Category Archives: UCISA-ASG

Impact of a UCISA bursary…six months on





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.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme 2018.

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



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:

The Humaniarian PLE across the career lifecycle’ from Don Presant’s ePIC 2015 presentation:

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,

Key elements of the humanitarian training platform

Key elements of the 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



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.

Conceptual model for the IUPUI electronic Personal Development Plan (ePDP). Presented by Cathy Buyarski.















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:

Europortfolio Network:

ePortfolio Self-Development Study Course:

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. 2015. Literature Review (for development of an eportfolio conceptual model):

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

ePortfolios, Open Badges and Identity



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 from MyKnowledgeMap Ltd.

Concept behind a showcase portfolio and approach to 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



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 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,; 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.

Evaluating learning spaces


Julie Voce
E-learning Services Manager
Imperial College London
Chair, UCISA-DSDG Academic Support Group





Tuesday at Educause

My highlight from Tuesday at Educause was a presentation from Adam Finkelstein from McGill University in Canada. Adam presented about evaluating learning spaces, and it was quite apt that his session was in a room with flexible furniture. He mentioned that McGill has a Teaching and Learning Spaces Working Group who sign off all new learning spaces.

Adam used Poll Everywhere to survey the audience about their challenges in evaluating/using learning spaces and the main issues were:

  • Different disciplines/staff have different needs for the space
  • Not all learning spaces are centrally controlled/owned
  • Getting staff and students to use the rooms as intended
  • Some rooms prioritise the technology over the furnishings.

He cited Michael Patton’s book for Utilization-focused Evaluation and the importance of understanding actual use, but we need to understand what is important to the different stakeholders:

2014-09-30 14.41.57

Adam highlighted two types of tools for evaluating learning spaces:

  • Learning Space Rating System (LSRS) – to determine the potential use of the space and be able to evaluate one room compared to another. In a review of three different spaces at McGill, a large lecture theatre scored lower than a mid-size renovated lecture theatre, which in turn scored lower than the active learning space; this was the expected result. One criticism of the LSRS is that some of the criteria might be beyond a University’s control, e.g. requirement for a window in the room, or not part of a University’s mission, e.g. requirement to enable distributed learners to join the face-to-face session.
  • Post Occupancy evaluations – these need to be built internally and connected to the University’s mission. The aim is to look at the actual use of learning spaces, rather than potential use. At McGill, they used a variety of methods, including surveys and observations, with both staff and students to understand the experience in the space. Adam mentioned that one of the most powerful outcomes of the evaluation was a video they developed with academics and students talking about their experience of teaching and learning in those spaces. In addition, the observations mapped how staff moved around the room during a session and showed that students were engaged in deeper learning when the staff moved around the room more and spent more time at the tables than at the podium.

Both types of evaluation have a role to play and Adam suggested that institutions undertake the LSRS, then renovate the room, and then repeat the LSRS. In parallel, institutions should carry out post occupancy evaluations, however he noted that ‘building a better room does not necessarily mean positive post occupancy evaluations’.

Adam reported on a student survey they had undertaken on the use of learning spaces, and focussed on a question about which room features had benefitted learning. Interestingly, furniture was ahead of the technology in terms of benefit:

2014-09-30 15.01.02

Ultimately, he said that ‘good teaching can withstand poor spaces and poor teaching can withstand good spaces’. We therefore need to ensure that in parallel with creating better, more flexible rooms, we ensure that staff and students know how to use them to the best effect to meet their intended outcomes.

Julie Voce