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3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets [DML Central]

3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets

My latest post for DML Central has just been published. Entitled 3 Types of EdTech Baggage: Toolsets, Mindsets, Skillsets it was prompted by a Quentin Blake-esque sketch from Bryan Mathers that made me laugh.

So, in this post, I want to challenge the assumption that those resisting the adoption of a particular technology are neo-Luddites. I’m basing this on my experience in schools, universities, and now as an independent consultant working with all kinds of organisations. I see a much more nuanced picture than is often put forward. Assuming people should “get with the program” can, after all, be a little techno-deterministic.

I’d love your feedback on the post itself, so I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to do so!

Click here to read the post in full

Weeknote 16/2016

This week I’ve been:

On Sunday I’ll be at Maker Faire UK in Newcastle. Next week I’m taking it easy on Monday and Tuesday with just a few meetings and pottering around at home. Then I’m in London on Wednesday and Thursday with City & Guilds, and Cambridge on Friday running a workshop.

Quality Mountain Days 1 and 2: Lake District

Update: I created selfie videos to document each day as I went along. I then used a Sony app to create short highlight videos. You can view them here: Day 1 (Friday) / Day 2 (Saturday)


This evening I’ve spent some time planning my first two ‘Quality Mountain Days’. As I explained in The psychology of going up a mountain, walking on Friday and Saturday in the Lake District will count as 10% of the days I need to have under my belt before starting my Mountain Leader award.

I’m aiming to fulfil all of the Quality Mountain Day criteria:

  • the individual takes part in the planning and leadership
  • navigation skills are required away from marked paths
  • experience must be in terrain and weather comparable to that found in UK and Irish hills
  • knowledge is increased and skills practised
  • attention is paid to safety
  • five hours or more journey time
  • adverse conditions may be encountered

This post is to document my planning. I’ll update afterwards with photos I take and any notes/voice recordings I make!

Day 1: Friday 22 April 2016

Dale Head and Fleetwith Pike (Friday 22 April 2016)

Weather forecast from the Mountain Weather Service for Friday:

  • Wind? Northeasterly 15 to 20mph
  • Effect of wind on you? Small
  • How wet? Risk snow & hail showers later. Substantially or completely dry, but later afternoon and evening, risk showers, of soft hail, or above 600m snow.
  • Cloud? Very little
  • Sunshine and Air Clarity? Bursts of bright sunshine, mainly morning. The air very clear.
  • How cold? (at 750m): 1 to 3C, highest west Lakes in afternoon.

I get back home to where I live in Morpeth, Northumberland late on Thursday night, so I’ll be up early Friday morning to pack and then drive the 2.5 hours to the Lake District. I’m going to give the above route plan (created using a photo of an OS map and Skitch) to the YHA Borrowdale staff with the time I left and the time I expect to be back.

While I’ve walked up to Dale Head before (last year when I did the Mountain Skills course) this will be the first time I’ve been up there by myself. In fact it’s the first time I’ll have been up any mountain alone. I’m planning to push on, past Yewcrag Quarries and over onto Fleetwith Pike. It may be quite exposed and windy over there, so my backup plan is to abort that small circle part of the route and head down the dismantled tramway.

Either way, returning via Honister House should be pretty straightforward and the route should be reasonably flat once I’ve got down to Lowbank Crags. If I’ve worked this out correctly it should be about 14km. That should be quite enough to keep me going for the five hours I need to be out and about for it to count as a ‘Quality Mountain Day’!


Day 2: Saturday 23 April 2016

Dodd, Skiddaw, and Little Man (Saturday 23 April 2016)

Weather forecast from the Mountain Weather Service for Saturday:

  • Wind? Northerly 20 to 25mph, strongest Pennines
  • Effect of wind on you? May impede walking some higher areas. Notable wind chill for late April.
  • How wet? Snow and hail showers. Light showers or flurries developing, snow or soft hail to low levels, spreading increasingly from north by afternoon.
  • Cloud? Mostly very little
  • Sunshine and Air Clarity? Occasional bright sunshine. Visibility superb, but much reduced during showers and where also in cloud.
  • How cold? (at 750m): 0 or -1C

I want to get out, get up, and get home as soon as possible on Saturday — especially given the snow flurries forecast for the afternoon. I’m planning to park in Millbeck, then walk through Lyzzick Wood and up Dodd. This should give me some indication as to whether it’s safe to head up towards Skiddaw via Carl Side.

If it is, I’ll go that way, stopping off to test my micro-navigational skills by finding the cairn indicated on the map. Instead of taking the main path to the top of Skiddaw, I’m going to take the smaller track and see if I can keep on it. I’m hoping that visibility will be good enough to take some decent photos from Skiddaw Man.

After something to eat, if I can see the weather coming in, I may retrace myself and come down the track that follows Slades Beck. However, the plan is to keep going and make my way to Little Man, finding the two cairns shown on the map. From there I’ll follow the path down and round to Applethwaite, then back to the car. All told, that’s around 11km, but will be more challenging than Friday due to the weather.


Note: many thanks to Craig Taylor for responding so quickly and comprehensively to my Twitter DMs. I wanted to check that these routes seemed reasonable and he gave me some ‘old-timers’ advice that should ensure I have a safe and successful trip. Having done the Mountain Leader qualification himself (and been in the army) he’s been a great source of encouragement and support, loaning me some books last year to help with my understanding of what’s required!

A quick redesign

Blog redesign (April 2016)

I know that quite a few people get updates from my blog via email and RSS, so for their benefit (and because I always do this when I apply a new theme) I thought I’d share a quick update.

Yesterday, I followed a link from Hacker News to brutalistwebsites.com. I played about with the idea of applying a similar kind of theme to my blog but, in the end, found the (free) Casper theme by Lacy Morrow. It’s based on the default theme found on the Ghost publishing platform, and I think it’s great.

Every theme has its own affordances and constraints. With this one I had to reduce the number of items in my main menu, and add some links to social profiles. I started by adding all of the places I pay attention to online but, after stepping back and taking a second look, stripped back the icons to just Twitter, email, LinkedIn, and RSS.

I’ve had mixed feedback so far. More creative types have said it “destroys their soul” (harsh!) whereas others have praised how clean it looks. I’d love your feedback!

This is a good time to remind you that I’ve got a now-similar-looking blog for alternative thoughts and reactions at discours.es. It’s got an RSS feed. 🙂

Refocusing my energies

Derek Sivers:

Those of you who often over-commit or feel too scattered may appreciate a new philosophy I’m trying:

If I’m not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, then say no.

Meaning: When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” – then my answer is no.

When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”

We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.

A few of us are setting up a co-operative called weareopen.coop. I’ll have more details soon but I’m going to have to dedicate quite a lot of time to this over the next few weeks and months, over and above my current day-to-day stuff with clients for Dynamic Skillset.

As a result, I’ve decided to pull back from several projects and trips that I was planning. These include the BadgeChain group, attending the Groningen Declaration meeting in Cape Town to present on Open Badges and blockchain, and writing a chapter that I said I’d write for an upcoming book. I remain committed to the 2016 Digital Badge Summit, and running a pre-conference workshop at ISTE in June.

I do feel bad about this, but the whole point of being self-employed is to have more control over what I do, when I do it, and who I do it with. I’m looking forward to working in a spirit of solidarity and co-operation, and I want to bring my A-game to give that a chance to flourish.

Image CC BY Ian Liu

 

Weeknote 15/2016

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #210 of Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely focused on education, technology, and productivity. This week it included links about blockchain in education, Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map 2.0, and how to find productive hours. Many thanks to 9Sharp for sponsoring this week’s issue!
  • Recording and releasing Episode 46 (‘Maltese Credentials’) of the Today In Digital Education podcast, my weekly podcast with co-host Dai Barnes. This week we discussed elephants in the classroom, Dai’s experiences in Malta, Liberia outsourcing their education system, what Doug learned while at Mozilla, the cult of the attention web, what constitutes a credential, how to find your most productive hours, and more! You can discuss TIDE in our Slack channel.
  • Demoing the progress I’ve made on the refresh to our church’s website. You can see it here. I’ve still got to port a lot of the content across.
  • Suffering from a debilitating migraine on Monday. I’d planned to work from home, but I ended up spending the day in bed, and reading as I wasn’t much use to anyone. It’s been a while since I’ve had one that bad.
  • Helping Eylan Ezekiel with some planning and prioritisation as a ‘critical friend’. It was a great opportunity to hang out with him in his house in Oxford, and meet his lovely family. I’ve been doing more and more of this kind of work, both in-person and remotely, so perhaps it’s time to offer it as an explicit service of Dynamic Skillset?
  • Setting up and instance of Sandstorm for Work to see if it’s going to work for a new venture a few of us have planned.
  • Participating in the first day of the Tech Infrastructure for the Future Social Sector Hack in Oxford. This was organised by Tris Lumley from NPC, and facilitated by Andy Gibson. Eylan was there, as was John Bevan, and I managed to demo something by the end of the day! Afterwards, I checked out Broad Street, where Thornton’s bookshop used to be (where I worked during the summer almost 20 years ago) and had a pint with Eylan in The Eagle and Child, a famous and favourite pub.
  • Working for City & Guilds from their London office on Thursday, and from home for them on Friday. This involved some collaboration with Bryan Mathers and collating lots of links around the future of work/toolsets.
  • Flashing my Sony Xperia Z3 Compact with a new ROM giving me Android 6.0.1 (‘Marshmallow’). I’d been using CyanogenMod nightly builds, but they were both a little unstable (especially around Bluetooth) and stuck on Android 5.1. In the end I used a ROM that Sony have rolled out experimentally in Latin America…
  • Writing:

Next week, I’m working from home on Monday, then in London from Tuesday to Thursday. I’ll be back home to sleep in my own bed, then I’m off to the Lake District to spend two days up a mountain. This should count towards the 20 ‘quality mountain days’ I need to accrue before starting my Mountain Leader course. It’s then Maker Faire UK in Newcastle on the Sunday!

Weeknote 14/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’ll be working from home on Monday, then heading to Oxford to work with Eylan Ezekiel on Tuesday, before taking part in the Tech Infrastructure for the Future Social Sector Hack event on Wednesday. I’ll be in London working with City & Guilds on Thursday, and then home on Friday.

3 things I learned during my time at Mozilla

Introduction

On my to-do list for the last year has been ‘write up what I learned at Mozilla’. I didn’t want this anniversary week to go by without writing something, so despite this being nowhere near as comprehensive as what I’d like to write, it at least shifts that item from my to-do list!

The following are three (plus one bonus) personal learning points that I felt were some of my main takeaways from the three years I spent working for the Mozilla Foundation. After being a volunteer from 2011, I became a member of staff from 2012-15, working first as Badges & Skills Lead, and then transitioning to Web Literacy Lead.

1. Working openly by default is awesome

Mozilla is radically open. Most meetings are available via public URLs, notes and projects are open for public scrutiny, and work is shared by default on the open web.

There are many unexpected benefits through doing this, including it being a lot easier to find out what your colleagues are working on. It’s therefore easy to co-ordinate efforts between teams, and to bring people into projects.

In fact, I think that working openly is such an advantage, that I’ve been advocating it to every client I’ve worked with since setting up Dynamic Skillset. Thankfully, there’s now a fantastic book to help with that evangelism entitled The Open Organization by the CEO of Red Hat, a $2bn Open Source tech firm.

2. The mission is more important than individuals

This feels like an odd point to include and could, in fact, be seen as somewhat negative. However, for me, it was a positive, and one of the main reasons I decided to spend my time volunteering for Mozilla in the first place. When the mission and manifesto of an organisation are explicit and publicly-available, it’s immediately obvious whether what you’re working on is worthwhile in the eyes of your colleagues.

No organisation is without its politics, but working for Mozilla was the first time I’d experienced the peculiar politics of Open Source. Instead of the institutional politics of educational institutions, these were politics about the best way to further the mission of the organisation. Sometimes this led to people leaving the organisation. Sometimes it led to heated debates. But the great thing was that these discussions were all ultimately focused on achieving the same end goals.

3. Working remotely is hard

I do like working remotely, but it’s difficult — and for reasons you might not immediately expect. The upsides of remote working are pretty obvious: no commute, live wherever you like, and structure your day more flexibly than you could do if you were based in an office.

What I learned pretty quickly is that there can be a fairly large downside to every interaction with colleagues being somewhat transactional. What I mean by that is there’s no corridor conversations, no wandering over to someone else’s desk to see how they are, no watercooler conversations.

There are huge efficiency gains to be had by having remote workers all around the globe — the sun never sets on your workforce — but it’s imperative that they come together from time to time. Thankfully, Mozilla were pretty good at flying us out to San Francisco, Toronto, and other places (like Portland, Oregon) to work together and have high-bandwidth conversations.

Perhaps the hardest thing about working remotely is that lack of bandwidth. Yes, I had frequent video conversations with colleagues, but a lot of interaction was text-based. When there’s no way to read the intention of a potentially-ambiguous sentence, dwelling on these interactions in the solitude of remote working can be anxiety-inducing.

Since leaving Mozilla I’ve read some studies that suggest that successful long-term remote working is best done based in teams. I can see the logic in that. The blend I’ve got now with some work being done face-to-face with clients, and some from home, seems to suit me better.

(4. Technical skills are underrated)

This is a bonus point, but one that I thought I should include. As you’d expect, Mozilla was an environment with the most technology-savvy people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. There were some drawbacks to this, including an element of what Evgeny Morozov would call ‘technological solutionism’, but on the whole it was extremely positive.

There were three specific ways in which having tech-savvy colleagues was helpful. First, it meant that you could assume a baseline. Mozilla can use tools with its staff and volunteers that may be uncomfortable or confusing for the average office worker. There is a high cognitive load, for example, when participating in a meeting via etherpad, chat, and voice call simultaneously. But being able to use exactly the right tool for the job rather than just a generic tool catering to the lowest common denominator has its advantages.

Second, tech-savvy colleagues means that things you discuss in meetings and at work weeks get prototyped quickly. I can still remember how shocked I was when Atul Varma created a version of the WebLitMapper a few days after I’d mentioned that such a thing would be useful!

The third point is somewhat related to the first. When you have a majority of people with a high level of technical skills, the default is towards upskilling, rather than dumbing down. There were numerous spontaneous ways in which this type of skillsharing occurred, especially when Mozilla started using GitHub for everything — including planning!

Conclusion

Although I’m genuinely happier than I’ve ever been in my current position as a self-employed, independent consultant, I wouldn’t trade my experience working for Mozilla for anything. It was a privilege to work alongside such talented colleagues and do work that was truly making the web a better place.

One of the reasons for writing this post was that I’ve found that I tend to introduce myself as someone who “used to work for Mozilla”. This week, one year on, marks a time at which I reflect happily on the time I had there, but ensure that my eyes are on the future.

Like so many former members of staff, I’ve found it difficult to disentangle my own identity from that of Mozilla. I purposely took this past year as time completely away from any Mozilla projects so I could gain some critical distance — and so that people realised I’d actually moved on!

So who am I? I’m Dr. Doug Belshaw, an independent consultant focusing on the intersection of education, technology, and productivity. But I remain a Mozillian. You can find me at mozillans.org here.

Image CC BY Paul Clarke (bonus points if you can spot me!)

What is a ‘credential’ anyway?

Carla Casilli, badge system design expert extraordinaire, former colleague, and one of the authors of the report I shared my notes on yesterday, has recently been writing about the nature of badges and credentials. In her most recent post she asks the community:

Are all badges credentials, regardless of conceptual size, depth of assessment, or amount of criteria?

Last year I wrote for DML Central entitled Taking Another Look At The Digital Credentials Landscape. In it, I created a visual representation of how I, and others I’d consulted through my work with City & Guilds, saw the current digital credentialing landscape. As you can see from the image below, we situated everything within a meta-level circle of ‘credentials’.

