What does a radically flattened, net-enabled paradigm for accrediting learning look like?
As I hinted in my interview for Mozilla’s Drumbeat Festival last week in Barcelona (which was enjoyably activist/plot the revolution in vibe 🙂 — one of the really tough nuts to crack around open peer learning is accreditation, hence my interest in Badge Lab, where I spent quite a lot of time. (Hal Plotkin brought us greetings from President Obama, and encouragement to disrupt the accreditation status quo!)
We need to smooth the accreditation curve for informal, self-directed learning, possibly based on a lot of free internet/open educational resources and social interaction with peers. Like many educational institutions, Open U is now experimenting with the accreditation of students’ prior learning and experience in a variety of ways. But Badge Lab was pushing the model to the extreme, asking the question at the top.
We came up with myriad use cases, categories of badge, worried about whether we were in danger of reinventing the lumbering institutions we’re trying to move away from, as well as recognising, but not dwelling on, the challenge.
With due acknowledgement to the many participants who helped me clarify my own thoughts, the preliminary conclusions that I drew go something like this:
- A Badge infrastructure should be agnostic about who is awarding, and what the criteria are. Simple is best. Don’t over-engineer it. Follow the principles of net-neutrality that’s made the internet so successful. How the badge came to be awarded should sit outside the system: all the badge infrastructure needs to know is that it was awarded, with some basic, uncontroversial metadata that will allow others to build cool apps on top to browse, search, visualize, etc.
- A Badge infrastructure is like Verisign: it gives confidence that the claimed badge really was awarded via an authenticated, trustable infrastructure.
- A set of Badges is shorthand: something to scan quickly, a conversation opener to find out the Story Behind The Badge, just as you do when you see something on a CV, or a LinkedIn endorsement.
- Many Badges will be Low Stakes: they’re not worth gaming the system to obtain, because their authority derives entirely from the awarder’s reputation. Since much of the time the awarder will be unknown to a third party, a key attribute of a Badge is the link the owner provides to the story/evidence.
- There seems to be particular interest in Badges for authentic, practical learning. The point is that we already have existing systems in place for communicating and examining academic, abstract bodies of knowledge, but what’s missing is a way to document in one’s portfolio the authentic applications of one’s knowledge and skills, at an appropriate granularity. Moreover, since such displays of knowledge are by definition situated in unique contexts, the most authoritative sources of evidence will be real people who had direct contact with you.
- We could equate Badges with clearly codified, formally assessed qualifications: a university might indeed provide a badge that confers a degree, but here we’re simply providing a digital replica of the current system. Instead, let’s think about how we appropriate symbols to project our identity. Badges could — most likely will — be used for personal expression, like your clothes, homepage, blogroll, tweets, what’s on your bookshelf or music playlist. It follows that we should think about enabling Badges to be awardable by individuals, including yourSELF should you see a way to characterise your learning from a set of authentic experiences that only you have had. I’m imagining not only community groups inventing badges to recognise talent and motivate their team, but groups of teenagers awarding each other badges, creating a local currency.
I don’t know to what extent this overlaps with what others concluded, or what’s being coded into the demo platform that was being developed while we discussed, but the sessions were enjoyable and much food for thought. Interested to track how this develops. They’re pushing forward on the coding as I write…