Category Archives: UCISA-DSDG

TEF and digital capabilities – do you measure up?

The second Digital Capabilities Survey will be open for responses in early October. It will be interesting to compare the results with the 2014 Survey and see what now influences the development of digital capabilities within our institutions.

One possible influence (although it may have come too late to have a significant impact on this Survey) is the Teaching Excellence Framework. The Technical Consultation outlined the number of criteria that institutions will need to demonstrate that they are meeting if they are to achieve Excellent or Outstanding ratings. So what are the areas where policies and activities relating to digital capabilities are likely to have an effect?

The first criterion listed under the Teaching Quality aspect is Teaching provides effective stimulation and encourages students to engage. Student satisfaction surveys are listed as a key piece of evidence, not only to demonstrate that the students feel that their teaching is stimulating and engaging, but also to demonstrate the way that such surveys and other student feedback relate back to staff development. Students expect lecturers to be able to teach using current technology; how good is the institution at equipping those lecturers with the skills they need? The need to provide continuing professional development for both academic and support staff is also highlighted in another criterion, that the Institutional culture recognises and rewards excellent teaching.

The focus of the TEF isn’t entirely on staff skills and abilities – there is a significant focus on student outcomes too. Two criteria in particular focus on this area – that students achieve their educational and professional goals and that they acquire knowledge, skills and attributes that prepare them to their personal and professional lives. Whilst the evidence for the former will be largely based on employment outcomes (I would expect the replacement for the Destination of Leavers return to be a key measure here), suggested evidence for the latter includes employer engagement in the curriculum, course accreditation by professional regulatory or statutory bodies and extra-curricular activities designed to enhance employability and transferable skills. Digital capabilities are an essential part of the skills and attributes a graduate will need – the emphasis an institution places on digital capabilities may depend on the level of external influence on employment outcomes. As the TEF matures, it will be interesting to see whether those institutions with a strong focus on student digital capabilities will achieve better ratings than their peers.

Finally, the TEF reinforces the Government’s commitment to widening participation. Institutions are required to demonstrate that Positive outcomes are achieved for students from all backgrounds, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who are at greater risk of not achieving positive outcomes. In this aspect disadvantaged can have a multitude of meanings – institutions will need to identify and make provision for those who are digitally disadvantaged.

It may be too early for the TEF to have a major effect on digital capabilities strategies and activities. The 2017 Digital Capabilities Survey may identify those looking to steal a march on their competitors by implementing measures to improve their students’ and staff skills levels. Alternatively it may show that the TEF is not going to be a major influence with institutions already having measures in place. Time will tell. The survey opens in early October and we are currently identifying the lead respondent for each institution. If you are unsure as to whom the lead respondent is for your institution, please contact admin@ucisa.ac.uk.

Benefits of receiving a UCISA bursary

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Victoria Wilkie
IT Support Specialist
University of York

 

 

 

 

 

Six months ago I was awarded funding from UCISA to attend the CILIP conference in Liverpool. At the time I was on secondment to the IT support office at the University of York, but my previous (and now current) position was as a senior library assistant at the University Library. I was particularly interested in finding out how the two teams could work more closely together, and also how I could support colleagues in doing this. One key area I looked at when I returned from the conference was ways of merging best practice from both teams and integrating these systems to assist staff with the changes. Lending Services already had a wiki where they stored and updated information for staff. I worked with colleagues in the IT support office to develop an ITSO wiki that could be used by library and IT staff in the day to day running of the merged desk.

Social media

One of the main things I took away from the conference was how useful a resource social media can be. This usefulness took place on two levels; the first was with our interactions with users. At York we are fortunate enough to already have a communications team that look after our social media accounts. They take the time to interact with our users, but also with other universities and related services. They make sure that enquiries are answered, but they also keep the interactions fresh, funny, and relevant, which has resulted in some very positive feedback. In order to complement and promote the work our comms team are already doing, I took inspiration from one of the conference talks to focus on informing our users about the different methods of social media we use to interact with them, and how this might assist them with their studies.

The second level focused on how useful social media can be to professionals wanting to share and research new ideas in the field. During the conference, I used Twitter to disseminate my ideas and engage in debates around the subjects that were raised. I started following a range of different people in the sector, and saw the issues that were impacting on them and their users. One real benefit of social media was that it allowed me to follow themes and ideas at conferences that I was not able to attend, and find out issues that were impacting service desks from different counties as well as from a range of different sectors, from Twitter users around the world.

Collaboration

Andy Horton and Chris Rowell’s talk ‘The Twelve Apps of Christmas’ was especially interesting to me, given that I knew one of my tasks upon returning to the library would be helping with the integration of basic IT support at the library helpdesk. Their enthusiasm really inspired me, and made me assess the different training we could give to staff to help them integrate the new processes. Although we have only just started with this, the overall feedback from staff has been very positive, and we are keen to take this on board to find more ways of updating and improving training, and ensuring that it is as efficient as possible to help staff develop their skills. Collaboration was something I was very interested in, and I was surprised to see how much collaboration was already taking place, especially between library and IT departments. What I took away from the conference was that collaboration is the way forward for service desks; we strengthen each department by working together, and it was wonderful to see how many other places are already doing this.

The final major point that I took from the conference, and that has really impacted on my approach to work, was the idea that we need to celebrate our successes more. As a service desk sector, we have a tendency to focus on what we could have done better and how we can constantly improve. Whilst it is very important to ensure that we continue to progress services, it is also important to focus on what we have done well and where we are really standing out. Since returning to the library, I have worked hard to highlight times when I think that staff have been doing an exceptional, job as this motivates and encourages the whole team.

To sum up, going to the conference allowed me to look at my colleagues and really appreciate the successes we have. Looking at it from an organisational point of view, it made me assess the ways in which our different teams could work more closely together to ensure that our users get what they really need. In terms of the sector, it made me more aware of what my colleagues around the world are doing. It allowed me to share ideas with other people who are working in libraries and IT. It also made me look at the different types of service desks in education. Before  the conference, I had a tendency to focus on HE desks, but since then I have been in contact with colleagues who work in public libraries and FE colleges, looking at what they are doing and how we can work more closely together to improve the sector.

 

Impact of a UCISA bursary…six months on

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

 

 

 

In June of last year, I was fortunate to be awarded a UCISA bursary to attend a conference of my choosing. The purpose of the bursary fund is to provide UCISA members with the means to go to an event that they would not usually have the opportunity to attend. Six months on, I’ve reflected on the impact of the ePIC 2015 conference on my institution and my own development.

I chose the ePIC conference (8-10 June, Barcelona) because its two main strands of open badges and eportfolios aligned with my interests and current priorities in my role as a Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor at York St John University.  Three days of presentations, workshops, posters, and networking events addressed a whole gamut of badge issues, including the value and devaluing of open badges, options for issuing and displaying, and approaches to meaningful design. The purpose and value of eportfolios was scrutinised, and theoretical models and implementations were presented. Attendees spanned the school, further, and higher education sectors, as well as national representative bodies and international humanitarian organisations.  Throughout the conference, I tweeted useful resources and projects at the #ePIC2015 hashtag, and my thoughts on individual sessions can be found on my three blog post reports and Storify of the event.

