#openbadges Workshop for Scottish Union Learning
by Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project)
Recently the OEPS project was invited to run a workshop on #openbadges at the Scottish Union Learning Conference #sul14. The conference is attended by Union Learning Representatives (ULRS) from public and private sector workplaces all over Scotland. ULRs and activists were all familiar with non/informal learning: those wee bits of training that you get in work that you need to do your job but that mostly carry no credit or recognition. They also knew first-hand what is widely reported in the literature on work and learning: accredited or expensive learning in work tends to be focused on those with qualifications – the educational ‘haves’. Now here is where things might get difficult for greater use of Open Educational Resources in the workplace, as the big story of OER use is not so different from the work and learning one – educational ‘haves’ having more, and I was open about this.
The workshop did not shy away from the “what if”question. “What if” OER is just another example of learning that does not alter internal/external employability. Certainly it could be, and we wanted to test the proposition that recognition using #openbadges to account for small bits of learning might counter this and might enable something very different. As you can tell we were not in the room to sell #openbadges, but rather to consider whether they had a role in recognising informal and non-formal learning, and perhaps a route to credit.
I think there was quite rightly a great deal of suspicion in the room of what appears to be a bit of a techie solution, and perhaps even a dangerously faddish one. What fun collecting badges, but what if the fun obscures the underlying problems of inequitable access to training investment. After a quick presentation (10 minutes, see link below) for the next hour we broke people into 8 groups of at least 6. As we went round the tables we found plenty of questions around whether these badges could address the underlying issue of people with no “bits of paper” and how they find routes to those “bits of paper”. The answer seemed to be “it depends”. I do not want to labour the suspicion, as the “it depends” concerned constructive questioning of the approach. Questions like, who issues them, how do we trust the issuer, and how do we trust the quality – questions that are asked about everything open.
What seems to have happened in OER is those organisations with reputations (e.g. providing formal accredited learning) who have engaged with openness are seen as trusted sources, and in the room the sense I got was that if one of the Trade Unions, or an education provider they knew and trusted issued a badge then it would have value. Of course value was the next thing, it is not just the learner and the issuer who has to value it, it needs to be valued more widely if it is to have currency. Part of the sense of value and currency comes from who issues it, but overall what people felt was “it is only worth something if people think it’s worth something” – the inevitable comparison was with the pound issued by Scottish banks.
Did I convince people #openbadges solved the problem? I hope not, the intention was not to convince, it was to introduce an idea, share my own question and then listen. In the end people thought that having something that recognised smaller bits of learning that sit outside existing frameworks, either too small, or too specialist were useful, something stable and recognised as having value. That something could be #openbadges. People thought that if those “it depends”points were met the barriers to acceptance in the workplace would be low.
My big question was “where do they lead”, or more accurately “how do they lead to credit”. I thought a lot would hang on the idea of swapping them for credit, and the important enabling statement from SQA, amazingly/tellingly still doing the Twitter rounds one year later – but no. As ULRs their experience was that non-formal learning in the workplace was crucial to building skills and confidence, an important step that did not always need credit, but needed to be a route to formal learning and credit – those “bits of paper”. So, if we are going to link #openbadges and learning in the workplace we need to establish value and currency, not easy, and a lot rests on “it depends”.
You can find the workshop presentation and further information at http://prezi.com/dhevasrwnnzk/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy