The past tense of open badges

Some commentators are heralding open badges as the nemesis of the college degree. I don’t quite see it that way.

It is true they are uneasy bedfellows. As Mark Smithers observes…

“It’s interesting that the reaction to open badges from senior academic managers is often to dismiss them as being child like and akin to collecting a badge for sewing at scouts.”

…and…

“I also suspect that traditional higher education providers will resist providing them because they don’t fit in with traditional academic perceptions of achievement and credentialing.”

I wonder if these academics have consulted their own faculties of education?

Of course, open badges and college degrees are not mutually exclusive. If a particular university can overcome its initial prejudice, it will see badges for what they really are: representations of achievement – just like those pieces of paper they dole out at graduation ceremonies.

There is no reason why a university couldn’t award a badge upon the completion of a degree. In fact, it could also award badges upon the completion of individual subjects within the degree. That would give the student a sense of accomplishment while in the midst of a multi-year program, and I imagine showcasing one’s backpack on the university’s VLE would become rather competitive.

Open badges

Speaking of competition, I don’t see open badges as a serious disruptor of the higher education system in the way that MOOCs are. And that’s because MOOCs are disrupting the delivery of education, rather than its credentialing.

A degree will always command a certain level of gravitas. It represents a structured, comprehensive education from – according to broader society – an elite bastion of knowledge and research. In short, it equips you with the intellectual foundation to do something in that domain.

In contrast, open badges are task oriented. Beyond the nebulous notion of “study”, they recognise the execution of specific actions. For example, Mozilla issues its Div Master Badge upon successfully using the div tag at least 2 times in its Webmaker Project.

If the task were passing an exam, the badge could indeed represent the acquisition of knowledge; but the spirit of open badges dictates that the task be performed in the real world, and hence represents the mastery of a skill. And this is meaningful to the corporate sector.

For example, if I were an employer who needed a graphic designer, I would seek someone who knows how to take awesome digital photos and edit them in Photoshop. So an applicant who has earned badges for digital photography techniques and advanced Photoshop operations would be an obvious candidate.

Yet if I were seeking a IT executive, I don’t think open badges would cut the mustard. Sure, badges earned by an applicant for various Java programming tasks might be attractive, but a wide-ranging role requires the kind of comprehensive education that a degree is purposefully designed to give.

Magnifying glass

When we look at learning through the lens of the college degree, we see its application in the future tense. The learner has a well-rounded education which he or she intends to draw from. In other words, the degree recognises something you can do.

In contrast, when we look at learning through the lens of the open badge, we see its application in the past tense. The learner has demonstrated their mastery of a skill by using it. In other words, the badge recognises something you have already done.

So the degrees vs badges debate isn’t really about the latter displacing the former. The emergence of badges is merely re-roasting the same old chestnut of whether degrees are necessary for the modern workplace.

And that’s an entirely different matter.

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34 Comments on “The past tense of open badges”


  1. Ahh if only we could award badges for ‘not being an obnoxious jerk in meetings’, ‘actually responds to email with appropriate use of reply-all’ etc etc. *That* would be something that employers could pay attention to :D.

    In seriousness, though, the skills vs knowledge thing is a distinction that most in higher ed vastly underestimate the value of, for all their talk of ‘employability’ and grad attributes etc. I’m really starting to think there’s a niche for badges in this regard.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    LOL, thanks Sarah. You know, those funny kinds of badges might actually work!


  3. Thanks Ryan. Your post got me thinking about the role of endorsements within LinkedIn profiles, which aim to demonstrate a person’s skill as validated by others. Jay Cross likens the endorsements area on a LinkedIn profile to the ‘fruit salad’ on military uniforms; the honours and awards worn by military personnel as ‘ribbons’ on their shirts/jackets, representing their experiences and formal recognition.

    I think Sarah raises a good point. Open Badges might be a simple tool to make it easier to talk about employee behaviour, acting as a simple trigger for talking about things that might otherwise be uncomfortable and/or reinforcing behaviours that are consistent with good performance.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks Andrew. Indeed, the etiquette of reciprocity for those endorsements on LinkedIn make them a bit pointless. At least badges represent a task you have completed. Whether it was a *meaningful* task, well that’s yet another question.

    I like the idea of using open badges as a simple tool to make it easier to talk about employee behaviour. I think their visibility lends them to this quite well – certainly more than records do hidden in an LMS.

  5. fbartoli Says:

    Reblogged this on limfablog.


  6. I think Sarah’s point about badges being a sort of icebreaker for difficult questions is an interesting one.

    That aside, from the point of view of real accreditation, I think there is the kernel of a good idea in badges – but no substance yet.

    The award of any badge is a statement about THREE things: the competency of the awardee; the reliability of the awarder; the consistency of meaning encapsulated in the badge by the badge creator. Reliable positions on all three could be taken on basis of aggregated data.

    If there could be a semantically meaningful data language of competency definition, mapping and attribution behind the pretty UI face, then this could provide an invaluable means of harvesting evidence and competency profiling information about students. Without it, I think badges are meaningless “prizes for all” party-bags.

  7. chrisftaylor Says:

    Great post. I definitely want a badge that lets me be CTO of a blue chip tech firm ;)

    Seriously though, this just strikes me as old-guard conservatism from a set of people who have an established way of working in a mature, if not hugely stable ecosystem. It was sensible and it still is, but we need more. ‘Surfacing’ (blech, I know, but it’s a good word) skills buried under aggregate awards is tricky and relies on the person to do the deconstruction and selling. Interesting that the army was raised — a huge issue for de-mobbed forces personnel is in getting employers to recognise the significant skill sets acquired during their service. A real kick in the teeth sometimes. I see degrees in the same way — if you want to step outside your immediate area you have to deconstruct the degree yourself for an employer. Also true of many jobs.

    Badges are a Good Idea. Maybe spun a bit for the older audience — career credits might be a better name for non-students (thinking about continuing professional development); electronic CVs rather than ‘backpacks’, but in the end, deconstructing aggregate awards to better match individuals to roles (that may not have existed a year before) in this fluid, dynamic world is a damned good idea.

    With the back end standardised through Moz-OBI so that we can look for economies of scale in infrastructure, and a groundswell of support from all who see the sense of this, the old way of doing things, which deliberately grouped skills into big awards in part because communications and IT couldn’t, pragmatically speaking, support anything else, will change to accommodate this inevitable advance. And we need to be clear about signing authorities, but that’s true anyway (internet degree in whatever for $20 anyone?)

    Probably more like 20 cents than 2, but that’s me done anyway.


  8. Hi Chris,

    I agree with you that it is important to challenge the old, inflexible way of doing things and surface embedded or unrecognised skills. But how are you going to do that if you have no means of verifying the meaning (or credibility) of the badge?

    I suspect that badges will end up having the opposite effect to that which is intended by those currently promoting them. These people think that they will overturn the “old order”: degrees from Harvard and Oxford etc. Because badges are all interface and no back end, they will entirely rely for their credibility on brand recognition. Most badges will be junk: the “Chris Smith has been awarded the Chris Smith badge for being Chris Smith” type of thing. But the “Microsoft Accredited Training Partner’s award for completing the Microsoft Network Administrator’s course” *will* count – for no other reason than that it carries the Microsoft brand.

    Badges as currently conceived won’t encourage innovative or democratic assessment methods, which are what is required to “surface” informal learning. Exactly as MOOCs are doing (as much as MOOCs are doing anything very useful at all), they will focus power in the hands of those people who hold the big brands.

    Which I do not think is what their advocates are intending.

    Crispin.

  9. chrisftaylor Says:

    Hi Crispin,

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify — I suffer from not-so-occasional bouts of logorrhoaea :\

    One can obtain a worthless degree right now from the Internet University of Chris — I offer very reasonable terms. Or you could try one of those Ivy league / Russel Group jobs.