The benefits of attending were evident later in the summer, with the launch of a collaborative open badge project at my institution. At the time of the conference, I had been approached by our Student Services team about the potential for open badges to be used as a means of recognising the work of Residential Support Assistants (RSAs) at the University. RSAs are generally second- and third-year students who are appointed to help provide a safe, supportive, and inclusive living environment.  The role is one of responsibility, leadership, and teamwork, and the University is keen to acknowledge these students’ contributions to life in the Residences, and to enable them to articulate their achievements in the future. Prior to the conference, the badge pathway, criteria, and means of issuing were all yet to be decided, and the final outcome has been heavily influenced by my attendance. A collection of five badges aligned to the RSAs’ training sessions, and the skills, values, and attributes they are expected to exhibit, were designed. The badges can be earned in any order, and culminate in a York St John Residential Leadership Award milestone badge – a model frequently discussed at the conference. You can read more about the project on the York St John TEL Team’s blog.

Residential Leadership Award Badge Pathway

Residential Leadership Award Badge Pathway

 

 

 

 

 

ePIC 2015 also served as a forum for launching the Open Badge Passport (OPB), which is a free, open source, cloud-based service allowing individual users to receive, share, and organise their open badges, and the Open Badge Factory, a badge issue and management service based on the Mozilla open standard, and operating a freemium model. York St John subsequently purchased a licence for the Open Badge Factory, initially for use for the RSA badges, but our collection is growing. Amongst other positives, this approach enables students to easily apply for badges with supporting evidence, and the evidence can be reviewed by the Residences Officer before issuing. It also allows for the creation of milestone badges, where several badges contribute to an overall award or badge. So far, the system has proved very useful and intuitive. Our next step – once the plugin has been tested further – is to integrate the Passport with Mahara so that students can easily display badges in both.

Since attending, I’ve been able to incorporate examples from the conference into subsequent open badge information sessions that I’ve delivered to staff, and referred to ongoing projects (for example, JISC’s Prospect to Alumnus (P2A) project) which could raise the profile and currency of badges amongst UK employers – something badge sceptics (rightly!) query regularly. I was also energised to begin a review of ePortfolio use at York St John, particularly its use and impact as an assessment method, and attempted to recruit a student researcher to work alongside me on this. Unfortunately, there were no takers for the role and it has since stalled, but I haven’t abandoned the idea yet!

The conference was smaller than expected, the positive side of which was more opportunity for prolonged discussion in a smaller crowd. As a result, I’ve widened my network of open badge enthusiasts, and have several contacts I can draw upon for support as I navigate new territory. If you’re a newcomer to open badges, I recommend following the work (and Twitter accounts!) of these badge enthusiasts:  Serge Ravet (conference organiser), Eric Rousselle (CEO of Discendum Inc., makers of Open Badge Factory), Don Presant, Doug Belshaw, and Fiona Harvey.

I’ll also be attending the upcoming Open Badges in Higher Education Conference (8 March, Southampton), where I expect to catch up with many familiar ePIC faces – hopefully see some of you there!

Many thanks again to UCISA for sponsoring my attendance.

 

Technology in Higher Education – best practice, skills and the student offer

Earlier this year, I attended the Westminster Higher Education Forum seminar on best practice of using technology in higher education and for future employment. The forum has members from both Houses of Parliament as well as representatives from universities and colleges. This short half-day seminar included 5 minute presentations from a number of speakers with time for questions.

Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration

One of the discussions, chaired by Baroness Morgan of Huyton, centred on the effective use of a social networking in teaching and highlighted the successful use of Facebook for new students. I think the important factor was the use of a student as one of the administrators looking after the closed group and videos made by students for students. This partnership proved invaluable – Professor Peter Strike, Vice Chancellor of University of Cumbria, said conversations were encouraged, in contrast to staff preaching to students, and this approach improved engagement. Another project discussed by Dr Laura Ritchie from the University of Chichester identified the use of informal learning spaces using social networks as a platform for collaboration and learning. She likened students’ experience with technology as tea and toast – they are exposed to it on a daily basis but the question is do they know how to use it effectively?

Digital tattoo

Awareness of personal content shared online was discussed at length in the questions and comments from the floor and is still a factor that could affect a student’s employability if they are sharing images and conversations with the world that are not appropriate for future employers to view. Whose responsibilty is it for students to be aware of what they share online? Currently posts cannot be removed permanently and there is concern the social networking sites have access to personal data even after it has been deleted by the user. Dr Richard Harvey, University of East Anglia said a colleague had suggested to him the use of Twitter should be taught and found this comment outrageous. I think students may not require being taught how to use Twitter but many will need guidance on how to use it effectively and the consequences of not. Mark Kerrigan pointed out that the different levels of digital capabilities will mean that some students will need to spend time learning a new technology before they can engage with their study. The amount of time students spend mastering a new technology before studying the subject they were at university to learn can vary greatly.

MOOCs vs Face-to face

MOOCs seems to still be a buzz-word between HE professionals and the media with mixed opinions. MOOCs were suggested as a good approach for new students to measure their engagement before attending university to identify who does not engage and will need extra help. Face-to-face teaching is still recognised as a preferred approach by some students, as confirmed by Lawrie Phipps from Jisc. MOOCs have caused some heartache to staff when students have used the forum inappropriately. Michael Kerrison’s example of a student using the MOOC forum as a platform to air their own personal views of the US consititutional law was interesting. I think it can be tricky giving students free reign and terms of use should be put in place. But is this restricting their artistic licence?

Summary

Peter Tinson, UCISA’s Executive Director, mentioned the digital capabilities survey deployed by UCISA digital capabilities sub group identified the wide range of support provided for staff and students across the sector. I think there is a plethora of experience to be shared between practitioners. I am not sold on the idea that students can be taught digital skills per se but agree with findings from the survey – digital skills should be embedded within existing curriculum without being labelled as learning technology. It is important that the use of technology is just as important as how to use the tool itself and the impact of the web in everyday life, learning and the workplace. York St John University is currently auditing the digital skills training offered to staff and students and I am looking forward to a Digital Capabilities Framework being put in place to streamline the provision of digital skills teaching. I hope this will help improve the students’ experience and provide a good choice of what is on offer from the university as a whole in contrast to being provided from separate departments. I think adaptability and willingness to learn new things should be encouraged in this ever-changing digital world.

For the twitter conversation go to:
https://storify.com/NodWebb/technology-in-higher-education-best-practice-skill


About Annette Webb
Edited westminster

I have been an IT Trainer at York St John University since 2005 and am a Fellow of the HEA. I support staff and students at all levels on digital systems. I have recently completed a Masters degree and benefited from the experience of being a student in the 21st century. I have a keen interest in helping staff and students to use technology effectively.
This post was written by Annette Webb, Academic Technologies Trainer, York St John University and a member of the UCISA Digital Capabilities Group

Engaging educators using open resources and using social media to promote the library

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Victoria Wilkie
IT Support Specialist
University of York

CILIP 2015: connect, debate and innovate

vicky-wilkieMy first post focused on how I was going to record the conference and what the overall themes were. For this post I have chosen to focus on the two key breakout sessions that I felt really ran with those themes and showed what information professionals could achieve when they worked together and engaged with their users.

