Tuesday, 23 July 2013

On open badges and informal assessment

Although developing informal badges are one of the key debates in MOOCs and online learning in general today, not all institutes belief it to be worth investing. Which is a pity, as open badges in a more 'formal' (if that is possible) way might allow people to really add credentials to their name and build up a reputation (even an expertise) from there.

My first encounter with informal badges was through discussion forums where the more reputed, helpful participants got several stars next to their name, indicating their answers were worth reading. But as time went by those informal badges captured the attention of public, learning projects. One of which was the iSpot project, a UK start-up that started out as a mobile learning project to allow amateur as well as expert explorers of the wild natural environment to exchange notes, learn from each other and gain extra expertise. The great thing about the iSpot project is that they managed to push laymen and -women into an expert position by issuing informal badges. iSpot grew and attracted worldwide partners, putting them on the brink of an international agreement for informal badges ... quite exciting!

Unfortunately the funding did not come through to move to this next, global level. The plug was pulled for this idea and the only thing left to do for the researchers who were eager to push forward this idea, was to disseminate their findings, hoping others might build upon what they had in mind. So here are some of the interesting ideas Jon Rosewell put forward in a presentation I followed recently (and I am adding a slide deck from a presentation he gave while the funding option was still in the running, below). 

Here are a few benefits of using badges and acknowledging them worldwide to enable people from all regions to grow towards and expert status in a specific area:
  • A badge is validated indicator of acknowledgment used across the globe
  • It builds upon recognized expertise by peers (both amateurs and experts)
  • Badges are provided in the public eye, so a newbie can check out the log that moved a person towards the level of expertise, making it transparent
  • Badges bridge the gap between informal and formal learning, offering steps/credentials for moving towards a more formal education for those interested, or showing informal expertise to other peers. In that case assessments must be put into place that are recognized by all partners (can be a challenge, I know)
  • Although badges start out as informal validations, a mix of badges could lead to a formal credit
  • In order for global open badges to be recognizable, they must have a clear, transparent design (which expertise, part of which course/activity, delivered by which institution - an example can be seen in the slides
  • The granularity of the badges enables a learner to grow in a balanced way taken into account specific time-stressed periods in life (learning while pregnant, moving house, between jobs, career boost...)
There is a challenge in providing badges between partners, all partners must be seen as equally capable and trustworthy... but that to me is the way forward anyway, we all must learn to trust each others capacities a bit quicker. Because let's be honest, there isn't that much difference between any of us, no matter where we live (in the skills we have in us from birth), however there is a difference in the learning options we have depending on where we live, so badges can help bridge these gaps and offer a stepping stone towards more formal education (online or face-to-face).