Digital credentials landscape

What I (spectacularly) failed to do in that post was to define what I meant by ‘credential’. I assumed that everyone was using the term in the same way as I (and I assume most Europeans do). The Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials report from the American Council on Education uses the Lumina Foundation’s definition of a credential as:

A documented award by a responsible and authorized body that has determined that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes relative to a given standard. Credential in this context is
an umbrella term that includes degrees, diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional/industry certifications.

While this is not a bad definition, it is rather limiting; I think it’s overly-focused on traditional education. The word ‘credential’ comes from the Latin ‘credentia’ via the English word ‘credence’. To give credence to something is to ascribe validity, often via a recommendation; it is a state of belief in something as being true. Credential letters in the Middle Ages were handed from a person unknown to the recipient from someone known to the recipient (if only by reputation). As a result, the recipient would be more likely to see the person in front of them as ‘credible’. It was credibility by association.

The meanings and definitions of words change over time, of course, but I think that the second half of the Lumina Foundation’s definition, the part that talks of ‘credential’ as an ‘umbrella term’ is key. I’d just reject the first half where it talks about ‘responsible and authorised’ bodies and a ‘given standard’.

This ‘umbrella term’ approach to defining ‘credentials’ also meshes with the definitions from sources that I find reasonably convincing:

  • “A qualification, achievement, quality, or aspect of a person’s background, especially when used to indicate their suitability for something” (Oxford English Dictionary)
  • “A credential is an attestation of qualification, competence, or authority issued to an individual by a third party with a relevant or de facto authority or assumed competence to do so.” (Wikipedia)
  • “The ​abilities and ​experience that make someone ​suitable for a ​particular ​job or ​activity, or ​proof of someone’s ​abilities and ​experience.” (Cambridge Dictionaries)
  • “Personal qualities, achievements, or experiences that make someone suitable for something.” (Macmillan Dictionary)
  • “Warranting credit or confidence — used chiefly in the phrase credential letters.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

I think Carla and I are arguing for the same position from two different vantage points. For example, after sharing a diagram showing two circles overlapping (but not completely) she states:

Badges, as they were envisioned originally, were created to capture learning whenever and wherever that learning occurs: formal, informal, public, private, group, individual. The overlap on the Venn diagram is sometimes referred to as microcredentials, and actually gives that term greater meaning and sense.

I definitely agree with that original vision for badges. I just can’t see a situation where a badge wouldn’t also count as a credential — even if that wasn’t the original intention .

As both the image from my DML Central post, and the image in Carla’s subsequent post demonstrates, it’s nearly impossible to do justice to the complexity of the credentials landscape in just two dimensions. Carla says:

An open badge can be designed to represent a small thing, such as a fundamental principle or a single competency (micro level) — and an open badge can also be designed to represent a large thing, like a competency set, or a license, or a degree (macro level). This visual illustrates that badges can be used to represent any credential currently being issued. This may seem like a minor thing to visualize, but given what badges can represent, it’s one that is definitely worth understanding.

I agree: if represented in three dimensions, badges would be orthoganal to the current credentialing system. They’re certainly acting at some kind of different ‘layer’. But, I would argue, if we’re forced to represent them in two dimensions, they appear to be wholly contained with the circle we currently call ‘credentials’.

What badges don’t have to be, even if they’re wholly contained within the ‘credential’ circle, is traditional. They can recognise all kinds of knowledge, skills, and behaviours — as well as all kinds of things we haven’t even thought of yet!

Image CC BY-SA Andrew Moore


I hope this was useful for those experienced in the world of Open Badges, and those who are new to the ecosystem. If you’re one of the latter, you may find the Open Badges 101 course helpful.

Notes on ACE’s ‘Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials’

I’m not in the habit of doing this, and I’m not one of the authors, but this is an important, useful report related to Open Badges which many people may never get around to reading. The report can be downloaded for free from the Lumina Foundation’s website, and I’ve also included a link to a backup at the Internet Archive in case that site is ever down:


downloading-updates-32  Download: Quality Dimensions for Connected Credentials (backup)


Context

The first thing to say is that this report speaks into a specific context: Higher Education in the USA. Despite this, I think there’s much to glean for international audiences, and those outside of the university system. There are some areas in which I disagree with the authors (e.g. the definition of a ‘credential’, around the role of endorsement, and the need to prop up the existing system) but I’ll save that for another time. Overall, the report is excellent.