Not just for Christmas: using online courses to engage educators with open resources Regent’s University London

In December 2014, Regent’s University London offered an open online course, The Twelve Apps of Christmas. The aim of the course was to introduce a diverse range of free applications, over a twelve day period, that would allow staff to use resources that would have potential for use in teaching.

The first thing that struck me about this presentation was the enthusiasm that both presenters, Andy Horton and Chris Rowell had, and continue to have, for this project. They both really wanted to design something that would benefit their staff and in turn their users. They also both came from different teams, Chris as Deputy Learning Technology Manager and Andy as Deputy Library Manager. By working together they were able to utilize each other’s skills and create a course that was tailored to their users and became a huge success.

Chris and Andy looked at the people the course was aimed at, and saw that they were mainly academic staff. These were people with: i) a limited amount of time and ii) would not be able to attend group sessions. They took these two points and looked at how they could develop a course that would suit these requirements. What they came up with only required ten minutes a day and was geared towards staff using their own devices. There would be no point in teaching them how to use an app on a device they may not use. I believe this was the real success behind the course. You need to get to know your users and tailor things to their needs. There is no point in designing an amazing course if people don’t have the time to do it.

Social media was also an important tool that they implemented as part of the course. It provided a space for the participants to discuss the apps on the course, how they used them and suggest other apps that people could use. It also gave Chris and Andy instant access to feedback about the course. This feedback could then be used to improve future courses.

Using social media wasn’t a requirement of the course but it was a key part of helping users feel a sense of community. They had somewhere to go where they could ask questions and share ideas. Even if they did not want to actively participate in discussions users could still view them and take away ideas.

When they initially developed the project they did not think the uptake for the course would be high. However they were wrong and through the combination of factors making the course accessible they actually had over 400 participants from around the world. Each of these participants brought their own views and idea to the course adding to the wealth of knowledge already available. The success also meant that they had to dedicate a lot of time to the project however the long term benefits definitely outweighed any negatives.

I believe the real key to the success of this course was the fact that they made sure they tailored it to their users’ needs. By doing this they maximised the amount of users that were able to take part in the course. The use of social media meant that the positivity surrounding the course could be passed on to others.

By looking at the amount of time tutors had and designing the course so that they could use their own devices they maximised the amount of people wanting to do it. It is all well and good creating an amazing course but if your users don’t have the time or the devices to do it then the work will have been wasted.

The main points I took away from this presentation were:

  • Through collaboration we can achieve great things
  • Work with colleagues in different areas and utilize their skills sets
  • Get to know your users and respond to their needs and circumstances
  • Use social media to get feedback from your users
  • Celebrate successes and share them with the community.

vicky_wilkie2With power comes great responsibility – how librarians can harness the power of social media for the benefit of its users

As I said in my previous post this would be the first conference where I had actively tweeted however it was not the first time I had used social media to engage with users. As a graduate trainee at the University of Northampton one of my duties was to update the Facebook page for the library. If I’m honest I wasn’t really sure what I was doing (it was five years ago) and I didn’t really make a success out of it.

An important point to think about when using social media is who your target audience is and how many people can actually see what you have posted. One of the points from the presentation, given by Leo Appleton and Andy Tattersall, was that it takes skill to run a good Twitter feed. You need to make sure that what you are posting is relevant to the people reading it and that you can actually keep your users engaged.

It is also very important to think about response times. Users can upload feedback instantly but they also want an instant reply. If you can’t do this you need to explain why and show that you are listening to their feedback. Not doing so risks a negative message being passed on to a much larger audience before you have had time to deal with it.

A key question that came up throughout the conference was ‘how do we get feedback from our students without constantly sending them surveys?’ If you over survey users they will not send feedback. Social media is a solution to this as the users come to you with the feedback. You can get instant feedback on new projects you are trying as well as monitoring it for longer term feedback.

Social media can help you communicate with a vast number of people including, future students, employees and investors. It is important to make sure that you know the kinds of messages that you want to send to these people and that you keep this message focused.

The main points I took away from this presentation were:

  • Be prepared to fail but use this failure to educate others
  • Make sure you have open communication with your users and listen to what they are saying
  • Respond in a timely fashion and if you can’t explain why
  • Use social media as a way to get and act on user feedback
  • Celebrate your successes with your users

Summary

The second day of this conference was as brilliant as the first. I got to see how many of the themes could actually be put into practice in the workplace. We can get feedback from our users through social media but we also have to be prepared to fail sometimes. Rather than letting this put us off using these technologies we need to use these failures to our advantage.

Communicate with other sectors and users to get feedback and work this in to future projects. Make sure you take the time to really get to know your users and what they actually have the time and resources to do. We need to embrace the diversity in our sector and use it to our and our users’ advantage.

 

 

Using Twitter at conferences and a motivational presentation

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Victoria Wilkie
IT Support Specialist
University of York

 

CILIP 2015: connect, debate and innovate – day one

I’m lucky enough to have experience in two roles which are all about interacting with users on a daily basis, helping them connect to the information they need, and working within a close knit team to support the wider university’s needs. These two roles are as a Library Supervisor at the University of York, and my current secondment position as an IT Support Specialist. On the face of it these jobs might seem to not have much in common, however, in my experience, there are a lot of similarities between the working practices and tasks involved. After all, what librarian these days doesn’t use technology for almost every task they do?

Temple When, six months into my IT role, I was given the opportunity to attend the CILIP conference in Liverpool, I was eager to attend and particularly keen to focus on sessions on collaboration between library and IT services and how they could work to support the wider university community. Having never attended before I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but I was amazed by the variety of backgrounds of the people I met there, the sessions on offer and the broad range of specialisms all making up the information sector. My fears that as an IT Support Specialist I would be in a minority were quickly dispelled.

 

 

Using Twitter to record conference highlights and take part in discussions
As a regular user of Twitter I have been impressed by how easily it allows me to follow topics and discussion points and engage with the information community. While I have used it at previous conferences to follow tweets rather than participate, for this conference I decided to embrace it completely and see if it could be an effective method of capturing the information and my thoughts at the sessions I attended. I decided that instead of taking notes or using a voice recorder to capture events I would instead tweet my own views and actively engage with other people tweeting about similar subjects.

This did mean quite a dramatic change in my note-taking form. I was definitely of the pen and paper camp before this conference and I would take pages of notes most of which would make little sense at a later date. Twitter allowed me to cut out most of the irrelevant parts as the restrictions on characters meant I had to make my points concise. Sometimes because I was busy writing my comments I did miss a few of the speaker’s points, but I quickly picked up on these because I was following others at the conference in the same session and seeing what they tweeted. Twitter also helped to remember these points after the conference ended, as in addition to my own thoughts I also ‘favourited’ other people’s tweets and retweeted any I thought were particularly good.

