5 takeaways from #epforall Expanding the learning environment

catalonia plaza hotel with sign outside advertising the Epic ConferenceImagine you are not in any way involved in online learning or the development of education and training.  Have you heard of Digital Badges? At the ePIC 2015 (@epforall) conference in Barcelona we have been hearing from educators but also from organisations who are interested in developing their staff through the use of online open badges. The world is changing.  There are so many reasons why an organisation should use open badges, but today we heard lots of exciting ideas and experiences from people all over the world who are exploring and engaging with digital badges for extending the learning environment.  It’s just day one (8-10th June) Programme for ePIC forum conference.

1.  Its all about trust and value (and quality).IMG_1145 2

The theme for today has been about trust and value.  Trust the people issuing the badges, trust the recipients (earners) of the badges to display what they value.  If a badge has no value to the person you earned it then it won’t be shown anywhere.  It will die.  I think we established that badges could and should be issued by anyone, for any purpose.  So if a student decided to issue themselves a badge they could.  It may not hold much value for anyone else but if they wanted it and and could evidence that they warranted getting the badge, then maybe they should have it.  If an employer looked at it, then it may qualify as useful or not, depending on the value that employer had for it.  So its all about value and trust (in context).  I found that interesting.  I was looking at badges from an institutional point of view.  In the way we issue awards we might issue a badge.  But the beautiful thing is, we don’t have to.  If the evidence behind the badge leads us to demonstrate capabilities and it was issued by an institution or a individual respected in their field, then that is good enough.

2. Badges don’t make you awesome.

You make you awesome.  Just like technology doesn’t make you a great teacher.  You have to be good, it just helps you out to make your point.  If you have a collection of badges that really don’t tell anyone much other than you showed up to a few events, maybe you scored highly in test or everyone liked you on a Monday, then these are not going to do you any justice.  Find and create badges that allow your students or your employees to develop.  We talked about employers defining levels of badges for their employees and that was interesting.  This came from the question about values (again) but if you could measure or define levels of competences through badge attainment, supported by evidence you provide a 3D view.

3. Tools for issuing badges are getting easier.  

IMG_1141 3I heard about the Open Badge Factory and the Open Badge Passport.  We heard from Gemma Tur (@Gemturfer) who trialled their use with her ‘Digital Seniors’ I thought she was talking about seniors in high school but it turned out that she had taught a class of seniors as is aged between 55 and 67 years. They had all gained their Digital Seniors Badges. Her model was similar to the iChamp model, in that it was smaller badges building up to an overall (or Uber) badge.  She wasn’t familiar with badges and neither were they but using the systems above she taught her class and issued the badges to recognise their achievements.  They valued it and were engaged with their learning experience.  I had a look and it looks easy.  I created an iChamp badge very easily.  Just a few tweaks and we will be there.

4. Community matters

All through the day we discussed how models of power have changed from the institutions to the learners.  This was apparent in cMOOCs where barriers to learning through classrooms walls have come down.  Badges have the same appeal.  Social interactions can raise the value of a badge.  Ranking badges; rating the badge (“yes, I think you can do that” etc).  We also discussed how there was great value in sharing the badges within a community of practice.  Bringing groups of people together from across a range of organisations and institutions highlights groups with specific skills sets, makes sense of badges.  This could be of value to employers.  The impact of community was referred to a lot and I think that this could be a great feature of the social aspect to badges. Building a community of credibility through demonstrable skills sets is important and may offer a new approach to recruitment.

5. It’s all in the (Open) data  

Inevitably, when you talk about badges you must mention data.  The data is what makes a badge because without it, it’s a picture of a badge.  The data holds information about trends, location, skills, etc.  We heard from Adam Doyle (MyKnowledgeMap) who talked about repositories and how they could be useful (with permission) for employers.  This reminded me of the early MOOCs conversations when looking for business models. I think it was Udacity that suggested that they could sell their learners profiles to employers, suggesting that they had demonstrated aptitude and abilty and may be worthy of interviewing. Not that this is what is happening but it has potential – the data aspect of badges, along with communities provides groups of interesting data that can provide learning organisations with useful info.

So there you have it.  Five things to take away from #epforall.  There was lots more but applying what we heard about today to HEI’s and organisations would be a huge step and a big change.  Possibly that would be awesome…

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