#OpenBadges: challenges and opportunities for assessment

While exploring how open badges might affect the e-assessment landscape, I’ve been thinking about some of the opportunities and challenges they might present. A number of resources I have found useful while considering these, have been developed / led by Doug Belshaw, who was a marker for the first stage of the DML Badges competition. Doug ran a ‘semester of learning’ on open badges and assessment in 2011, where participants discussed ideas around processes for how they might be used within education and also delved into some of the practical considerations.

Some of the possible challenges identified in the semester of learning are highlighted in this post by Doug or can be found in the discussions on the semester of learning site. My initial take on some of the challenges include: potential for disparity between the quality of assessments or assessors; how to benchmark level or attainment for a certain skill or quality from one issuer of a badge to another; given the possibility for a proliferation of badges, how would an employer work through and make sense of the collection?

The concept of open badges could also be challenging to existing educational institutions, given that if the idea takes off they might no longer be the chief conduits for awarding qualifications. This raises some questions. Will they fight against the concept of badges or make fundamental changes to become part of a lifelong learning open badges ecosystem? Would they, for example, accept badges in the entry process and award them for more than just the prescribed core skills for a course, e.g. value badges, recognise badges awarded by peers? Will formal education institutions even continue to deliver large set programmes and award a corresponding dedicated degree, diploma etc or allow personal programmes of badged learning to be generated from multiple, granular modules, challenges or learning resources, which may or may not be hosted or owned by the institution? Would employers recognize these types of patchwork, individual learning pathways and value them in the same way as a degree or diploma?

Whether or not these challenges are worth navigating, probably depends on the possible opportunities. Some that come immediately to mind include: the ability to accredit softer skills and rapidly developing competencies, e.g. digital literacies which need to keep up with the pace of change as new ways of communicating, learning, working etc are established; a means of charting and valuing lifelong learning; motivation to keep achieving. There is the potential to demonstrate personalised learning choices and individual pathways to knowledge and skills developed through a bespoke mix of discrete courses and skills development. A more holistic vision of the person could be presented through formal courses and qualifications if assessments and awards include those for skills or qualities that go beyond what is prescribed by the course creators and institution.

Why use badges now?

When considering how I could use badges now, I can see a number of useful applications: to accredit different skills or value based contributions by participants in the online courses I run; to give others a clearer sense of who I am and what I can offer when I am providing consultancy in my role with the JISC RSC; to help me keep feeling I’m achieving and growing when I develop a new skill or add something that is valued within a community of practice.

In a wider context, I think open badges could bring benefits for how we all engage with learning and help deliver a more agile and relevant way to assess and recognise learning. Doug Belshaw, in his post, If not now, when? Why we need #openbadges and #dmlbadges for lifelong learning RIGHT NOW  suggests it is the right time to make changes to the learning and assessment landscape…

“You know what? If I could, god-like, step outside of time and decide just when to make a large-scale change to western education systems, I think I’d choose right now. Why? People are ready for change. The current system isn’t working and we haven’t got the money to prop it up any more.”

I also think it could be time for the assessment infrastructure we have had in place for many years to be shaken up. I think more could be done to recognise a deeper set of attributes and skills about a person and what they can contribute. There appear to be a number of subtle and not so subtle issues to be navigated but I think the prospects for open badges to create a fundamental shift in how and what we assess and how we recognise achievement / contribution, means the concept is certainly worth researching further.

© Copyright Doug Lee and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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