Being able to instantly see what other people’s thoughts were of the sessions I was in was extremely useful, as it made me feel more involved in the whole conference and allowed me to express my thoughts and feelings on the topics, and get instantly stuck into some lively debates. I really like that Twitter allows me to get an insight into other attendees’ views. There was so much information and so many ideas being bandied around in all the sessions that at times it was easy to miss a really interesting point, but by reading other tweets and seeing what other people were retweeting I was able to examine these points in more detail. I even got an insight into what was happening in the breakout sessions I didn’t get a chance to attend. While Twitter was no replacement for being in the session itself it did give me an interesting insight into the points that others found interesting and relevant, and provided yet more people and topics to engage with and discuss.

Overall, using Twitter to capture my thoughts on the conference felt like a completely different experience to more traditional note taking, and one I found enjoyable. It helped to keep me on point and really allowed me to focus on what I found relevant and interesting. Although there may have been times when I missed some points I feel overall I gained more than I lost. It meant continued and better interactions with others in the community; I was starting conversations and debates that would continue long after the sessions had finished.

Conference themes: connect, debate and innovate
ConferenceThe conference theme was “connect, debate and innovate” and I really felt it delivered on these three aspects. I went away feeling inspired and eager to put the ideas I’d heard about into practice. Several of the speakers focused on topics about collaboration and the power of the community as well as celebrating success and a central message from many of the presentations I attended was that if we work with others we can achieve great things.

I didn’t agree with every point every speaker made, and I do wish that some libraries embraced the similarities they have with IT staff and the brilliant impact that technology can have if they work together more. However, I’m not going to pick flaws in presentations or focus on the negatives as I felt a key message from the conference was the need to focus on the positives within the profession, and that instead of focusing on our own narrow specialisms or points of view, we need to encourage each other and be positive in focusing on the many similarities between information professionals and our shared goal of helping the end user.

From the very first presentation I attended I felt filled with confidence that this was a conference that would focus on collaboration and celebration. R. David Lankes’ keynote ‘An action plan for world domination through librarianship’ was funny, moving and full of optimism. It is hard to express the feelings of the people in the room when he was speaking but he captivated the audience and made everyone look at their roles in different ways.

A strong theme throughout his presentation was collaboration, with other information professionals, with our users and people in other sectors. Rather than looking inwards information professionals should share and celebrate their diversity. Together we are strong and we can and should do great things for our community. This was a theme that would be picked up many of the breakout sessions and I will explore this theme in more depth in my second blog post.

He continued with this upbeat theme by emphasising that what we do matters, we are a power for change and we need to seize that power and use it. The information sector is changing at such a fast pace and sometimes we need to take a step back and celebrate our successes. The services we offer can spark knowledge but they are not knowledge, it is the information professional that helps turn that spark into something more.

At the end of the presentation I left the hall feeling ready to conquer the world. I later tweeted @rdlankes to ask if he would Skype me and give me a motivational speech each day before work. I still haven’t had a tweet back but his inspirational presentation can be heard here.

Summary
This was a brilliant conference with great key messages that I feel are really relevant to the profession today. We are all having to do more with less and by working with colleagues in other areas we can show how important our services are. We also need to be able to embrace new technologies and find ways to get feedback from our users without constantly sending them surveys.  In my next blog post I’ll focus in more detail on two of the sessions that really show how collaboration and gathering our users views can be done simply, but effectively and in a way that embraces the diverse range of talents available in the sector.

CILIP 2016 is on 12-13 July in Brighton.

Open Badges: recognising student attributes and matching employers’ skill requirements

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Day 3 of ePIC Conference, Barcelona, 8-10 June

The morning of Day 3 was a departure from HE focused talk. The topic was open badges and ePortfolio use by employers in the humanitarian sector. Don Presant and Dominique Giguère from Medicins Sans Frontieres Canada delivered a very interesting keynote on personalised learning environments for the learning and development of humanitarian aid workers. Dominique set out the context in which MSF international and national workers’ development takes place:

  • A vastly distributed sector of over 25,000 field positions in 60 countries, managed by a federated international structure of 6 operational centres and multiple partner centres.
  • A huge logistical and managerial staff with their own specific learning needs underpin field operations.
  • The distributed environment and the project-based nature of the work creates an individualistic and self-directed approach to learning.

A 2014 MSF People Management Report found low development skills amongst many line managers and an underutilisation of national staff, resulting in recommendations to implement an online portfolio, online mentoring and coaching and a suite of just-in-time online resources to facilitate deployment to projects at short notice.

The Humaniarian PLE across the career lifecycle’ from Don Presant’s ePIC 2015 presentation: http://bit.ly/1L6oiAC

The Humaniarian PLE across the career lifecycle’ from Don Presant’s ePIC 2015 presentation: http://bit.ly/1L6oiAC

Don and Dominique’s project conducted staff surveys and interviews to determine how receptive staff would be to their vision for personal learning and development. There’s a noticeable change from the traditional culture of “it’s about the people we’re helping, not me” to recognising the importance of one’s own development. Don reminded us that while the personal learning environment (PLE) concept may seem tired to ed tech people, we’re just reaching the point at which people in other sectors ‘get it’, so it still has value. MSF Canada’s vision is to create a sector-wide humanitarian PLE across the career lifecycle which puts the learner at the centre.

Humanitarian workers are organisationally and geographically transient, so it’s important that competency credentials are portable and are recognisable and searchable by employers. Hence, the interest in open badges. They see potential for building a collaborative community around badges that extends beyond MSF to encompass the sector as a whole. They are keen to issue badges, for example, for functional skills or experiences (e.g. mission badges) to be collected in a badge passport and displayed as part of the individual’s websites, eportfolios and online communities and profiles. This ecosystem would facilitate transfer of learning to new missions, role changes, new careers and provide academic recognition for fieldwork. MSF have done extensive work mapping humanitarian roles and skills to career paths (see the MSF Career Platform) that would ideally form a meaningful framework for the badge development.

It bodes well for their vision that Oxfam have already piloted the use of open badges to certify humanitarian logistics and UNICEF’s Agora online learning platform features badges. Atish Gonsalves (Director of DisasterReady.Org) is also at the forefront of aid workers’ training and development via his non-profit organisation and free online training platform, DisasterReady.org.

Key elements of the DiasterReady.org humanitarian training platform

Key elements of the DiasterReady.org humanitarian training platform

The platform reached 50,000 learners from 196 countries in two years and features over 500 elearning modules, set learning pathways, webinar series and – soon-to-be launched – open badges. They are working with the University of Geneva on accreditation for certain pathways, and using the Open Badge Factory, their intention is to award badges for completion of a learning pathway (e.g. achieving Security Awareness) rather than a distinct module. Their thinking is very much in line with MSF in that they are aiming for individual aid workers to collect badges from providers across the sector and to see some levelling of standards (e.g. agreed badge shape/colour according to Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced level, or a set range of icons e.g. an agreed Water Safety image) – a kind of badge marketplace, as one attendee called it. One interesting idea was for staff/organisation badges that could be awarded by affected communities – a Yelp style review – that might shift the focus from a quantitative review of an organisation’s performance to their effectiveness in the field.

ePIC2015 attendees hard at work! What challenges are faced in implementing sector-wide open badge programmes?

ePIC2015 attendees hard at work! What challenges are faced in implementing sector-wide open badge programmes?