    Equally, I agree that without secure signing, badges are open to the same issue. The answer is that the tech deployed to securely sign all sorts of webby things these days needs to be rolled into the badges ecosystem. Then I can verify that I attended an adult learning course accredited by (for the sake of argument) MIT to get my ‘HTML5 ninja badge’ rather than the IUoC (Internet University of Chris).

    Obviously, otherwise, I agree that they’re just PNG files…

    Cheers, Chris.

  10. chrisftaylor Says:

    And no that isn’t dead easy or that cheap — hence the need for Moz to lead this and for us all to reap the benefits of scale. Somebody ping Doug Belshaw :)


  11. Chris,

    I agree that secure signing is needed – but there are generic solutions to that problem so I do not imagine it should be too difficult. More to the point, it does not solve the main prolem. All it does is to confirm that what purports to be an MIT badge *is* an MIT badge.

    The real opportunity and requirement, it seems to me, is to encourage the emergence of new assessment and accreditation agencies and processes that *aren’t* from MIT and aren’t from the “University of Chris” either. Innovative and credible services. These need to be able to challenge the MITs of this world, not on the basis that they can plough more money into brand marketing, but on the basis that their badges are more reliable in predicting the sorts of performances in which “consumers” of those badges are interested.

    The problem is not “is the badge genuine” but “what does the badge mean” and “was it awarded for good reasons”. This means that behind the pretty picture, the badge needs a data structure that points to:
    * a definition of the competency that the badge represents;
    * how that competency relates to other competency representations;
    * how that competency is expressed (at its simplest, this might be a Boolean pass/fail, but in other cases, it will be more complicated, such as Words Per Minute for typing);
    * who made the award;
    * and maybe on what evidence.

    Without all that stuff (which is what learning analytics software will be able to aggregate and crunch) all you have is:
    * (without secure signing) a picture;
    * (with secure signing) a brand.

    If you are interested, I have posted a draft of a contribution that I recently made to discussions on a conceptual model for competency representations in ISO/IEC JTC1/SC36 at http://edtechnow.net/documents/. If anyone reading this is interested in this work, do drop me a line.

    If you can get a substantive response to this point from Doug Bradshaw, I’d be very interested to hear it.

    Crispin.

  12. chrisftaylor Says:

    That’s interesting — thanks — I will indeed have a go through that draft. I suppose the KISS approach thus far is in part so as not to scare off possible implementers, but I agree that the more ‘bottom’ one can attach to such things the better and as you say that’s a bigger issue than just ‘is it real’.

    That sort of robustness is of course also a problem with degrees proper — the plethora of crappy qualifications offered in the UK is an old issue now that came out of the all-shall-have-prizes pseudo-commercialisation of UK HE a while back (which was a ‘solution’ to unemployment, and which we now can’t afford). But I’m very wary of the stagnating effect of official bodies also. As ever, balance is needed.

    Incidentally, there’s a community call for OBI (promoted by @openbadges): Join us for today’s #OpenBadges Community Call: the Summer Fun Edition! 12pm ET / 5pm GMT. For more details: tinyurl.com/OBIJuly3

    ANyway this is a great chat, thanks. My interest (if anyone cares) is to see badges used as marks of recognition for contributions to community resources in science (e.g., data sharing, crowdsourced curation, hitherto-informal training of predocs and so on). It’s tricky because bodies such as HEFCE (in the UK, for example) need to recognise such things, but there are huge advantages — for example, such badges (I still like career credits) would constitute significant grist for the altmetrics mill.

    C.


  13. Thanks Chris, I’m afraid I cannot join the call today but would be interested in future.

    I quite agree about the plethora of crappy qualifications. That represents the requirement. The challenge is whether open badges can deliver something that provides a hard-edged, credible, statistically evidenced challenge to the status quo. I would not count on HEFCE recognising badges until you can do that, however much you wag your fingers at them. They would be wrong to recognise badges until you can demonstrate their credibility.

    I agree that getting KISS right is important – but not if you take it to the extreme so that you end up with half-cock technology. Are iPads simple? To use, yes. Under the hood, not at all. The delight of digital technology is not that it eliminates complexity but rather that it manages and generally hides it. Unfortunately, many technology enthusiasts do not realise this. How many teenagers want to become computer games developers because they have spent their teenage years playing games while flunking out of their maths classes?

