Tag Archives: PLE

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: 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: