Skilling me softly


Feather 1 by Jim Champion. From Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Recently industry, community groups and informal learning providers have come together to research and advocate for more investment in soft skills development. The group has produced the Backing Soft Skills report, which highlights the importance of soft skills to the (UK) economy:

“soft skills contribute £88 billion to the UK economy today – with this contribution predicted to increase to £109 billion during the next five years.”

via McDonald’s Backing Soft Skills.

Inviting educational institutions to work with them, the group are aiming to embed soft skills development in educational practices. In discussions I’ve had with higher education institutions globally over the past year, there seems to be an increasing interest in recognising soft skills. Clearly, given my interest in Open Badges, discussions have often revolved around this, sometimes because I’ve been specifically invited to discuss them in this context and sometimes because discussions have just ended up on this topic as a highly relevant way to evidence soft skills.

Implementing Open Badges can help to begin a discussion around soft skills, which may be couched in terms of employability skills, additional skills, character attributes etc. After a presentation I gave this week on Open Badges at the University of Stirling, various areas of application were discussed, such as using Open Badges to recognise:

  • The voluntary work of Class Reps, who develop a range of skills around communication, negotiation, leadership
  • The skills developed by 4th year students who teach and mentor students in 1st year
  • Graduate attributes – attributes the University thinks graduates will need for work
  • Additional skills highlighted via the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), which might include volunteering, awards etc.

One of the Backing Soft Skills report’s findings, is that employees can often struggle to articulate their soft skills. This chimes with research that underpinned the Mozilla Discovery project, which investigated badge-based pathways to employment. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of working on that project was how the process of engaging with the badge ecosystem could be used to help people identify their strengths, including hard and soft skills, in order to discover their intrinsic motivators. This knowledge can be useful as it can help people to make better choices about possible career or learning pathways, based on things they would enjoy as well as be good at. This in turn can have a positive impact on employers or educators because they would be engaging with people who were intrinsically motivated by their job or studies and so more likely to demonstrate resilience in overcoming challenges and stay the course to a given destination point. Clearly a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce will have a positive impact on the economy.

A recent example of the link between Open Badges and the ability to articulate skills was highlighted to me by the team developing Open Badges at Abertay University. They commented that the process of gaining Open Badges for soft skills or personal attributes has had the effect of helping their students to better understand their competencies and how they have demonstrated them. This has provided the students with the confidence to talk about their strengths, backed up by tangible and ready-to-hand examples, which they can use in competency based job interviews.

The Backing Soft Skills research and report adds further weight to existing efforts to implement processes and practices for developing and capturing soft skills. One of the key reasons for the development of the Open Badges specification was to capture and evidence soft skills and personal attributes that are not explicitly recognised through formal qualifications, and this alongside other ways they can aid in soft skills articulation, suggests to me that Open Badges will have an increasingly important role to play in the employment and education spheres.

Creating a Culture of Openness – Pilots to Policy to Prosperity

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve attended a number of events on open education, open credentialing (focusing on Open Badges), innovation and prosperity. In the process I have come across a number of examples of excellent practice, frustration at barriers to the creation of a culture of openness and the importance of culture to create prosperity.

Starting with how open digital credentialing can help to highlight student achievement beyond academic qualifications and aid employability, at the Scottish Blackboard User Group staff from the University of Edinburgh and Abertay University discussed their Open Badge projects ….

The University of Edinburgh

The Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) has developed a comprehensive badge framework to recognise the work and skills gained by Class Reps. Class Reps demonstrate a number of skills in the course of their duties that are sought by employers (see a previous blog post on skills employers seek for some examples), relating to communication, people and problem solving skills etc. The badges EUSA have created range from those that are used to recognise specific skills to badges signifying involvement in the Student Staff Liaison Committee and an over-arching Class Rep badge. Myles Blaney explained that students must submit a blog post, reviewed by a EUSA staff member, as evidence for their badge.

The reasons for developing the badges were to provide a portable and versatile digital credential that could be shared online, including on professional profile sites such as LinkedIn, to highlight the range of skills Class Reps develop to recruiters. The badges can also be used as stepping stones to the Edinburgh Award for Representing Students, as evidence for the 50+ hours of voluntary work Class Reps do each year.

This use of Open Badges seems a good example of how badges can also be used for more than just recognition of achievement but for other outcomes, such as to promote reflective practice (through the use of blog posts for evidence). The badges were all created by members of the EUSA, which would have required deep engagement with digital assessment practices, prompting thought on what is and should be assessed, how to evidence and assess in a fair way and how to manage that process. It seems to me these skills could help students have a clearer appreciation of requirements for their own assignments as well as helping them recognise their skills and attributes beyond academic ones.

Abertay University

Abertay University have been using a range of Open Badges, to showcase activities that can count towards the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR). The HEAR provides a transcript of a student’s achievements while at university, including things like awards, volunteering, being a Class Rep etc. Carol Maxwell and Deborah Farley described how they have been aligning badges to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF), which is Scotland’s national qualifications framework, used to level formal and informal learning. They have created badges which represent a notional 10 hours of effort, the same learning time specified for one SCQF credit point.

Carol and Deborah commented, however, that they are considering if stipulating 10 hours of effort for every badge will provide the flexibility they need or whether they might become more granular with their badges. They also remarked that badges have proven to be a useful tool for helping students to visualise their interests and skills and to provide case studies of what they have achieved. They felt that this could help students with job interviews, particularly competency based ones, by providing students with tangible examples of what they had to do to gain a badge that recognised a particular competency.

ALT Scotland

At a recent ALT Scotland event on Open Education, with a focus on policy, discussion focused on how we move from pockets of excellent open practice to a culture of openness.