    I think we have to recognise (a) that none of this ed-tech stuff has worked yet, (b) that it has not been for want of massive government investment, and (c) that, done properly, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work in the future.

    In order to achieve that sort of split between ease-of-use with powerful functionality based on hidden complexity, we need IMO a more industry-strength approach to education technology that we have seen so far.

    We could have another interesting chat about the role of industry. In brief (because my last para raises the issue) I think the uncompetitive industry that we have in education now holds a mirror to the centralised bureaucracy that controls the purse strings. And I agree that the prizes-for-all culture stemmed from a misconceived market. Government should set standards and create and regulate an appropriate market infrastructure, and then open provision to all, trusting teachers, lecturers and students to provide the appropriate demand. Personally I doubt that OER will do the heavy lifting because developing serious (i.e. complex) software requires serious investment – but often these different business models find synergistic relationships if the playing field is level and the competition is open.

    Anyway, I am sure we have spent too much of our mornings on this. Likewise, thanks for the chat and hope to continue it another time.

    Crispin.

  14. chrisftaylor Says:

    Yep I’ve some work backing up here too :)

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Much to chew on for one such as me still playing catch-up. Perhaps we do need an Apple-style fiefdom to do the running. Anyway I’ll try to pick up the thread soon.

    Thanks again (and to Ryan for the use of his kitchen), Chris.


  15. Ah! If we get onto the Apple fiefdom, that will be the rest of our working day gone. So I will say nothing. Thanks again – and to Ryan!

  16. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks so much for your input, Chris and Crispin. It seems to me that you agree more than you don’t, and I certainly see the validity in the arguments that you both present.

    In relation to the credibility of the badge issuer, I agree whole heartedly, but another ingredient I’d to add to the mix is the opportunity for corporations to be the issuer. Crispin, you mentioned the likes of Harvard, Oxford and MIT having strong, credible brands – and they do – and that the likes of corporations like Microsoft do too. Of course, many other corporations command similar respect in their respective fields. So badges issued by IBM for C programming, or by Lindt for chocolate making, or by Georg Jensen for jewellery design, would carry substantial weight.

    In my previous post, Badges of honour, I suggested one role of badges might be to demonstrate the endorsement of training from a regulatory agency. So a badge earned at Bank A is relevant to my next employer, Bank B (because they’re both regulated by the same agency). But I think the concept could still work without the agency; that is, the training provided by Bank A would still be meaningful to Bank B – and so the badge would be valuable in terms of credentialing.

    Anyway, my intention is not to use up more of your day, but rather to extend my view from a different sector. You are both welcome in my kitchen any time.

  17. chrisftaylor Says:

    Excellent addition. Agree on the broader view of who is a competent authority. I’ve also been making the same argument about the portability of credit in the context of the academic doing-the-right-thing-style stuff I alluded to above (data sharing etc.) — it’s key (god I can’t help myself).

    Money sets a nice precedent — the Bank of Chris is no more use than the University of Chris (which was of course opened with a loan in Chris-dollars). Puts me in mind of the new money schemes like bitcoin, and most especially the system (that I now can neither remember the name of or find through google) that exists to allow (mostly tradesmen in the UK iirc) to exchange services (you do my wiring, I’ll do your plastering). Though all that is _very_ bottom up — we need a framework provided by gods.

    C.


  18. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the invite to the kitchen and yes, I agree with your argument as far as it seems to me to go. It is not that I am against brands – they are a pretty effective guarantee of quality in their way – and agree that a dose of competition from outside the ivory tower of education is likely to do nothing but good, particularly when large sections of the traditional education supply sector are offering poor quality courses and flaky certifications.

    But when you come to pedagogical innovation, those outside certifiers are not specialists and I suspect that they will offer what maybe good quality but will broadly turn out to be fairly traditional sorts of courses. They may even offer non-existent or nominal courses where no learning happens at all. Reputable brands that can hand out reputable certificates are likely to be able to charge high prices, even if no-one learns anything. A large proportion of business certificates are simply things that you buy. So I am not sure that this scenario is going to be very exciting in terms either pedagogy or in terms of encouraging social mobility and bringing on raw, unrecognised talent.

    I think that the potential for disruptive education technology is released when you allow the small guy, without a name or a marketing budget, to use some clever new method to produce badges that can be shown by third party learning analytics and talent management systems to be meaningful and reliable: 8 out of 10 employers found that the certificates issued by “The University of Chris” were held by what they regarded as better-performing candidates than the certificates issued by MIT. That is what will put a bomb under the current certification regime – not I think the introduction of new brands into the certification business.

    Best, Crispin.


  19. Ah – what is happening to the afternoon? No time right now to delve into LETS and new sorts of digital money (though I half listened to something on the radio about this the other day) – but I like the idea of “framework provided by gods”. Let the small guys innovate but let the gods (which in the case of education, I see as government – but maybe Chris was thinking of someone else) – referee. Crispin.

  20. chrisftaylor Says:

    I think something even broader than government. Inter-governmental is probably appropriate if truly international, though the pace of such groups is normally glacial at best. But by hook or crook what we all need is for a basic framework (for which Mozilla’s standard, simple as it is, may be a good first stab — I’m on a steep learning curve here though — looking forward to a nice badge…). IT lives and breathes through standards; they’ve also brought benefits in some cases in scientific data management and exchange (mostly in the form of vocabularies rather than formats, but conceptually that line is fuzzy anyway).

    The issue though (and a series of jokes) concerns ownership of that standard: who governs its production and management; what time scale is set for revisions and so on. Old hat for IT people (which I’m not). Essentially the ‘god’ thing addresses this — a good purveyor of standards must have a process that takes account of all stakeholders and is both open and unimpeachable (two sides of the same coin imho). In this context an entity like Mozilla could work — open, international, largely unsullied in a way that Google certainly isn’t.

    The EU (or even the UK) could go for it solo and hope for a de facto win, or to storm it on merit (unlikely for a simple thing such as we need), but my paltry experience within the bioscience context is that the EU/US divide always ends up being used as an excuse to ‘accommodate’ preferences reflective of the make-up of the too-small groups doing the work, and there’s a very human gut reaction against things from ‘abroad’/not-one-of-us whether any concrete issues exist or ever will. So I think on balance my preference would be for an international not-for-profit to do the running.

    Then, when the concrete has set, the souk is open for all manner of purveyors to compete. I like the ‘rate my competence’ approach, especially as the response time will be brief. The downside is that some will end up with awards from (figurative and literal) losers. If that ‘blowback’ can be handled then the market approach could work. Another worry would be the time for ratings to accrue, but if the alternative is an Académie française I’d rather bury a relative.

    Got to go. Hobbies eh…

    Marvellous stuff though.

    Cheers, Chris.


  21. Ah! This is great – a conversation about standards and I didn’t even introduce the subject myself!

    I could not agree more that the standards are vital. Vital for IT generally. Currently non-existent in ed-tech. Almost all ed-tech standards bodies at present dysfunctional (I chair IST/43, the committee for IT in learning, education and training at BSI, so I speak at least with some knowledge, at least from a UK perspective).

    There are at least two sorts of standards:
    * technical standards for interoperability
    * quality, process and regulatory standards.

    How do you interface between the two, and between top-down and bottom-up to provide the infrastructure for innovation, while not stamping out the agility that you also need?

    Sorry, but I have an important deadline looming and I cannot do this one justice until Friday afternoon – so I am going to have to park it for now. But I am very interested to return to this conversation.

    Crispin.

  22. chrisftaylor Says:

    Well my interest would be interoperability. Quality is somewhere I try very hard never to go. Certainly in providing candidate bioscience data ‘standards’ we were very clear that interoperability was tractable — the conversations were generally civilised, whereas quality was something for scientists to argue about till they turned red, then blue.