The presenters facilitated a workshop session to hear what challenges, opportunities, drivers etc. we foresee in their future as they work to develop sector-recognised open badges, which I think provided them with plenty of food for thought!

City & Guild’s Director of Assessment Patrick Craven presented Big Journeys to Small Steps, a nod to the question of how the traditional, defined learning journey to a big qualification, e.g. diploma, can be reached through a process of smaller steps in less defined, more personalised routes? This is the challenge being taken up by accrediting body City & Guilds, who want to try badging credentials.

Patrick Craven presenting on City & Guilds' thinking behind badging credentials

Patrick Craven presenting on City & Guilds’ thinking behind badging credentials

Bryan Mathers’ excellent visuals punctuated Patrick’s point that educational institutions don’t dispute that a learner is more than just their grades; they just shy away from embedding values and certain attributes into the curriculum as learning outcomes because they are difficult to assess. Instead, he says, we tend to assess knowledge. When thinking about using open badges to recognise attributes, Patrick argues that the validity, reliability and viability of an assessment system’s design still determines their credibility. If you attend to one aspect of triangle too much or too little, you distort the others. The underlying message was that consistency and order are still important in badge design and issuing. Patrick doesn’t take issue with the bottom-up approach but a degree of order is needed to ensure credibility. For reliability, he says we can talk about standards rather than standardised. Again, the conversation returns to a credentialing perspective and issues of quality assurance, reflecting the City & Guilds context – the debate rumbles on!

Lori Hager (University of Oregon, US) and Susan Kahn and Karen Ramsay Johnson (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, US) each presented on their ongoing ePortfolio projects. The takeaways for me from their presentations and general discussion around ePortfolios were:

  • The idea of an ePortfolio as a compass through learning was reiterated by several speakers
  • The platform is secondary to the process and while institutional portfolio software was available in all cases (Barbara Nicolls, Buckinghamshire New University, also presented on Day 2 on their decision to opt for student-chosen social media platforms for their employability portfolios), few were using it.
  • Their students’ portfolios are very visible. Even where options are provided to maintain a private portfolio, when encouraged, the students saw the value of promoting their portfolios as showcases to potential employers as well as to each other.
  • Keenness of teaching and support staff to involve employer partners in setting the direction of the portfolio and in identifying and defining the competencies that the portfolio/badges might address.
  • Importance of clearly explaining the purpose of the portfolio and how it relates to everything else expected of them.

And finally, closing out the conference was Simone Ravaioli (CINECA, Italy) presenting on using ePortfolio and open badges on a national scale to close the gap between the competencies employers say they need and those universities say they develop in students. CINECA is a consortium of Italian universities developing software solutions and bringing about technological innovation in Italian education. They are trying to bring employers’ and educators’ understandings of competencies closer together. Their project is built around their aptly named Bestr site – Bestr enables you to become better than your best self! – which is a capabilities-matching platform. The idea is that employers will go onto the site and endorse the badges of the skill(s) they need for their organisation or industry at that time. Learning providers take these endorsements as signals that the market is requiring this specific set of skills. The learner can see employers’ requirements and find matching learning opportunities on the platform. Bestr also provides learners with a dashboard of their chosen badge pathway and where they currently sit on it. They’re also encouraged towards ePortfolio platforms to build evidence around the badges they choose to earn. Assessment for badges could potentially take place via an existing national network of test centres, when it’s appropriate for the badge. The service goes live on 4 July, so I’ll be keeping an eye on its success. It strikes me as very similar work to the JISC Employability Skills Match Service from the morning session, and indeed, Simone says they have connected and are keen to learn from each other.

I’d like to thank UCISA again for the opportunity to attend what was a very enjoyable and friendly conference that I would recommend to those interested or working with ePortfolios and/or open badges. I’ve made some new connections and taken away useful examples of how both technologies are being applied by employers and other HE institutions, as well as new systems to investigate and trial. If you have any questions or would like more information on any of the projects discussed, please leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter via @Roisin_Cassidy.

Key discussion points of the day:

  • What are the challenges to a sector-wide approach to open badge implementation?
  • How can we engage employer and community partners in specifying their competency requirements?
  • How do we facilitate deeper reflection in ePortfolios?

Key projects and resources from today: 

Employability: developing and evidencing graduate attributes

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Day 2 of ePIC Conference, Barcelona, 8-10 June

If Day 1 was about open badges, today’s keyword was employability! Below is a recap on a few of the sessions I found most interesting.

Jisc employability skills-match and data service
Scott Wilson (CETIS) and Simon Whittemore (Jisc) kicked off the morning sessions with an introduction to a new JISC project to develop an online, dynamic employability skills-match and data service. This work is part of the Prospect to Alumnus programme launched this year, the aim of which is to help institutions to merge and make better use of distributed student information to provide a seamless digital student journey, from application to graduation and employment. The skills-match service will be an online platform to enable employers to come together to define and recognise the skills that they’re looking for, using terms familiar and appropriate to them, e.g. what do they mean by empathetic? These would be represented by open badges that students could claim and which would then be awarded on the basis of third party testimonials, evidence or possibly endorsements. So, the curricula for the badges will be set by JISC’s employer consortia partners, but students will in essence issue them to themselves and request evidence or endorsement from a referee, likely in the STAR format. Their service framework puts qualities or attitudes at the core; second to these are capabilities (customer service, leadership etc); the third level is domain-specific skills.

The drivers for the project include the HE sector’s emphasis on the employability agenda and findings from the CBI and McKinsey studies that highlight a European skills gap from education to employment. The research showed that school and college leavers’ attitudes and aptitudes are valued more highly by employers than their qualification. Scott and Simon spoke of the importance of developing T-shaped graduates whose depth of knowledge is equalled by their cross-domain skills and their ability to communicate and work in a multitude of contexts.

T shaped student

The T-Shaped Student. A visual thought bv Bryan Mathers (@BryanMMathers)(CC-BY-ND) inspired by Scott Wilson (CETIS) and Simon Whittemore’s (Jisc) presentation on a Jisc employability skills match service.

 

While the site is addressing one of the key challenges discussed a lot on Day 1 – including the employer voice in education, eportfolios and open badges – some delegates at my table were concerned about a service relying on self-endorsement. Rather than concern about mistrust and abuse of the system, discussions were around how weaker students tend to inflate, while stronger students deflate their skill level. Similarly, participants discussed research findings that female students tend to underrate themselves, so while over-claiming of badges is a risk which could be mitigated by weighing up the value of the evidence and endorsement provided by the student, it might be harder to prevent under-claiming by qualified students. Of course, this issue isn’t unique to this service but it’s an interesting one to keep in mind when considering self-issuing of badges.

