Tag: learning (page 3 of 10)

Responding to some criticisms about ‘badges’ for lifelong learning

Grumpy Gorilla

As I mentioned in ‘Badges’ for Lifelong Learning: Reframing the Debate, whilst most people have been very enthusiastic about the concept of badges to credentialise lifelong informal learning, there have been a number of criticisms around the idea. It might help if you go and read that post before you read this one. 🙂

Most of the issues, it would seem, that people have around the ideas of an alternative credentialing system in education revolve around how it is implemented. I’m fairly sure that there’s not too many people who think that the current status quo is serving us well. As far as I understand it, the idea being proposed by Mozilla, HASTAC, et al. is for badges to augment, not replace what we’ve already got in terms of assessment systems: it’s credentialing things that are usually fairly intangible.

I came across a thoughtful and considered response to the potential issues around #openbadges and, perhaps more importantly, #dmlbadges in this post by @timothyfcook via Scoop.it. I think it’s worth quoting Tim at length:

This phrase “badge friendly” is the kicker, because it entails that certain things are not badge friendly. What these things are is certainly open for debate, but it is likely that skills/experience that are more creative and require qualitative analysis will present difficulties. Additionally, skill sets that are unique, constantly in flux, or in progressive fields will be difficult to credential in a standard fashion. If certain things are left out of the badge system, does it lose its credibility? For a new system to be wholly accepted, its accrediting process needs to offer equality and completeness.

That brings me to the second question, the problem of standardization. Although the university system is downright awful at providing an acceptable standard of quality among college graduates, it doesn’t exempt this new idea from the same critique. The problem with traditional college degrees is that the type of new institutions grows and changes too rapidly, while the grading standards varies wildly between schools, or even programs within schools. An “A-” at M.I.T. is different from an “A-” at Dryer University. Meanwhile, grading standards have been falling across the country, as schools are increasingly valuing student retention and graduation rates over academic rigor.

Meanwhile, the only real standard for valuing a student’s overall college experience is the prestige of their alma mater. If student Jack studied Creative Writing at the University of Iowa that means something, but if student Jill studied it at the California University of Pennsylvania that doesn’t mean much… yet Jack and Jill both have the same “badge”, they both have a B.A. in Creative Writing.”

This brings me to the final question, which may actually offer some solutions… If this is supposed to operate as a truly “open” educational accreditation system, outside the boundaries of the traditional institution, what will the student assessment process look like? There has to be a full-proof method for awarding these badges to students who have met the requirements. Those who have written on the subject describe a hybrid system. Some of the time badge approval will be granted by compensated experts, we know them as teachers. Other times, however, badges can be granted through a peer review process. This possibly is the scariest, but also most powerful component of the new badge system. This peer review process, in many ways, is the best hope it has to revolutionize the process and create a truly “open” accreditation system.

Tim suggests four ways to make badges work:

  1. “Appeal to our selfish need for self-preservation or our dignity: constantly remind students that, when they are reviewing the work of their peers, they are reviewing their own work. This only works if peer assessment is actually not quite peer assessment, but only done by students who have already received the badge in question.”
  2. “As mentioned, badge-issuers should always be people who have already completed the badge. This way, they will not only have incentive to uphold the quality that badge represents, but they will also know the content really well and act as capable critics.”
  3. “In addition to the social mechanism that could ensure quality assessment from peers, there needs to be a system that would ensure a good quantity of assessors. Simple: after your first badge, for every new badge you are awarded, you are required to assess the badge application of 3 (or more) students, offering them written feedback and a decision. This way you ensure a large and consistent pool of potential assessors.”
  4. “Finally, in order to ensure un-biased quality assessments from peers, each badge-applicant should be assessed by at least 3 peer assessors.

There’s some great ideas in what Tim has suggested, although I’m not entirely sure that completing a badge yourself is a necessary and sufficient condition for being able to assess somebody else’s. What I think Tim does show is that:

  • criticisms of badges apply to the potential implementation of any system
  • standardisation of badges is not necessarily a good thing (it’s perhaps using outdated thinking about ‘grades’)
  • the peer-to-peer element of badges is important, and potentially revolutionary

What do you think? Have you explored openbadges.org and dmlcompetition.net? How could badges work in your context?

#openbadges – Learner Stories

Over at P2PU.org I’m co-ordinating a ‘semester of learning’ on Mozilla’s upcoming Open Badges framework. This past week we’ve been looking at ‘learner stories’, scenarios for using badges to credentialise learning. Here’s my (fictional) attempt to explain how badges could work in the contexts with which I’m familiar.

Sarah with guitar

Sarah: recognition for extra-curricular learning

Sarah is a 15 year-old pupil in an average English secondary school. As a pupil on the ‘gifted and talented’ list,  she is working towards 14 GCSEs, including the English Baccalaureate subjects. Her passion, however, is music. She is a guitarist in a newly-formed band, something her parents and schoolteachers deem a distraction from her studies.

Recently, Sarah’s desire to spend more time writing and recording music has come into conflict with her studies. She has started to dabble in music production, but knows that to get a qualification in this area will probably have to wait.

How badges help:

Hearing of a new project using badges to credentialise learning in the music production arena, Sarah talks to her tutor and parents and the next parent/teacher evening about her passion for music. Because there is a way to credentialise it, her parents and tutor are happy with her dropping one of her GCSEs to free up time to pursue music production.

Within a few months, Sarah has her Music Production 101 badge. Realising she has module exams coming up, she decides to focus solely on her schoolwork for a month, then goes back to work on a badge that has been custom-made for her by a local producer: Producing kick-ass guitar music.

Sarah’s other band members begin to take on her ideas much more as she can talk knowledgeably about how something will sound as they are writing. Her teachers and parents notice she is happier in and with school, and notice an increase in Sarah’s confidence.

The result:

Badges provide a way to show parents and teachers the value of particular topic/subject/interest. In a world of high-stakes testing, badges allow for the credentialisation of passions, interests, and curiosities.

CC BY-NC rachel sian

Epistemic games and situated learning.

Space Invasion

In the last chapter of my hopefully-soon-to-be-complete Ed.D. thesis I’m applying a model of digital literacy to games-based learning in an attempt to see if there’s scope for a ‘digital games literacy’.

One of the leading lights in this field is the Australian academic James Paul Gee who, thankfully, writes in an extremely incisive and lucid fashion. In Are Video Games Good For Learning? he produces this wonderful passage about the ‘just-in-time’ learning and scaffolding provided by good video games (my emphasis):

Video games are external (i.e., not mental) simulations of worlds or problem spaces in which the player must prepare for action and the accomplishment of goals from a particular perspective. Gamers learn to see the world of each different game in a quite different way. But in each case they must learn to see the virtual world in terms of how it will afford the sorts of actions they (where “they” means a melding of themselves and their virtual character) need to take to accomplish their goals (to win in the short and long run).


While commercial video games often offer worlds in which players prepare for the actions of soldiers or thieves, the question arises as to whether other types of games could let players prepare for action from different perspectives or identities such as a particular type of scientist, political activist, or global citizen, for instance. If games could play this role, they would speak to one of the deeper problems of education, the fact that many students who can pass paper and pencil tests cannot actually apply their knowledge to real problem-solving (Gardner, 1991).

Good video games distribute intelligence (Brown, Collins & Dugid, 1989) between a real-world person and artificially intelligent virtual characters. For example, in Full Spectrum Warrior, the player uses the buttons on the controller to give orders to two squads of soldiers (the game SWAT 4 is also a great equivalent example here). The instruction manual that comes with the game makes it clear from the outset that players, in order to play the game successfully, must take on the values, identities, and ways of thinking of a professional soldier: “Everything about your squad,” the manual explains, “is the result of careful planning and years of experience on the battlefield. Respect that experience, soldier, since it’s what will keep your soldiers alive” (p. 2). In the game, that experience—the skills and knowledge of professional military expertise—is distributed between the virtual soldiers and the real-world player. The soldiers in the player’s squads have been trained in movement formations; the role of the player is to select the best position for them on the field. The virtual characters (the soldiers) know part of the task (various movement formations) and the player must come to know another part (when and where to engage in such formations). This kind of distribution holds for every aspect of professional military knowledge in the game.

By distributing knowledge and skills this way—between the virtual characters (smart tools) and the real-world player—the player is guided and supported by the knowledge built into the virtual soldiers. This offloads some of the cognitive burden from the learner, placing it in smart tools that can do more than the learner is currently capable of doing by him or herself. It allows the player to begin to act, with some degree of effectiveness, before being really competent: “performance before competence.” The player thereby eventually comes to gain competence through trial, error, and feedback, not by wading through a lot of text before being able to engage in activity.

Such distribution also allows players to internalize not only the knowledge and skills of a professional (a professional soldier in this case), but also the concomitant values (“doctrine” as the military says) that shape and explain how and why that knowledge is developed and applied in the world. This suggests an important question for research: whether and how other “professions”—scientists, doctors, government officials, urban planners, political activists (Shaffer, 2004)—could be modeled and distributed in this fashion as a deep form of value-laden learning (and, in turn, learners could compare and contrast different value systems as they play different games).

Shaffer’s (2004; 2005) “epistemic games” already give us a good indication that even young learners, through video games embedded inside a well-organized curriculum, can be inducted into professional practices as a form of value-laden deep learning that transfers to school-based skills and conceptual understandings. However, much work remains to be done here in making the case that the knowledge, skills, and values that good games offer transfer to school and, in particular, to students’ learning in traditional content areas.

(Gee, J.P. (2006) ‘Are Video Games Good For Learning?’ (Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 03/2006, p.174-6)

Image CC BY-NC-SA Stéfan

mobiMOOC: 2 April – 14 May 2011

mobiMOOCOne thing I’m working on in my role at JISC infoNet at the moment is a Mobile Learning infoKit. It should be ready in time to complement the launch of JISC’s Emerging Practice in a Digital Age guide at ALT-C 2011.

After the JISC Mobile & Wireless Technologies Review I carried out at the end of 2010, I’m keen to find out out the practice behind the theory and strategy I discussed in that (17,000-word!) review and have been looking for opportunities to do so. Thankfully, I’ve found just the thing.

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, ably explained by Dave Cormier:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW3gMGqcZQc?hd=1&w=640&h=390]

A mobiMOOC is running from 2nd April until 14th May 2011 and anyone can take part! There’s a host of well-known names in the mobile learning world running sessions and facilitating, so I’m very much looking forward to it.

The benefit of the MOOC approach, of course, is that you can dip in-and-out at will, set your own learning goals, and (being mainly asynchronous) fit it around the rest of your life.

I hope you’ll join us.

Using Digital Media to Improve Teaching and Learning

I’m presenting with JISC Digital Media today as part of a session at the JISC Conference 2011 entitled Using Digital Media to Improve Teaching and Learning. My part of our presentation is below:

It’s my job to provide the introductory landscape and overview so I decided to get a little bit philosophical about what we mean by ‘attendance’. What I’m trying to get across is that following old ways of doing things when using new technologies such as digital media doesn’t change anything (think: lecture capture). We need to reconceptualise and refocus on what it is we’re trying to achieve. Hopefully, this should provide a platform for Zak Mensah to go on to talk about the importance of focusing on workflows rather than the shiny-shiny.

Effective learning and the physicality of the classroom.

Royal Marine Recruits Rope Climbing at CTCRM

Like many teenagers not-yet-able to drive my main mode of transport before the age of 17 was my trusty mountain bike. As soon as I had the use of my mother’s car, however, the bike stayed in the garage and the tyres stopped being topped-up with air. McDonald’s Drive-Thru’s was in! Cycling to a friend’s house to play Playstation was definitely out.

Upon returning to my parents’ house after my first year at university, however, I decided to ride up the Northumbrian coast, a trip of around 25 miles. When I got back to my parents’ I had to drag myself up the stairs to go in the shower. I can remember being half-way up the stairs on the phone to my then-girlfriend (now my wife) moaning that I’d used muscles that had evidently atrophied through lack of use. The moral of the story? Different activities use different muscles. Physicality is context-dependent.

This week I’ve been in a classroom environment whilst learning about PRINCE2 and have found the experience physically draining. It’s a magnified and time-compressed version of the situation I found myself when I started at JISC infoNet last year: sitting down for long periods of time requires a different stamina than other occupations. Teaching involves, or at least can involve, a range of physical movement that I took for granted.

It can be a different story for students, however. Traditional classrooms, with their constraints on movement and sometimes-random demands on attention, magnify issues around stamina and physicality. One thing extremely noticeable to me this week has been the amount of glare caused from hour after hour spent looking at Powerpoint slides featuring a white background. Granted, I suffer from migraines so the combination of fluorescent lighting and bright projectors isn’t great for me, but by the end of the week I was drinking strong coffee and popping ibuprofen and aspirin in preparation. No wonder many pupils arriving for lessons at the Academy I used to work would be downing energy drinks on their way in!

Counter-intuitively, then, it seems that to stay still for long periods of time can be more physically taxing than moving about often. Coupled with randomly-timed demands for attention (“What was the question?”) and artificial environments (bright lights, desks in rows, little movement) it’s no wonder that many young people decide to vote with their feet and do something more fun.

I’m still in formal education as an Ed.D. student at Durham University but it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a classroom environment where content is the focus and will be tested in an examination situation. Although this week’s course hasn’t been too bad, it’s reminded me of just how disempowering it was at school to be faced with random interruptions to learning. Whether because of poor behaviour, a pedant’s endless questioning or unspecified amounts of time for activities (and between breaks), traditional classroom learning is frustrating. I’m used to more ADHD-friendly environments.

What I’ve taken for granted in my adult life is being surrounded by good design as a consequence of deliberate choice. I spend money on the things I deem important. If I were (heaven forbid!) Head of a school the two things I’d be focusing on would be the physical environment and the diet of young people – two things that Michael Gove (UK Education Secretary) has no clue about. As Levitt and Dubner explain very well in Freakonomics, ‘people respond to incentives’. Modifying the physical environment is one of the easiest ways to Nudge people towards more effective learning.

Finally, and at the risk of pimping the (albeit free) resources of the organization for which I work, JISC infoNet has a number of infoKits, including one on Planning and Designing Technology-Rich Learning Spaces. This is in addition to Futurelab‘s excellent resources (such as the Thinking Spaces workshop resource). Definitely worth checking out.

Image CC BY-NC UK Defence Images

Things I Learned This Week #50

Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]

A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure

Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p



Productivity, Inspiration & Motivation

You probably only have to interrupt someone a couple times a day before they’re unable to work on hard problems at all. (Paul Graham)

  • Do you feel like you do ‘fake work’? Here’s how to spot it and deal with it.
  • Your job is a platform for what you do. So sayeth Seth Godin (with my blessing, obviously)

Education & Academic

[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas [1]. “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.

Data, Design & Infographics

  • And whilst we’re on the topic of superheroes, this minimalist poster of well-known characters is just fantastic:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-hlP8Ql384?rel=0&w=640&h=390]


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejbNVWES4LI?rel=0&w=640&h=510]

Why did people stop wearing hats?


In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)

The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

(more quotations at my quotabl.es page)

Main image CC BY auspices

Things I Learned This Week – #49


Offline this week I learned to fly direct and take only carry-on luggage where possible, that the UK is ridiculously underprepared for snow compared to other European countries, and that thrash metal isn’t as bad as you’d think… :-p

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JISC Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review

If you’re reading this via email, RSS or a non Flash-enabled device the embedded media probably won’t work. My presentation is on Slideshare and the mobile review is accessible at http://mobilereview.jiscpress.org. Alternatively click here to view this post on the blog. 🙂

Since starting at JISC infoNet in April 2010 I’ve worked on a OER infoKit and a learning and teaching upgrade to the Digital Repositories infoKit, both with the talented Lou McGill. Back in July I wrote a successful proposal to embark on a mobile and wireless technologies review for the JISC e-Learning programme. It grew to be a much larger piece of work than I envisaged, probably because I enjoyed researching and writing it so much! I’ve interviewed, met and read about wonderful people doing fantastic things in mobile learning.

I’ve now finished that review and it stands at about the same length as my MA dissertation. Wow. You can access various versions of the mobile and wireless technologies review via http://mobilereview.jiscpress.org or directly below (click to enlarge):

In addition, here’s a presentation I’m making to a JISC Review Board meeting today about my findings (you might want to view it on Slideshare with the notes on!)

I’d love to hear your feedback on the review, either here or at the JISCPress site. 😀

Things I Learned This Week – #48

taste of winter

Offline this week I learned to buy more bags of winter grit than I think I need, to do exercise even when it’s too slippery to go running outside, and that a bad seated posture can give you headaches. 😮

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