What follows is lengthy quotations from the paper, divided into the sections the authors themselves use. I’ve tried to avoid any sections specifically tied to the American education system. I’ve added my own where necessary by means of introduction and connection to help you understand the flow of the paper.

Introduction

The authors identify problems around the granularisation of credentials, as well as the disintermediation of educational institutions:

[T]he diversity of credentials is not always meeting the needs of students, educational institutions, and employers, and unfortunately the proliferation of credentials is causing confusion. There is a lack of shared understanding about what makes credentials valuable, how that value varies across different types of credentials for different stakeholders, what constitutes quality, and how credentials are connected to each other and to opportunities for the people who have earned them.

It’s worth noting that the work leading to the paper was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

It provides context for higher education decision makers by describing the problems caused by fractured credentialing systems, articulating quality dimensions that help to address these problems, and visualizing how institutions can improve their credentials to increase their value while meeting the
needs of diverse stakeholders.

Competency-based education is all the rage in the US at the moment, although not everyone agrees with the approach:

This paper is closely related to another resource from the ACE Center for Education Attainment and Innovation, Communicating the Value of Competencies (Everhart, Bushway, and Schejbal 2016), which focuses on how to improve communication of the value of competencies among educational institutions, students, and employers. These papers are related because connected credentials are premised on two foundational concepts: that the competencies a credential represents should be clearly defined, and that these competencies can carry independent value, including the possibility of individual competencies
having currency value as very granular credentials. The competencies paper dovetails with this paper in that understanding and improving the value of connected credentials is directly applicable to communicating the value of competencies (and vice versa). Therefore, improving the value of competencies
is a targeted set of approaches in the broader context of improving the value of credentials. Definitions, concepts, and the dimensions of quality are shared across these two papers, with different focuses.

There are frustrations in the current landscape shared by earners, issuers, and consumers of credentials:

Today, stakeholders experience numerous critical problems:

  • Students do not always have reliable ways to compare credentials with regard to what they include, their market value, their transferability, their relationship to other credentials, and other important factors.
  • Educational institutions need well-defined information about the value of their credentials for employment, career advancement, civic engagement, and other desired outcomes in order to attract students
    and guide them to successful credential attainment.
  • Employers have difficulty understanding the competencies potential employees may or may not have mastered through the credentials they have earned.

There are, however, ways to deal with these issues:

Many organizations are already contributing to initiatives to support connected
credentials—for example:

  • Defining common language to profile the types and levels of knowledge and skills credentials represent, enabling explicit description of the relationship between one credential and other credentials
  • Using clearly defined descriptors to characterize credentials with regard to market value, transfer value, assessment rigor, third-party approval status, and more, empowering institutions to publicize the
    characteristics of their credentials
  • Providing students with clear milestones based on modular components of credentials and relationships among credentials, helping them to understand and document their progress over time along career pathways

The best way to connect credentials is not in some top-down ways, but through more grassroots approaches:

A top-down or “authoritative requirements” approach is not desirable, and in fact, probably would not work, given the diversity of credentialing. Approaches to quality connected credentials more
appropriately emerge from within communities of practice. The framing premise of this paper is that higher education leaders and decision makers are well-positioned to contribute to national initiatives already underway and improve their own credentials in ways that are appropriate for their institutions and communities

What Are Credentials?

The authors use the following definition of a ‘credential’:

“A documented award by a responsible and authorized body that has determined that an individual has achieved specific learning outcomes relative to a given standard. Credential in this context is an umbrella term that includes degrees, diplomas, licenses, certificates, badges, and professional/industry certifications” (Lumina Foundation 2015a, 11).

They also supply a (long) definition what they mean by ‘badges’:

Badges use digital technologies to represent learning achievements; however, not all digital badges are open badges, in that not all badges use open standards that support interoperability and connections among systems and contexts. In this paper, “badge” refers to “open badges” and therefore includes technical and conceptual frameworks for openness, transparency, and interoperability (for more context on open badges, see Derryberry, Everhart, and Knight 2016). “Badges signify accomplishments such as completion of a project, mastery of a skill, or marks of experience” (Casilli and Knight 2012, 1) and can be created and awarded by institutions, organizations, groups, or individuals. Badges are flexible with regard to how issuers create them, define their use, and develop their criteria (which are publicly
viewable, embedded in the badge, and verifiable). Therefore badges can be used in numerous ways to meet a community’s needs, to represent granular competencies as well as deeply linked, rich experiences and complex learning. Badges are being used in conjunction with and/or as modular components of traditional credentials such as degrees. In some cases, especially when badges link to evidence, they are being used as representations of credentials. Badges can expire or be revoked, making them useful for credentials that are not continuously valid. Given their flexibility, badges bridge traditional, accredited credentials, professional and industry-recognized credentials, and nontraditional, experimental credentials.

Importantly, the authors explain that their approach is separate from the (controversial) approach of ‘competency based education’:

Note that a focus on the value of competencies is not the same as “competency-based education,” that is, the restructuring of academic programs to focus on mastery of competencies rather than focusing on time. References to competencies in this paper are relevant for knowledge and skills in all types of credentials and academic programs.

The authors also give a definition of ‘connected credentials’ which seems to be a Lumina Foundation shorthand for an emergent taxonomy of badges:

In the context of this paper, “connected credentials” refers broadly to multiple aspects of connectedness, including connections and relationships among credentials, connections to purpose and value in multiple contexts, and connections to opportunities for credential earners.

Collective Impact for Connecting Credentials

There are many different types of credentials, serving different purposes, and issued by different kinds of organisations. This is confusing for people:

In the face of… many variations, stakeholders struggle to make sense of how credentials are related to each other. This is a particularly poignant struggle for those who seek to earn credentials, since they have few guides or coordinated information to help them make decisions and appropriate investments.

The authors outline the particular problems in the US, which I think are more widely applicable:

The Connecting Credentials Initiative’s Making the Case paper provides a clear overview of the situation, outlining the contextual factors that put pressure on our credentialing ecosystem (Lumina Foundation 2015b, 1–4):

  • The diverse range of students pursuing postsecondary education, including approximately 85 percent post-traditional students (Soares 2013, 6)
  • The mismatch between what employers need and job seekers’ capabilities
  • Lack of clear credential pathways to help students understand and reach their goals
  • The proliferation of education and training providers, with most people using multiple providers
  • Lack of transparency and consistency in quality assurance for credentials

The report goes on to reference many different aspects of the Connecting Credentials initiative, including their Beta Credentials Framework, which “uses competencies as common reference points to help users understand and compare the levels of knowledge and skills that underlie all credentials” — although this is, of course, focused on the American system.

Key Stakeholders

The authors introduce some useful nomenclature for describing the differing roles of stakeholders in the ecosystem:

For the purposes of these descriptions, the complexity of participants in credentialing ecosystems has been simplified to focus on four types of stakeholders:

  • Credential earners
  • Credential issuers
  • Credential consumers
  • Credential endorsers

Earners are “the people who attain credentials”. They have a number of problems around comparing credentials, signaling their competencies, credentials expiring, a lack of modularity and ‘stackability’ in credentials, ‘dead ends’, a lack of on-ramps, socio-economic issues, issues around transparency, and a lack of employer/industry understanding of the credentials they have earned.

Issuers are “organizations that award credentials to earners”. Their problems are around the ‘market value’ of their credentials, how credentials stack together, collaboration with other issuers, and the lack of common descriptors for popular credentials.

Consumers are “those who use credentials to make judgments and decisions about the qualifications and competencies of earners for specific purposes”. Their problems include understanding what the credential represents, and the burden of ensuring employees have the skills to go with the knowledge they earned while earning a credential.

