Connecting, Sharing and Caring with Open Badges

And reminding myself why I thought they were a great idea in the first place

Over the last couple of weeks I have delivered a few presentations about Open Badges. Each conference I’ve presented at has had slighly different aims:

  • D14 in Glasgow, focused on sharing educational thinking to inspire digital business
  • Crossover Edinburgh, focused on connecting educators with Human Resources professionals to share practice
  • The OU Symposium in Glasgow, focused on ‘Caring Roles:Learning Lives’ and considered how carers can be supported to manage full time caring roles whilst they are also participating in full time education

I spoke about how Open Badges could be used in each of those contexts and enjoyed each conference, coming away with new ideas and having made some great new connections. I think the most inspiring thing I took away though came from the OU Symposium. I attended a session by Sandy MacLean from the College Development Network, who showed videos of young carers who are juggling being full time carers, whilst attending college. The videos form part of a resource, called Enabling Student Carers, intended to help colleges consider the raft of challenges carers can face while trying to engage with education. The carers in these short videos eloquently expressed some of what they have to manage, which frankly, is quite mind-blowing. You can hear them here:

When asked to sum up at the end of the symposium, what I would take away from the event, I commented that it was the number of badges these carers should receive. Badges that could act as currency for them in a number of ways but also give them some well deserved recognition. Attributes or skills highlighted just from these short videos include:

  • Resilience
  • Attitude
  • Communication
  • Reliability
  • Problem solving / dynamic thinking
  • People skills
  • Responsibility
  • Time management
  • Stress management
  • Ability to juggle multiple commitments
  • Self-discipline
  • Self-direction
  • Empathy
  • Initiative
  • Grit

… amongst others. The first 7 attributes listed above mirror 7 out of the 8 most important attributes employers on the Industry Advisory Board for Computing at the University of the West of Scotland said they were looking for at a recent event I ran for the Jisc RSC Scotland with Tom Caira and Frances Rowan from UWS. Research around grit and resilience (eg by people like Carol Duckworth and Bonnie Bernard) show these are vital attributes for lifelong learning, growth and success and given the challenges these carers overcome on a daily basis, these are something these young carers seem to have in bucket loads.

Sadly, these young carers are also exhausted and we know that some carers are pushed to the point of contemplating suicide due to the responsibilities they have to manage. Many of them also seem to lack confidence in their abilities and they can lose sight of themselves because they are, in the words of one of the carers in the video ‘living one and a half lives’ – partly living the life of another through their caring role.

But where are these attributes and skills that these carers are developing being showcased? Who is helping these carers to recognise that they actually have or are developing these skills while they are caring for parents, siblings, neighbours?

For me, the opportunities to use Open Badges to recognise these attributes brings me back to what got me excited about Open Badges in the first place. This is a clear opportunity to use Open Badges to do something really useful and good. Badges could be used to:

  • Recognise the work carers are doing – which could be used to bolster their future employment options, particularly given they are developing exactly the kinds of attributes employers are saying they want
  • Help carers to recognise and articulate their own strengths – by receiving badges, what the carers are capable of can be made explicit which in turn could help them to build confidence in themselves and to connect with who they are
  • Hopefully give carers something they can use to help themselves after they have dedicated so much of their time to helping others
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