As part of my Action Research project I’m launching a Badge according to Open Badge specifications. Well actually I’m only issuing the badge- I’m not awarding it. It’s not about me, it’s about investigating the dynamics of motivation, reward and inertia in qualifications and credentials.
I intend to investigate how the development of Open Badges and alternative digital credentialing systems might provide Higher Education Institutions with a more open, diagnostic and granular way of awarding and crediting student and staff achievements in order to promote employability.
The badge I am issuing is specifically for HE staff and students to earn, which is in itself pretty ‘disruptive’. In fact it’s designed to award and make visible what learners may have already done, rather than creating more work for them, or giving them a bureaucratic hoop to jump though. They merely have to evidence the industry-facing employability work they already do, although the criteria is deliberately rigorous to make the badge meaningful and valued.
The badge is succinctly called “The HE Industry Dialogue Badge” and the idea is to promote and highlight ‘industry facing behaviours’ in HE staff and students.
I’m hoping this Badge will catalyse answers to a range of issues regarding status, motivation, the nature of credentialing and trust, institutional innovation and inertia, and demand for granularity of skills recognition.
The Badge is open to all HEIs not just my own. Will competition across Universities or faculties be instructive? What conversations will ensue? Which HEIs will ‘get it’ and which will see this research as partisan or even some kind of neoliberal ed-tech agenda?
The Badge is designed to be time limited- it will expire after a year. It may be that other agencies or Trade Bodies will see a value in supporting it later, but for me this is a research tool, and a test bed for the creative industries and educators to see if the landscape is fertile enough for Digital Badges to take off and be useful for the learner and the employer, or whether the credentialing system we have had for so long is fit for purpose, thank you very much.
My journey started by drafting up a version of the DigitalMe canvas which is a useful checklist designed to help Badge Designers focus on what matters. Their document at http://www.digitalme.co.uk/assets/pdf/DigitalMe-Badge-Design-Canvas.pdf reflects their work within informal education with young people. I took the headings and spent a while making sure I knew what I wanted to achieve.
Enter the Open Badge Academy
I then had a very useful consultation with Grainne Hamilton of the Open Badge Academy when my initial evangelical yet over-cerebral ‘soft launch’ of my Badge as part of my HEA PGCert research to fellow students didn’t turn into a scramble of applications. She recommended motivation and interest could be energised by getting the badge endorsed by professional bodies that would add value. It was also useful because I’d been looking at ways to take myself out the equation. Fellow peers on the course who hadn’t heard of Open Badges found it hard to see the value. There was an assumption that I was awarding badges and would somehow be the arbiter of who did and who didn’t receive a badge, despite my efforts to ensure them that others awarded the badge (an industry panel). It was still seen as mine.
Although I wasn’t asking any staff to do any extra work for the Badge, nevertheless they thought there would be a cognitive load involved with presenting the evidence, and there was not the incentive there to do this.
So, my first lesson is that the Badge isn’t so disruptive that it doesn’t share the degree certificate’s need for endorsed validity. We learners need someone of sufficient status to say to us “we think this is valuable, and you should too”. We need reflected glory, or closeness to the shine of authority
So I targeted two national organisations to endorse my badge. Creative Skillset, the national skills agency for the creative industries were interested in what the outcome of my research would be. They have their own accreditation system called the Tick which accredits the best HE courses for contemporary industry skills acquisition, and were looking at other programmes to leverage better industry training. Like many skills agencies they were interested in Open Badges, and in return for my findings they would endorse my badge. Suddenly there was a reason for Higher Education staff to earn this Badge. As far as I know this is the first time Creative Skillset have endorsed people. This adds a new dynamic into the research. Will Deans and HE Management suddenly start nudging their lecturers (and possibly students) to apply? Will it allow HE staff to gain pride about their work? The Badge is a powerful suggestion that they are the kind of people Creative skillset want to see more of. Imagine applying for a Tick with a number of staff members already having proved themselves with the HE Industry Dialogue Badge…
Suddenly I think this Badge could do good things. Hopefully Creative Skillset’s endorsement will get people motivated.