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.

See also Downes, S. (2012). Connectivism and connective knowledge: Essays on meaning and learning networks. National Research Council Canada, p.541

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. 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.