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The first English laboratory on open badges regrouped participants from the United States, Canada, and Australia to share their perspectives on Open Badges, and more specifically on their potential to recognize informal learning.
Given the ranging interests of the participants and the high level of expertise represented, very insightful ideas were discussed. Here’s a summary of the main ideas discussed, some advice I walk away with… And things I will watching out for in the near future!
The Corona-Norco Unified School District in the US has put in place a comprehensive badging system to encourage the success and the participation of students currently enrolled in their educational institutions. Students from elementary, middle and high school can earn badges for achievements such as attendance, behaviour, community service, fitness, meeting the requirements of a specific subject-matter, or even developing career plans. Next step: the School District is looking at ways to include the community to partner with them to issue badges.
Implementation was participatory and schools joined progressively. Research helped. When research showed that the middle schoolers’ levels of motivation had increased, schools were more interested in participating. The fact that the issuing of badges was automated also helped. Other research showed that once the students (males especially) saw they could earn badges, their motivation levels significantly increased. The boys wanted to get badges for everything! The School District is currently conducting more robust research that could prove to be helpful for many institutions.
At Indiana University, one Open Online graduate level course for teachers on assessment practices was conducted and at the end of it people could get a digital badge. The badges contained the actual work done by the participants. The idea was that teachers would be able to forward their badges to their supervisors and use it for professional development credits. Another interesting feature was the peer promotion feature: each week, for each assignment, participating students were encouraged to promote one classmate as being exemplary, and the student who got the most exemplary mentions could earn a badge with the ‘Expert’ designation. This feature was successful in encouraging participation: people really wanted that ‘Expert’ designation.
In the above example, because the work done by the students was incorporated directly in the badges, they were able to use it as proof of competence: people could look at what they did! Similarly, Curtin University is issuing badges for outreach activities. Students will eventually be able to use their badges for University credit. Crucial aspect: because of the information contained in the badges, the students are able to show what they did. Badges, in this case, add to the traditional portfolio: evidence, requirements, and recognition are bundled together.
Interesting tensions between formal and non-formal learning were also described. One professor is currently conducting an experiment with graduate students taking a MOOC alongside with those participating from all over the world. The result is a blending of participants in discussion forums, which enriches the interactions. As a result, the MOOC discussion forums have a high participatory rate. Once the badges will have been issued, the Professor hopes to show that there can be interesting intersections between formal and informal learning and that both can complement each other.
In Manitoba, a University is considering offering badges for volunteer work or participation in extra-curricular activities. Many Universities and Colleges already have programs in place that recognize volunteer work in an official fashion on people’s transcripts, but these mentions too often remain buried in footnotes on the transcripts. It was proposed that it would be better to create digital badges, this way students could easily transfer the mentions to their e-portfolios and make them more visible to employers.
Badges could be a way to get self-directed learning to spread to more schools. In one school, kids created a school within the school. They were able not to go to class and to learn on their own. Challenge: administrators and parents do not trust the kids to learn on their own. How badges could help: they could serve as proof. Kids could use them to reassure administrators and parents. In an Australian University, an interesting project also has started. They are working on creating pathways for their students. They did backwards design and identified steps along the way so that students could earn badges when they reached specific landmarks. The first iterations are linear, but they are looking at offering more variety in pathways so that the learning will become more self-directed. Learners will have more choices.
Badges came from peer-to-peer University. Unexpectedly, many of the people who signed up for courses were self-taught web-developers who were ‘exploited’ because they didn’t have official credentials. These people didn’t need to take a full course, they mostly needed the credentials. In this scenario, credentials were also recognized by a badge, which students could then use to show employers.
Badges could also be objectives set with a current employer or manager. They could help with goal-setting. For example, during an evaluation, both parties could agree on the next badges to achieve.
In Quebec, the recognition of informal learning in College is being implemented provincially. There is already a system in place. Badges could be a nice complement to this. In one College, there is a project where the Institution worked with employers to identify core skills the employers were seeking. The institution then went back and constructed badges around those skills and made them available to students and to people wishing to have their informal learning officially recognized through evaluations. Once people demonstrate specific skills, they could earn the badge. The project is still in its early stages, but the objective is to create pathways between the educational institution and the employers. The hope is that employers will also become issuers of the same badges.