    That said, we’ll have our own bloodbath when the time comes to decide (a) what is a ‘significant’ activity wrt scale of reward (using the posited interoperable standard), and (b) how different activities stand wrt each other in terms of merit and the scale of reward deserved. But that’s completely extraneous here.

    Been a privilege. My thanks. Till anon.

    Chris.


  23. As a hardened online maverik, I am really unused to this outrageous level of agreement. Yes – interoperability is vital; quality is subjective and is generally an excuse for bureaucratic red tape. Still, there may still be some role for regulatory standards in matters of fairness, openness, safety etc… i.e. the things that the consumer is not primarily interested in. Look forward to talking more later. A privilege indeed.


  24. Hi Ryan, Chris, Crispin — how about the idea that any good badge ecosystem needs badges for badgers? (Can’t think of a better word for those who award badges…) At some point, there has to be a badge awarded by a peer group…

    Simon


  25. Simon, in principle, I absolutely agree, certainly about the need to judge the judgers (same as on Amazon when you review the reviewers). But in practice, I am not sure the badge idea is ideally suited.

    One problem (being the representative of rapacious capitalism here) is that I think you have to allow people to build business models around private data, as well as supporting open data where appropriate. What I mean is, maybe it is someone’s commercial service to provide a judgement (based on their proprietary knowledge bank) of which badges to pay attention to.

    A second way of looking at the same problem is a matter of ensuring honesty by good system design. Where A awards a badge to B so that he can impress C, which business model for badge assessor D is less susceptible to corruption: that they should be paid by C (for a private judgement) or by A (for a badger’s badge)? And if they are not to be paid by anyone, then how are they going to invest in the provision of a decent service?

    Third, I think the analytics are likely to be more complex than can easily be encapsulated in a badge. Simon Grant and Crispin Weston both apply for a job which has requirements R1, R2 and R3, Crispin bearing badges B1, B2 and B3, while Simon brings badges B4, B5 and B6. In order to make a judgement based purely on the data (which is useful but not sufficient to make the call), the analytics program needs to make a judgement about the consistency of the various badge definitions, their relevance to the requirements, the credibility of the badge awarders, and maybe to analyse the sufficiency of the evidence base. It is a multi-dimensional, analogue and context-dependent question.

    Part of the problem is that while Boolean pass/fail judgements are very KISS-able, I think they will be trumped by more sophisticated analytics in a world of big data. I imagine that badges can develop into more than simple Booleans – but I suspect that they have limited capacity for encapsulating complex data.

    Crispin.

  26. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Very interesting idea, Simon. I can’t really add much more to Crispin’s reply, except perhaps to support the call for a governance structure and to agree with Chris that such a challenge is probably achievable for an organisation with the wherewithal of Mozilla.

    Crispin, I must apologise for dragging the conversation back to “training” with my previous comment. In fact, my interest in open badges revolves much more around the recognition of completed *tasks*.

    Putting innovative pedagogy and the disruption of education aside (basically because I don’t think badges will drive either), I agree that the judgement of credibility is subjective. If someone has earned badges at Rabobank for key tasks that are relevant to my domain, then that will be more attractive to me than badges earned for the same tasks at the Bank of Chris (sorry Chris).

    But the point I’m trying to make is that regardless of the academic argy bargy, badges have an opportunity to be useful in the corporate sector simply because they demonstrate someone’s capability to perform a particular task – and corporations are in the business of performing particular tasks.


  27. Ryan, thanks as always for providing some clarity in what has been a murky debate. MOOCS and badges are different as you point out – formal education and badges serve different ends. I wouldn’t let a surgeon operate on me on the basis of a natty badge in open heart surgery, but of course they have their uses in the workplace.

  28. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Excellent point, Ara.

    Theoretically, a badge could represent the completion of a medical degree at an Ivy League university, while another badge could represent the completion of an internship at a big city hospital, while another badge could represent the completion of specialist training through the national college of surgeons.

    Practically, though, badges are used more granularly than that, and thus seem better suited to narrower, focused jobs. Open heart surgery is such a complex job that a bunch of badges would be meaningless.


  29. Hi Ryan, I agree with you that there is an important distinction between competencies and tasks (which in the paper I referenced earlier I called “performances”). But I am not sure that I agree that data reporting on performance is ultimately very interesting.

    You cut a piece of wood in half (performance). Does shows that you *can* cut a piece of wood in half? Well, yes and no, because the ability to cut any piece of wood in half in any circumstances, with any tools (within reason) and any degree of assistance and regardless of what you were doing the evening before etc. is a generalisation. So I reckon that what people are really interested in is the statement that you are a reliable wood-cutter, that you *will* be able to cut a piece of wood in half in the future. That sort of competency statement will be based on the aggregation of performance outcome statements. Because x has been observed, time and time again, always to cut his wood straight, regardless of how much he drank the evening before, only then can you say that he is a safe pair of hands in the wood-cutting department. When you say “x *can* cut a piece of wood in half” purely because it was on one single occasion observed that “x *did* cut a piece of wood in half”, then you are dressing up a performance statement as competency statement.

    And cutting a piece of wood in half is a pretty low-level, concrete sort of thing. What people are really interested in is whether x is a good carpenter – that requires another sort of aggregation of all sorts of different sorts of actions. And in education, people are interested in acquiring abstract skills like reasoning and problem-solving, the value of which lies in the fact that they are transferable to multiple different contexts.

    The need for precise definitions of what competencies are being attributed or inferred in the case of particular actions, stems from this requirement to aggregate low-level, concrete, empirical statements into abstract, generalisable, predictive statements.

    As currently conceived, badges will not allow this to happen. They may help motivate people from the point of view of recognising their participation in some sort of instructional process. But they won’t help in the profiling of competencies. And when people realise that, then I suspect that they won’t find them very motivating either. Like gold-stars and smilies, which in my experience, children beyond the age of about 5 quickly come to see as meaningless and rather patronising.

    I agree that people are more impressed that you have attended Oxford or Harvard or have worked at Rabobank (which I guess is a reputable bank in your part of the world – excuse my ignorance) etc – but seems to me to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. In the absence of reliable ways of measuring competency, we are forced to fall back on institutional and brand reputations, which is inequitable, damaging to social mobility, hostile to innovation and ultimately not very accurate.

    Crispin.

  30. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Crispin. You know I very much appreciate it.

    I see your POV, and the question it provokes in me is why can’t a badge be based on the aggregation of performance outcome statements? This of course is a question of governance.

    The Mozilla metadata spec requires a field that describes (and publishes) the criteria for earning the badge. The opportunity you highlight IMHO is for this requirement to be rigorous.

    Indeed, cutting a piece of wood in half once would not be a reliable indicator of capability; but if cutting pieces of wood in half x times over y period of time in accordance with z standard is, then we make *that* the earning criteria.

    As the task becomes more complex, I suggest this would become less of a issue. For example, if you earned a badge for pivot tabling, that is meaningful to me because it is so unlikely to be fluked.

    Nonetheless, the point remains: tighten the criteria!

  31. David Says:

    Great Post and great blog, I’m surprised I’ve only just found it via http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/awards/top-10-must-read-elearning-blogs/

    Congratulations on making top of the list of top 10 elearning blogs last year..

    With regards to Open Badges I have to agree that they are no competition for higher education, I think they can compliment experience and expertise or show a basic desire to learn..

    I believe they also do provide a great ice breaker or talking point for interviews but would certainly not be the merit on which you get a Job alone..

    Overtime it is inevitable that they are integrated into digital CV’s and or (digital backpacks)

    As the population increases and travel costs soar in the not to distant future – many people may never even meet their employers as more people will work from home and things like the digital badges project could show invaluable to prospective employers to show the doers from the talkers!

  32. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for your kind words, David. I take these lists with a grain of salt, but that does not preclude me from feeling honoured in being listed.

    Your comments about open badges make sense to me, and I love how you draw a line between “doers” and “talkers” – perfect!


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