Some Thoughts on Open Badges, Recognition and Credit
The use of open badges as a way of recognising a short episode of learning is on the increase in Scotland. There have been significant changes since we started working on the OEPS project in summer 2014. It may be useful to categorise the use of badges in three ways.
- Awarding badges for the recognition of activity that contributes to continuing professional development (CPD). Examples of organisations taking this approach include Borders College (an early adopter), City of Glasgow College, Scottish Social Services Council and some Health Boards.
- The recognition of co-curricular and extra curricular activity; The University of Abertay is using open badges in the former context for its Law students and is considering whether badges might be integrated with the HEAR statement to recognise extra curricular achievements.
- To reward the successful completion of an openly licensed online course; The Open University now offers a suite of eleven such badged online courses (BOCs). A further 10 courses in the same style are scheduled for release during the rest of 2016. A small number of other badged courses have been developed through the OEPS project in partnership with Scottish Universities and Third Sector Organisations. The number of individuals in Scotland with one or more such badges is rising rapidly.
The landscape is evolving and diverse. Open Badges are awarded against a wide range of criteria. In some cases this may simply be for attendance or participation. In others, students are required to submit some evidence of learning such as a reflection on how a workshop had influenced their professional practice. The OU BOC and OEPS badges are typically awarded for successful completion of one or more online quizzes.
While, particularly in the CPD field, digital badges are being awarded for face-to-face activity and traditional forms of learning, certificates are also being used to recognise achievement on online courses. Free courses, offered by MOOC platforms such as FutureLearn and Coursera, and by providers such as ALISON, may supply successful learners with certificates for a fee. This is part of an emerging business model in online education.
It’s unusual for MOOCs or free openly licensed (OER) courses to be a given a level. However, FutureLearn the Open University and the University of Leeds are offering a route from one of their free online courses to study on a degree or MBA programme.
Most forms of study that result in the award of an open badge represent relatively few hours of learning, typically in the range 5 – 25 hours (although there are a few outliers at both ends of the range). Thus, before considering validity and level, the potential credit value of a single badge is normally small. However, the significance of credit is contextual and not necessarily directly related to size. While for a graduate, 2 credit points at SCQF level 7 might not be very relevant, for an adult learner with no, or little, post compulsory educational experience it might be very important.
Currently recognition based on criteria that require evidence of reflection or other complex outcomes is normally assessed manually before the badge is enabled. This can be expensive and sets limits on scale. Online courses with quiz assessments allow for the awarding process to be automated and can therefore deal with much greater numbers. However, although there has been some very creative use of quizzes (see for example ‘Caring Counts’) this method of assessment does curtail the kinds of learning outcomes that can be effectively assessed. So, for example, the Understanding Parkinson’s course developed by OEPS asks learners to engage in significant reflection on practice and on what they have learned through the medium of a log – however, the success criteria for the course are currently based on more restrictive quiz based questions. Evaluation of this and other similar courses suggests that the reflective activity is a strong impetus to learning. The OEPS project is investigating whether it’s possible to develop automated peer assessment that could work at large scale.
As the numbers of participants on badged courses increases there will be individuals who have portfolios of badges in their Mozilla backpack that may add up to a significant investment in learning. What should be the attitude of colleges and universities to this kind of experience? There is potential for much greater use of RPL and where the badged experience could feed into an ‘empty box’ type module that supports the award of credit.