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.
And you know what else? If I could choose an organisation to come up with an alternative system, I’d entrust a non-governmental international organisation that had demonstrated its non-profit and open credentials to drive things forward. Kind of like Mozilla, then. But you’d also need big-hitters and a backer credible with educators. Step forward HASTAC, the US Department of Education and NASA.
It’s now or never. As a father of two children under five, I passionately want something different in place for my children going forward. I think this is the only chance for changing educational assessment radically before my children become adults.
If you’re involved with education at any level you know how much assessment drives learning. Whether we’re talking about intrinsic or extrinsic motivation relating to badges, we can all agree of the importance of getting something out of learning experiences. Something that shows what you know. That’s why I think badges are perfect for MOOCs, for example.
But it’s no good sitting on the sidelines. I’m off to the Mozilla Festival today to meet more people involved in the #openbadges project and, hopefully, Mark Surman (CEO of Mozilla) to discuss his proposal for a web literate planet. What can YOU do? Well, there’s $2 million of (international) competition money available for a range of things relating to badges:
I encourage educators to get involved in the content competition, identifying the types of content may suit badges. Closing date: 14 November 2011
I encourage researchers (faculty members and students alike) to get involved in the research competition to establish a sound theoretical basis for badges. Closing date: 28 November 2011
I encourage designers and coders to get involved in the design competition to implement the technologies required for a badge infrastructure. Closing date: 12 January 2012
As I’ve explained recently, the world doesn’t change in and of itself: it takes human agency to do so. Are you going to step up and help move things forward?
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.
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:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to people from Mozilla, HASTAC and DML Central about badges for learning and, I have to say, I’m rather excited at the potential. Imagine a system where informal and peer-to-peer accredited in an open way. Amazing.