Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Badges for transforming learning in HE?

I've had a break from this Blog for a while, and since I signed off, the Mozilla badges project emerged, and so too did global conversations about how open learning opportunities like MOOCs might be given credit in formal enrolled courses. At a recent Digital Futures in Higher Education workshop in Sydney Australia, I presented an argument about why this will be a challenge to Australian Universities, given their historic resistance to recognizing learning outside the institution.

The badges movement fills me with excitement - particularly the careful thinking that has gone into badges architecture, and the openness this entails.  The peer review approach to the validation of evidence for badges is a great approach, as it connects skills acquisition and demonstration to a wider community. So far they have been closely associated with achievement of skills - such as digital skills using software and social media - but there have been developments related to teaching skills, such as the Certified Networked Teacher and micro skills such as the critical thinking badge challenge. A lot of thinking continues to take place about a raft of issues associated with badges, just as there is with any curriculum and assessment processes. I like the recent School of Open Badges contemplation by Leah, for example (Nov 25th 2012).

So many questions remain in the Australian context about badges, despite developments such as the "Hero" badge offered at the University of Western Australia (see the OpenStudy initiative). Badges that make you feel and do good and contribute are great - but so too is advanced standing, lower student loans at the end of study, paid work and access to networks for employment purposes. The balance has to be right.

My bigger question, in terms of the Australian HE sector, is: How can we find a way for badges to gain traction when two decades of policy frameworks and research about the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL as it's called in Australia) has not brought a university to the forefront as a champion of lifelong learning?

And in terms of institutional change? Will the roll out of the new version of the AQF lead universities to develop meaningful and accessible RPL practices? History shows this is unlikely, unless a university decides this is what makes them unique. Maybe in some small way badges could help? We may not be keen when it comes to valuing a citizen's lifelong learning within formal studies, but we do possess the institutional capabilities to do so if we thought it important.  For example, we know how to validate evidence - we have Vice-Chancellor's Awards in most universities, and OLT Awards and Citations at the national level. We frequently offer Honorary Doctorates. All RPL processes and badges in their own way, only we apply them to our own work. So perhaps the way to change Universities is to reward those who are lifelong learning advocates and activists within the sector through the development of a badges architecture?  I think badges could play a role in this transformative process, and plan to work towards a draft framework of badges for this purpose over the coming months.

Dialogue about blended learning

Visit a project I built using Wix in 2010 where colleagues and I explore the meaning of "blended learning"