Tag Archives: Digital skills

Digital Skills for a New Generation





Ed Stout
Support Services Manager
Leeds Beckett University

Day Two EUNIS17

Ed Stout was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

Day two was another great day at EUNIS17.   Following an early morning fear of conference burn out, having been up late writing up my notes from the Wednesday sessions, I took the option not to make the day quite as manic/tiring as my first day. Day two of the conference was opened with three highly interesting keynotes.

Martin Hamilton of Jisc opened his keynote ‘Life on Mars: Digital Skills for a New Generation’  with a look into the future. What careers do we think are going to play a new role in the future and what should we as HE institutions be doing to ensure that we successfully leverage/support these? When we think of our current course offerings, are we considering DNA editors, drone engineers or even asteroid miners? Should we be? Well, quite possibly. We need to ensure that we are “equipping today’s learners for tomorrow’s world,” Martin tells us, and ensure that we support the “digitally disadvantaged to achieve their potential.” These three mentioned careers are already available in our transforming marketplace; are we helping them to achieve their career aspirations?














So, what more does our future world hold for us? Martin felt it important that we not only focus on the future, as there are elements of the present, which we may not be best supporting to enable our students to meet that future. With “every self-respecting billionaire” investing in a space programme, maybe we should take note.  Space X have developed a rocket that would have previously been sent into space at a cost of $100 million, never to return. They’re now making space exploration “affordable” by the launch and safe return of rockets to Earth!! Is this the sort of development of the future that we in higher education should ensure we do not simply overlook?

SpaceX – First-stage landing from THAICOMB mission May 2016.

Could robots actually play a big part in future? In Japan, SoftBank have invested in the development of a humanoid robot they call Pepper. “He” is intended to be able to interpret emotions and effectively respond to questions. As you can see in the below video, emotional robotics may be in their infancy but they will need highly trained professionals to take them on to reach their potential. A gap in the mass HE market maybe?

Pepper the ‘emotional’ robot visits the FT | FT Life.

Martin explained how the technical world is changing the everyday jobs we have been accustomed to. With over 3,000,000 truck drivers in the USA and over 300,000 taxi drivers in the UK, advancements in vehicular automation is very likely to have an impact. It isn’t just Google with their WAYMO project that are investing. Tesla car owners have already driven over 140,000,000 miles on autopilot. Self-driving cars are here! With this technology now available in the present, we in HE must be aware that the post-graduation jobs market is shifting and so with it our students’ needs/demands. Martin also made reference to how Amazon have realigned their warehouses and distribution centres with over 45,000 robots (BettyBots)completing orders in a “human exclusion zone”. These are jobs that once would have been completed by humans and now make up 12% of Amazon’s workforce.

High-Speed Robots Part 1: Meet BettyBot in “Human Exclusion Zone” Warehouses-The Window-WIRED

Given the pace of change, we need to make sure that our institutions are assisting our students’ needs to re-train. Maybe we need to be re-focusing on training for careers in robot script writing, self-drive car engineering or robotic engineering. Our vision for the future will be the defining factor that shapes our successes.

For anyone wishing to view Martin’s full presentation, he has recorded and made it available on YouTube here:

This blog post first appeared on http://www.edstout.co.uk/blog

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

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 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.

Jisc Digital student event

I attended the Jisc digital student data collection and analysis workshop in London on the Wednesday 29th April. It was raining. I was directed to a brightly lit room, mostly due to the large windows with bare white walls. The room was furnished with six large tables, littered with Jisc information, and chairs stationed around them. At 10am it was filled with HE staff from all over the UK. I sat down next to two lovely ladies, one from The Open University and the other from Glasgow Caledonian University.

The day started with Sarah Knight talking about the #digitalstudent project and how Jisc were at phase 3, where they had already consulted with 500 staff and students from HE and 300 staff and 220 learners from further education about students expectations and experiences of technology. The remainder of the day was spent in a facilitated workshop.

We were told that ideas were needed from the sector and that there was no such thing as a bad idea. The day was not going to be laid back. We were going to have to work for our lunch, and work we did. It was filled with analogies, what ifs and concepts.

We were presented with the seven challenges in enhancing the digital student experience, taken from the Jisc strategic approach guide. Then came the Analogy exercise. We were asked us to think of commercial systems that could work well within the HE sector to enhance the student experience. There were many examples as we were encouraged to write as many as we could. One person suggested financial risk planning. The key attributes were profiling customers about their perception towards risk. They suggested that it could be used to profile students’ perceptions towards technology.

We had a noisy break as everyone was chatting to each other. Then the next exercise quickly followed: What ifs. We were given large block of Postit notes to write down our wish lists such as What if … we had a permanent student led (CAN) R&D unit run by student research interns or work placements or What if … we bought Facebook and used it for learning and What if… we could personalised every individuals approach to teaching or learning and enable them to work in their own preferred way. By the end of the session those lovely white walls, were no longer white but filled with our ideas on coloured bits of sticky paper.







The day did not end there. We had fun drawing each other with our left hand, for light relief, before the meat of the exercises was served to us. We had to take the What ifs and develop them into concepts propositions. Two from each table were presented to the room and then stuck up on the wall, where everyone was invited to vote on the concepts. I looked out the window and the rain had stopped. After a summary of the day, the facilitators thanked us for our contributions and closed the workshop. It was an enjoyable day that went as quickly as the rain.

Footnote: Initial outcomes from the day are available on the Jisc website

Lorraine Barclay
IT Systems Trainer
St George’s University of London
UCISA-DSDG USG Committee member