Deakin University keynote: Assuring graduate capabilities
Professor Beverley Oliver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Deakin University, Australia, delivered an inspiring keynote on her work to develop and evidence graduate attributes.

Beverley Oliver from Deakin University presenting her keynote, ‘Assuring Graduate Capabilities’

Beverley Oliver from Deakin University presenting her keynote, ‘Assuring Graduate Capabilities’

Despite excited talk of disruptions and revolutions to education by MOOCs, open badges, free, online bite-sized learning etc., Beverley highlights that the grading policy in the new ‘utopia’ is still the same – it is grades-based instead of learning outcomes based. She asks if we are just digitising the broken system or could we reinvent it? When the outcome is simultaneously focused on employability, students become transactional, resulting in gaming the education system rather than learning; CVs are a mix of warranted credentials (degrees etc.), unwarranted claims (I am expert in…etc.), your three best friends (referees!) and your digital footprint.

In order to refocus student incentives from marks and credits to learning outcomes, Deakin have redesigned the curriculum around eight Graduate Learning Outcomes (GLOs): Discipline-specific knowledge, Communication, Digital literacy, Teamwork, Critical thinking, Problem-solving, Self-management, and Global citizenship. These are embedded in modules and courses at a base level but a series of University badges, called Deakin Hallmarks, offer students an opportunity to evidence outstanding achievement in each of the GLOs. The hallmarks exist alongside the degree – evidence can come from studies or beyond university life – and students can only earn each Hallmark once. Beverley stressed that the language of ‘hallmarks’ was intentional; badges are the technology, not the purpose behind them, she says, and so open badges are only discussed at Deakin in reference to how the Hallmarks are issued and stored, not as a concept. She also avoids the term ‘endorsement’, seeing it as having become devalued by the LinkedIn approach – a comment made by many throughout the conference. Beverley made a convincing argument and Deakin’s Hallmark programme is well branded and structured, but one concern I have with rebranding open badges at an institutional level is that I see their universality and transferability as part of their value. If some students aren’t speaking the same language, is there a risk of decreasing the visibility of badges generally and of limiting their likelihood of seeking out and earning badges from other providers?

Beverley also discussed the University’s Deakin Digital and Me in a Minute initiatives. Me in a Minute is a great video-creation service that empowers and facilitates students to promote their skills and experience to prospective employers via a one-minute video. The idea is that the video accompanies online applications and CVs (e.g. LinkedIn) to make the student stand out and create a good impression. An underlying purpose is to facilitate students’ self-reflection and articulation of their competencies. Finally, recognising that ‘unbundling’ of education poses a threat to the traditional university model, Deakin have taken the innovative step of creating a subsidiary company, Deakin Digital, to compete against themselves.  Deakin Digital doesn’t deliver any teaching. Rather, it issues credentials for career development on the basis of prior learning or evidence. Credentials are earned at a granular level and recipients could eventually challenge for a Masters degree if they so choose. The model links a new credentialing system to the old one and if successful, it could eventually put the University out of business. It’s early days yet, but it’s a bold investment in an alternative to traditional higher education, by a traditional higher educational institution.

One of the key messages Beverley left us with was to stop calling them ‘soft skills’! They are hard to develop, hard to assess and hard to evidence – sometimes harder than the hard skills – and our language devalues them. Understandably, we were left tripping over our words for the next couple of days!

Developing a conceptual model to guide university ePortfolio implementation
Cathy Buyarski’s (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, IUPUI) presentation made me reflect upon the distinctive types of ePortfolios, e.g. showcase and reflective, and their varied aims. Cathy presented on the need for a conceptual model to guide a university eportfolio implementation and her experience of developing one. IUPUI students are required to produce an electronic personal development plan (ePDP) in their foundation year to be revised and updated throughout their degree, to foster goal creation and a compass for success. The team found that there needed to be a clearer explanation or model for why they were asking students and staff to buy-in to the ePDP and after an extensive literature review, the below model was created. This portfolio is intended as a holistic portfolio that deepens the students’ understanding of themselves. Developing your own education and career plans requires an increasing awareness of one’s self in relation to others; being able to set your own goals as opposed to inheriting those of your parents or authoritative figures; and developing hope, or in other words, understanding the various routes of progression to your goals. Underpinning each of these elements is reflection and building towards a greater understanding of self, meaning and purpose. Cathy points out that the end stage of the portfolio does not say graduation, in order to stress that the portfolio should embody a meaningful college experience instead.

Conceptual model for the IUPUI electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP). Presented by Cathy Buyarski. http://iupui.mcnrc.org/ref-practice/

Conceptual model for the IUPUI electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP). Presented by Cathy Buyarski. http://iupui.mcnrc.org/ref-practice/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europortfolio – the European network of EPortfolio Experts and Practitioners
In the afternoon, Igor Balaban (Open University of Catalonia, Spain) provided an overview of the work of the Europortfolio network (conference sponsors). Europortfolio, the European Network of Eportfolio Experts and Practitioners, is just two years old and is made up of a consortium of interested parties including the UK Centre for Recording Achievement. Europortfolio provide a useful portal for networking and communicating about current eportfolio projects, as well as four core ‘products’ of use to anyone involved in implementing eportfolio programmes:

  •  The ePortfolio Open Badges Maturity Matrix is a working document intended to help organisations reflecting on their integration of eportfolios and/or open badges by providing a means of benchmarking against a maturity blueprint featuring five stages: Aware, Exploring, Developing, Integrating and Transformative
Europortfolio's ePortfolio Implementation Guidelines poster

Europortfolio’s ePortfolio Implementation Guidelines poster

  • The Implementation Guidelines aid implementation of ePortfolios. A set of general guidelines is supplemented by separate guidelines for implementation at class or institutional level, as well as issues for consideration by consortia. The guidelines address the exploratory, planning and designing, developing, implementing and testing and sustaining and evaluating stages.
  •  The Competency Framework, another working document, analyses different ePortfolio technologies and functionalities in relation to how they can support competency recognition. First, the document addresses the nature of competencies and difficult issues involved in defining, recognising and accrediting them. Then, it interrogates how ePortfolios and related technologies can aid in this process.
  •   And the latest project, the ePortfolio Self-Development Study Course which Lourdes Guardia (University of Zagreb, Croatia) was on hand to introduce. This self-paced MOOC of sorts comprises seven modules targeted at individuals and institutions implementing or enhancing an ePortfolio. The first iteration, which launched on 15 June, will be time-bound but the resources will remain open for reuse at any stage. There is a heavy focus on OER use, content is available in three languages (English, Spanish and Polish), and the course represents a cross-fertilisation of European projects as it’s hosted on the EMMA: European Multiple MOOC Aggregator platform (still in beta).

The network has local chapters and are always looking to expand, so if you are interested in contributing, visit the collaborations page or contact the network via their website.

