Tag Archives: trust

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.