and building sustainable Open Badge ecosystems.”

 

Open Badges
2018/11/27

General information page about badges. “Open Badges are verifiable, portable digital badges with embedded metadata about skills and achievements. They comply with the Open Badges Specification and are shareable across the web. Each Open Badge is associated with an image and information about the badge, its recipient, the issuer, and any supporting evidence. All this information may be packaged within a badge image file that can be displayed via online CVs and social networks.” See also the IMS Open Badges specification.

 

Badgr
2018/11/27

Application for creating digital badges. Badgr is open source software based on open standards.  Here’s the community website. Here’s a sample of me creating and awarding myself a badge on Badgr.

 

Blockchain Diplomas Land In Virginia At Ecpi
Stephen’s Web ~ OLDaily, 2018/11/28
Jacob Demmitt, The Roanoke Times, Nov 26, 2018  It was only a matter of time. “Virginia Beach-based ECPI University has joined a group of early adopters that distribute student degrees through the same kind of decentralized computer networks that power Bitcoin… The concept behind the technology is virtually unchanged, except ECPI is using the blockchain to issue digital degrees instead of digital currencies.” The plan does have a definite upside: “It’s on there for life. They never have to call the registrar’s office and order another diploma.”

 

WhatIfEdu

Viplav Baxi, 2018/11/28

What if teachers learned to perform to transform rather than be a guide by the side or a sage on the stage? Teachers perhaps need to be an equal part performer who enact and ‘live’ the subject in their interactions with students.

SCoPE Seminar: Digital Badges Implementation

Peter Rawsthorne  spoke to the SCoPE community about badge system design and implementation in a live webinar last night. See the SCopE site for a recording

Peter is a mine of information  about this subject (see his blog). It seems that digital badges are probably here to stay. Some pretty heavyweight organizations appear to be investing in them –  see Peter’s post An introduction to badge systems design. Some current key questions for those in the digital badges community seem to be around

  • how to come up with a common international standard for badges
  • how to develop the technology to easily design and issue badges

What has been most interesting for me during this seminar, is my own feeling of discomfort with all this discussion about badges. I have been reflecting on why.

First I was reminded in last night’s webinar of Etienne Wenger’s ‘purple in the nose’ story. When meeting a friend to share a glass of wine, he suddenly realized that his wine-tasting friend (who described wine using an unknown language – ‘purple in the nose’), was a member of a community to which Etienne did not belong. Etienne had to decide whether he wanted to belong to that community and learn that language. I have felt the same about this seminar. I feel ‘outside’ this community of digital badge enthusiasts.

Maybe those involved in designing and implementing badges have already been through the questions which remain for me; questions about the credibility of these badges, their value, their integrity, their status, what they represent, who they represent and so on.

A most telling comment for me in the SCoPE discussion forum has been

‘More hack, less yak!”

Our facilitator has clearly been frustrated that the group has been ‘yakking’ about the issues rather than getting on and completing the tasks. As he put it, with good humour, ‘Sheesh…. What a bunch of academics <big smile>’

So I still wonder whether the badge system will promote the ‘completion of tasks’ approach to learning, more than a focus on developing a depth of understanding.

The word that kept going through my head in last night’s webinar was ‘control’.  The discussion of the design and implementation of badge systems made me wonder whether this could ultimately disempower learners rather than empower them. Given that my current research interests are related to emergent learning, I am struggling to see where digital badges would fit with this.

There was a brief discussion at the end of the webinar about the possibility of individual self-directed learners designing their own badges and legitimizing them.  For me this was the most interesting aspect of the discussion. I would have liked more ‘yak’ on this 🙂 .

Finally I wonder whether the earning of badges will be more important to some learners than others and if so, what the reasons for this might be.  I say this because one member of my family is very keen to earn and collect badges, whereas I don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for it.

#digitalbadges: SCoPE seminar on Digital Badges

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 20.13.25

(screenshot from Peter Rawsthorne’s presentation)

Peter Rawsthorne is facilitating a lively two week seminar in the SCoPE community on the concept and implementation of Digital Badges. This is how he describes his intentions for the seminar

During this two-week seminar we will explore digital badges from concept through to implementation. The seminar will focus on the possible pedagogies and technology required for implementing digital badges. We will also take a critical look at the current state of digital badges with discussion of the required and possible futures. If you have a few hours to read and discuss focused topics and participate in two mid-day webinars then please join is this lively learning experience focused on digital badges.

As well as the discussion forums there are two web conferences – the first took place last night. Details of the seminar and conferences can be found here – http://scope.bccampus.ca/mod/forum/view.php?id=9010

The seminar has been designed to be task driven and with the intention of awarding badges on completion, based on a 3 badge system design

  1. Learner badge – person introduces themselves to the group via the discussion forum and contributes to a couple of discussion threads. Mostly, they could be considered lurkers (much can be learned through lurking)
  2. Participant badge – person introduces themselves to the group via the discussion forum and actively contributes to 7 of the 12 primary discussion threads, also participates in one of the two lunch-and-learn sessions.
  3. Contributor badge – does everything the participant does with the addition of contributing;
    • by designing badge images
    • creating a badge system design for another curriculum
    • blogs about their participation in this seminar series
    • other creative endeavours regarding digital badges

The daily tasks that have been posted so far are

Task 1  

  • Identify a merit badge you earned during your lifetim
  • Describe how you displayed the merit badges

Task 2   

  • Identify the digital and internet technologies best suited to create a digital merit badge
  • Describe the technologies that could be used to attach (reference or link) the learning to the digital badge

Task 3  

  • Identify the completion criteria for any badge you have earned (traditional or digital)
  • Describe the hierarchy or network of badges

Task 4

  • Identify a variety of sites that issue badge
  • Describe the skills, knowledge and curriculum the badges represent

Some sites that reference badges that have been mentioned in the forums…

From the synchronous webinar last night Peter Rawsthorne made the point that there are 4-5 billion people on the planet who are not attending school. How will their achievements/accomplishments be recognized? I think the idea is that learning that happens outside traditional settings should be honoured and recognized.

Screen shot 2012-12-04 at 20.14.29

(Screenshot from Peter Rawsthorne’s presentation)

At this point I feel a bit skeptical about the whole thing, but it is very early days. Three questions I have at this time are:

  • Will badges promote quality learning or will they simply encourage people to ‘jump through hoops’?

For example – I notice in the discussion forums that there is in fact, very little discussion. The tasks are being completed but there is little discussion about them. Completing tasks does not necessarily lead to quality learning.

  • Will badges be ‘recognised/valued’ by employers – will they need to be?

Verena Roberts in last night’s webinar wrote ‘Do badges need to lead to something, or identify a person’s passion?’ For me, I don’t need a badge to identify a personal passion, but I might need one for my CV, depending on the context and my personal circumstances.

  • Will badges stifle creativity and emergent learning?

There has been discussion about how badges fit together and Gina Bennett (in the webinar) thought that the ‘Scouts’ have the badge thing really figured out.  But for me that model is based on a very ‘linear’ way of thinking about learning, whereas research has shown that even small children (for example when learning mathematics), don’t learn in a linear way – they go backwards, forwards and sideways. Frogmarching children (and adults) through a curriculum has always been a problem for curriculum design and the award of badges based on a linear approach might just reinforce this.