Guilty or Not Guilty? The sustained importance and reach of ePortfolios is put on trial

Guilty or Not Guilty: ePortfolios on trial with Serge Ravet and Beverley Oliver.

Guilty or Not Guilty: ePortfolios on trial with Serge Ravet and Beverley Oliver.

 

We finished up the day by putting the ePortfolio on trial, with a judge, jury, prosecution and defence all in attendance! Arguments centred on such questions as “why doesn’t everyone have an ePortfolio?” and “is the ePortfolio dead?”. Serge Ravet (Europortfolio / ADPIOS, France), appearing for the prosecution, was critical of how eportfolios too often represent inauthentic learning. They usually don’t convey the authentic voice of the learner – particularly if they are graded – as students game the system and formulate the voice expected of them by the teacher. Why doesn’t everyone have one? Well, they’re difficult! They take time and only thrive under certain conditions but perhaps, as one ‘witness’ argued, we just haven’t given them enough time. It takes more than a couple of decades for an approach or technology to transform education. Or maybe we are being too insular when we should be thinking more broadly about what an ePortfolio is – is it a tool or a concept? If it’s the latter, isn’t Facebook, Twitter, our whole digital footprint a kind of ePortfolio? That certainly seems to be premise of the MyShowcase and Open Badge Passport platforms I wrote about in Day 1, where the focus is on aggregating one’s content or evidence from across the web and contextualising it to develop a showcase portfolio. I’m not sure we reached a conclusion on the charge (in fact, I’m not 100% clear on what the charge was in the end!), but questioning why we should bother with ePortfolios at all was a thought-provoking end to Day 2.

Key discussion points of the day:
– How do we get employers’ input into open badge design and development?

– Do employers value ePortfolios?

– What is an ePortfolio and are they still relevant?

– Are endorsements without evidence of any value?

 Key projects and resources from today: 

 My ePIC conference Storify: https://storify.com/Roisin_Cassidy/epic-2015-disruptive-technologies-for-transformati

Europortfolio Network: http://www.europortfolio.org/

ePortfolio Self-Development Study Course: http://platform.europeanmoocs.eu/course_eportfolio_self_development_st

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. 2015. Literature Review (for development of an eportfolio conceptual model): http://pdp.uc.iupui.edu/AboutePDP/LiteratureReview.aspx

The full conference programme and session details are available from the ePIC 2015 website.

ePortfolios, Open Badges and Identity

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Day 1 of ePIC Conference, Barcelona, 8 -10 June

This week, I was very fortunate to attend ePIC 2015, the 13th conference on ePortfolios, Open Badges and Identity, courtesy of UCISA’s Bursary scheme. It was a three-day conference drawing a mix of delegates from higher education, non-governmental organisations, and systems development, travelling from across Europe, the United States and Australia.  I’m writing blog posts reporting on some of the presentations, conversations and ideas that particularly resonated with me and which I felt would be of interest to UCISA members.

Pic1 Image courtesy of Fiona Harvey

ePIC conference participants at work. Image courtesy of Fiona Harvey.

The focus of the first day was very much on open badges. I was a little surprised by the small number of attendees (approximately 40) but it actually contributed to a relaxed and friendly environment – the schedule was more of a guideline! – with plenty of opportunities on our first day for breakout discussions on the issues, opportunities and challenges we are experiencing or anticipating around open badges.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of open badges, you might be interested in some introductory posts on our York St John TEL blog, but essentially they are digital, portable and verifiable records of achievement that allow learners to share their skills, knowledge and abilities across their online profiles, portfolios, websites etc. They originated from an open standard created by the Mozilla Foundation and have found some traction in Education and Staff Development sectors in recent years.

The morning specifically focused on the launch of the Open Badge Passport (OPB) – a free, open source, cloud-based service which allows individual users to receive, share and organise their open badges. Eric Rousselle from Discendum Oy (the Finnish company behind the Passport’s development) introduced us to the origins of the Passport, which were rooted in the challenges observed from their experiences with another of their services, the Open Badge Factory. The Factory – available on a freemium model – is a badge issue and management service based on the Mozilla open standard, used by over 337 organisations in 48 countries. Judging by the number of badges issued, the Factory looked successful – but 73% of the issued badges were not claimed, which sparked discussion and research around why earners were not engaging with them. They discovered the primary barriers were that earners were not clear on what to do next after earning a badge, and those who were experienced difficulty transferring them to the Mozilla backpack. So, the organisation decided to move beyond an issuing system to a system for organising and using badges – a type of open badge-based eportfolio system. My first thought was, how does this relate to or compete with the existing Backpack? Eric explained that Mozilla are not actively developing the Backpack and are supportive of the venture – the Backpack was only ever intended to be a proof of concept and the Passport extends that concept by building supporting services around it. Features include:

  • The Passport integrates with the Open Badge Factory and no extra steps are needed to transfer badges issued in that system
  • You can import any badges you might already have in your Backpack and as it accepts multiple email addresses for the same account – something the Backpack doesn’t do– the same Passport can collect badges issued to different email addresses.
  • Earners can easily import badges from wherever they have earned them, but beyond that they can build a presence or profile, a kind of portfolio, around their badge collections. These ‘pages’ can be themed, and headings and blog sections added around the badges to create a learner’s story.
  • There is also a community aspect to the Passport; a gallery space displays all of the earned badges in the system and all of the earners who have received them. Shared or group pages can be created, for instance, around an organisation, project or event. Eric explains that the aim is to extend open badges beyond the individualistic and to build a community of learning around them, developing open badge collectors into ‘open badge connectors’. For instance, earners and issuers can see all earned badges in the system and which users have earned them.
  • They can also award ratings to a badge, making it easily discernible how popular a badge is. For issuers, this is akin to feedback on the design of your badge structure.

You can tell that I was impressed by the platform and am considering if and how it might be used in my own context, but it is a work in progress. The creators and contributors are keen to get input from the wider community so I recommend registering, having a nosy around and commenting below or tweeting to @OBFactory or @OBPassport.

 Concept behind a showcase portfolio and approach to MyShowcase.me from MyKnowledgeMap Ltd.

Concept behind a showcase portfolio and approach to MyShowcase.me from MyKnowledgeMap Ltd.

Sticking with systems, we also heard from Yorkshire-based company My Knowledge Map on their new personal showcase platform called MyShowcase, which also supports open badge display. This acts as a dashboard or hub where learners can create an interactive window onto all of the records or evidence of achievement which they might have distributed across different services, accounts or platforms. It’s free for the individual user (an institutional subscription includes additional features and reporting) and can stay with them for life. It’s built on the understanding that people are using a vast variety of social media and digital tools to store and display their work and accomplishments (YouTube, VLEs, Vimeo, Flickr, WordPress etc.) and there is value in bringing them together to organise, tag, display and share them in a way that contextualises them and showcases the user as they would like – a curated ePortoflio if you like. As a career management tool, I can see the value in a system that integrates with and relies upon the social services which learners are already (or arguably should be) active in in their educational and professional lives.