Endorsers have “traditionally… been accrediting bodies or other independent third parties that vouch for the institution or organization and the quality and validity of its credentials. [They] are often also the ones who authorize issuers to award specific credentials. In the case of certifications and licenses, these authorizing entities can be licensure boards, state agencies, or industry organizations.” Endorsers’ problems are around determining the value of credentials, a lack of transparency and clear frameworks, and the paucity of information on which to base their endorsements.

Dimensions of Quality for Connected Credentials

This is the ‘meat’ of the report, in which the authors outline six dimensions for quality, ‘connected’ credentials:

  1. Transparency
  2. Modularity
  3. Portability
  4. Relevance
  5. Validity
  6. Equity

[The dimensions] are not all-encompassing, but they provide useful ways of discussing credentials and how they can be improved, both generally and in the analysis of specific credentials.

The dimensions overlap and also mutually reinforce each other. For example, modularity supports portability by making it easier to move credentials from one context to another; transparency supports relevance, by making it easier for consumers to understand what a credential includes and therefore how it is relevant for their purposes.

The authors outline what they mean by each of the six dimensions in bullet point format. To avoid making this long post even longer, I will simply quote the summary at the end of each dimension.

Transparency

Transparency supports connectedness by making credentials easier to understand and compare, facilitating the definition and implementation of relationships among credentials. Transparency also supports connections to opportunities by helping all stakeholders understand how credentials are valuable.

Modularity

Modularity supports connectedness by making credentials more componentized and less monolithic, leading to more connection points and possible relationships among credentials. Modularity also helps students understand the components within credentials and how they connect to each other and to larger goals such as socioeconomic mobility and lifelong learning.

Portability

Portability supports connectedness by making credentials more applicable in multiple contexts, connecting to multiple purposes and opportunities. Portability also facilitates connections among different types of credentials in different environments.

Relevance

Relevance supports connectedness by illuminating the applicability and purposes of credentials for specific stakeholders in their own contexts, thereby connecting to opportunities in those contexts. Relevance also connects and amplifies different types of value by helping stakeholders understand the
network of verification, documentation, evidence, and social interpretation supporting the credential.

Validity

Validity supports connectedness by illuminating the broad frameworks of meaning and value that connect the credential to opportunities. Validity provides a shared understanding and trust of how the credential is defined, including the evidence and quality assurance structures that are necessary to implement well-defined relationships among credentials.

Equity

Equity as a dimension of quality credentials helps people overcome their disadvantages and connect to opportunities. Equity provides a network of flexible access points and supports that connect students to credential attainment and the benefits of lifelong learning.

Describing the Current State of Credential Types

This section applies the six dimensions of quality as defined by the authors to different types of credentials, including badges. They find that badges pass all of the tests, with the only problems being (unsurprisingly, given the nature of the report) around the lack of a common language/framework for connecting them together.

Challenge Questions for Analyzing Credentials and Visualizing Potential Futures

The final section before the report’s conclusion is a series of questions under the six quality headings that issuers can ask of their credentials. For example:

Are the competencies (knowledge and specialized skills, personal skills, and social skills) represented by this credential clearly defined?

and:

What value does this credential carry for specific stakeholders that you identify as important? How do you know what these stakeholders value? Are they involved in your credential improvement
processes?

These are extremely useful questions for any issuer of credentials to consider.

Conclusion: Call to Action

The authors list various ways that those reading the report who are in US Higher Education can get involved. These include forming working groups, writing papers and book chapters, hosting workshops, and reading other papers by Connecting Credentials.

[A] willingness to ask and seek answers to these questions is an essential first step in breaking down the credentialing silos that sometimes impede student progress and cause our systems to be less effective and beneficial than they could be.

We encourage you to complete the arc of your journey: Identify your credentialing ecosystem stakeholders, articulate the problems they encounter when credentials are not connected, use the challenge questions to analyze and discuss the current state of your specific credentials with regard to the quality dimensions, and then establish a realistic plan and timeline for developing more valuable, robust, and connected credentials that reflect your new approach.


I’d recommend reading the report in full here and, more importantly, think about how you can apply the findings no matter what your context.

For more on Open Badges and how to get started with them, check out Open Badges 101, a free, open community course Bryan Mathers and I put together.

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