 

We heard from Gemma Tur (University of the Balearic Islands) on her positive experience of issuing open badges to a cohort of senior learners (aged 55-60) developing their digital literacies, who claimed and displayed their badges in the Open Badge Passport.  Gemma stated at the outset that she previously thought open badges were solely related to ‘awards’ but came to discover through her work on this module that badges are more intricately linked to the aims of an e-portfolio and the process of learning than she had anticipated. She stressed the same point I frequently find myself making when talking about open badges: they support reflection by making learning visible. We debated back and forth throughout the day about the meaning and value of open badges to the various ‘stakeholders’ (issuer, earner, employers etc.), and in the context of the HE employability agenda, I think Gemma’s comment has particular pertinence. Even if a student never shows a badge to a prospective employer, or they do but the employer never bothers looking at it, the process of working towards and storing that badge, with its clear criteria and evidence, is immersing that student in the language of employability and enabling the self-reflection on competencies that we expect of graduates. As one delegate pointed out, this benefit could be heightened by taking a participative approach to co-designing the badges and identifying the criteria at the outset.

The issues around trust, value and credibility emerged time and again throughout the day. There is sometimes a tension between institutions’ traditional structures for quality assurance within and the informal, organic, bottom-up way in which open badges have emerged in education. Understandably, universities want to guard their reputations – their bread and butter – from poor badges and badge inflation. However Eric argued that bad badges (i.e. those of no value, however value is defined) will live and die and we should let them do so without abandoning the whole system, just as we didn’t steer clear of Facebook and Twitter just because other sub-par social media platforms have emerged and waned. In other words, let the users determine the value of a badge. The roundtable discussions focused a lot on these credentialing and endorsement aspects which, thanks to fellow delegates, I’ve come to see as a nuanced conversation rather than black and white decisions. For instance, what’s to say a university could not have institutionally endorsed badges with more formal and centralised approval processes and their logo and name attached, coexisting with badges issued more informally at faculty or individual level?

Eric Rousselle (Discendum Oy) asking participants to consider the value of a badge.

Eric Rousselle (Discendum Oy) asking participants to consider the value of a badge.

This gives rise to the question of trust discussed by Serge Ravet (Europortfolio, France), and whether we could come to see open badges as trust-building, rather than something we need to control in order to trust. Serge was critical of the fact that we often speak of open badges as being ‘learner-centred’ when they are not quite there yet. Our default, he says, is still to do with a new thing/model the same thing we’ve always done, and we need to approach this from scratch; rather than embedding open badges into existing power structures, they should be disrupting them. Why shouldn’t an individual be allowed to issue a badge to themselves? We agreed that this comes down to whether you view open badges from a credentialing starting point or if the process of recognising competencies is the dominant aim.

Questions of disruption were continued in Ismael Peña-López’s (Open University of Catalonia, Spain) keynote, focusing on changes in teaching environment with the rise of digital. In Ismael’s words: knowledge will never be concentrated in such a way as it was when the modern university structures of teaching and power were constructed; learning happens in a tsunami now, not in the defined walls of a carefully constructed well. Central to the two presenters’ thinking on open badges is a heutagogical approach. In this distributed and ‘unbundling’ learning environment, they argue, learners should be empowered to direct their own learning – and open badges, as a means of recognising and building pathways from bite-sized learning opportunities, can facilitate this.

At the end of Day 1, it felt as though there were more questions than answers in the room e.g. what about employers? What about universities? How do they extract meaning and value from open badges? But I think it was a great start to the conference and set the scene for interesting discussion and debate to come.

Key discussion points of the day: 

  • Where and how is value derived from a badge?
  • What kind of ‘services’ do we require of an open badge passport?
  • How do we approach issues of quality and quality assurance in open badge issuing?
  • What role does trust play in open badges?

Key projects and resources from today (I will share more presentation slides as they become available): 

The full conference programme and session details are available from the ePIC 2015 website.

Epic preparations by a UCISA bursary award winner

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Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Pre-conference thoughts

Earlier in the year I had discovered the ePIC 2015 conference programme and it grabbed my attention immediately. As a Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor at York St John University, my role includes leading and supporting the institution’s use of our ePortfolio system, Mahara, as well as embedding the considered use of open badges as a new online standard for recognising and verifying formal and informal learning. So, the conference theme – ‘disruptive technologies for transformative learning’ – is directly relevant to my work. It also dovetails with the focus of the UCISA Digital Skills and Development (DSDG) Academic Support Group in supporting students and staff in the effective use of technology for learning, teaching and assessment. As such, it was the conference at the forefront of my mind when UCISA’s bursary scheme was announced, as this provides members with the means to go to an event they would not usually have the opportunity to attend. I was delighted to hear that my bursary application was successful, and I’m looking forward to the great mix of keynotes, presentations and workshops at ePIC 2015 from 8-10 June in Barcelona.

The conference’s two primary strands, open badges and ePortfolios for learning and assessment, offer exciting – and in the case of open badges, emerging and innovative – opportunities to address one of the key UCISA strategic challenges of developing staff and students’ digital literacies. It’s also a chance for me to gather an international perspective on two core areas of my work. The conference is aligned with a host of high-profile sponsors and partners including Open Badge Factory, Open Badge Passport (Sponsors), and Badge Alliance and Open Education Europa (Partners) and will see the launch of the Open Badge Passport. A series of workshops will outline the vision for the Passport and seek delegates’ input into how this open source project might successfully reinvent the ePortfolio to take account and advantage of the full opportunities offered by open badges, whilst facilitating the trust which is the currency of badges. We’ll also have a chance to examine the design principles for building an open badges programme and explore the disparate badge types and the growing variety of avenues for issuing, earning and ‘consuming’ badges. This is of particular interest to me as my University looks to build on small-scale pilot initiatives towards more University-wide projects.

Amongst the other sessions I’m looking forward to are:

  •  A review of the lessons learned by Amod Jayant Lele and Gillian Pierce of Boston University when adopting ePortfolios for assessment on a large campus, and their observations on the pedagogical benefits of ePortfolios beyond initial assessment-focused purposes. (Adopting ePortfolios on a large university campus: program assessment and beyond. Amod Jayant Lele and Gillian Pierce, Boston University)
  • A keynote from DisasterReady.org on how the Humanitarian workforce sector is embracing the value of ePortfolios for developing and recognising the skills of a very global and mobile workforce, and how the technology is aiding the professionalisation of their particular sector (The pivotal role of educational technologies in human capital development. Atish Gonsalves, DisasterReady.org; Dominique Giguère and Don Presant, MSF Canada)
  • A report on an ongoing collaborative project at Buckinghamshire New University to explore the value of social media based ePortoflios created using student selected tools, and to review the impact of such an approach on students’ engagement with employers, alumni and other industrial connections. (Social Media ePortfolio for employability: a student- led approach. Barbara Anne Nicolls and Kath Dunn, Buckinghamshire New University)

I will be tweeting throughout the conference, so follow me @Roisin_Cassidy for updates, or watch out for my posts on the UCISA and York St John TEL Team blogs for fuller reports.

The full conference programme and session details are available from the ePIC 2015 website.