University of Dundee

Natalie Lafferty discussed skills developed by students developing Open Educational Resources (OERs) that are used within the medical curriculum at the University of Dundee. Through the process of co-creating the curriculum, students have been learning about multi-media design, learning design, usability testing, copyright and developing a range of other skills, which Open Badges have helped to showcase. You can find out more about this great example of teaching, learning and open practice here…

Pilots to policy?

The above examples were self-contained initiatives and not representative of institution wide uptake of open digital credentialing but according to the presenters, feedback has been positive and there are plans to continue and extend use. I wonder if we will move to more institutional approaches however.

Lorna Campbell, who initiated and led the development of the Open Scotland Declaration, and Marion Kelt, who developed the OER policy for Glasgow Caledonian University both spoke at the ALT Scotland event about some of the challenges involved in moving an open education initiative towards policy. A lack of a clear sense of ownership of the open agenda appears to cause blockages, so knowing who to go to in order to move from pockets of practice to a clear mission can be difficult. However, in the case of Glasgow Caledonian University’s OER policy, this has been achieved and the Open Scotland Declaration appears to be gaining ground, with interest expressed by some of those attending and facilitating another recent event, Innovation and Prosperity in Scotland, organised by Nesta and the Economic Development Association Scotland (EDAS).

Creating a Culture of Openness

Check the #ScotlandCanDo twitter feed from the 23d June 2015 for information about some of the great talks and discussion around creativity and how to re-invigorate the wealth of a nation (in both human and financial terms) through education and innovation. The Innovation and Prosperity in Scotland event was thoughtfully and expertly facilitated by Pat Kane and I particularly enjoyed talks by Juan José Ibarretxe, former President of the Basque Country, and Professor Irene McAra-McWilliams from Glasgow School of Art. A common theme throughout the day was the importance of culture… something which a well presented policy can help to promote, by giving people the awareness of what is encouraged, possible, and in some instances, what they won’t be reprimanded for doing.

A point was made at a discussion on OERs hosted by Terry McAndrew from the Higher Education Academy that I attended on the same day, that many people don’t want to share their resources in case someone steals their work. As that pioneer of innovation in education and one of the founders of the Scottish Enlightenment, Francis Hutcheson reminds us though, altruism is linked to self-interest – so by sharing we are also promoting our work and ourselves. Something that MIT benefited from when they released hundreds of their courses as open educational resources years ago. Perhaps it’s not such a surprise then that they now make more money from their t-shirt sales than they do from their spin-off companies.

Openness = Prosperity? What do you think?

Horizon Higher Education Report 2015 and Badges

The Horizon Higher Education 2015 Report has been published today. The last couple of years’ reports have contained mentions of Open Badges as key trends so I wanted to see how badges were referenced this time. As I am also now working with DigitalMe, focusing on Open Badges in HE and adult learning, I was interested to see where some of my work might be focused.

It seems badges are perhaps now seen as more embedded in key higher education trends given how they are referred to in relation to other developments.

Badges are mentioned throughout the report in the context of:

Open Education Resources (OERs) (Mid-Term Trend: Driving Ed Tech adoption in higher education for three to five years). A report from the University of South Africa, the Open Educational Resources Strategy 2014-2016 found that emerging technologies such as Open Badges and MOOCs are disrupting traditional revenue models for universities and that these, as well as other OERs, could help a re-focus from content delivery to improved services.

Blending formal and informal learning (Solvable Challenge). The ePortfolios and Open Badges Maturity Matrix is mentioned in terms of leadership and a possible framework to use to inform current and future practice around ePortfolios and Open Badges use. A post about the matrix in Learning Futures provides background to its development.

Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education (Learning Technologies). Badges / microcredits are listed as an important development alongside learning analytics, MOOCs and open content amongst others.

So badges seem to be seen as an integral part of emerging practice in higher education. Watch this space!

Ignoring the Instructions and the Learning Comfort Blanket

If like me, you never read the instructions (until you’ve got into a mess and it’s absolutely necessary), you might enjoy @derekrobertson’s…: If Vygotsky played Minecraft… on the benefits of learners setting the agenda for their learning rather than following someone else’s instructions.Learning comfort blanket

Robertson focuses on children learning but I feel what he says resonates with adult learning too. In jobs that have required me to deliver pre-set (technology-related) training with adults, I have often found I’m in a race to get out of the way of their learning and have sometimes wondered why I’m even there, other than as a kind of learning comfort blanket. On the whole, the participants are happy exploring and my attempts to demonstrate anything often lag behind this exploration. I answer questions but even then, the participants will often answer them for themselves in the process of articulating them. I perhaps sometimes speed up their exploration in a ‘phone a friend’ type way, by maybe explaining the mechanics of a process or a more efficient way of approaching something but on the whole the participants will have their own agendas and objectives for how they will use what they are learning, which dictates their priorities and discovery. So imposing a rigid structure seems counter-intuitive.

I think this is why I am so drawn to the possibilities provided by Open Badges to open up learning and assessment. Competency based credentialling, that can be applied at micro or macro levels, seems to provide an opportunity for this kind of exploratory learning, where learners determine the instructions for their learning and assessment, as they go along.

This does perhaps raise and build on questions around:

  • The purpose of the teacher
  • How we structure learning
  • How we assess learning that has not been pre-defined

As learners develop their own learning pathways, meandering through ideas, activities and networks, wouldn’t it be great, if they could earn recognition for that learning as they go? I hope this is something that could develop as Open Badges developments grow. The Badge Alliance has created a great timeline of Open Badges developments in 2014, which highlights some of the projects and possibilities that are being explored.

The Year is Wide Open

Mozilla Monument San FranciscoHappy New Year!

A new year is always a good time for evaluation and a fresh start. It’s also exciting to see existing developments continue to grow.

One of the areas of development I am still very much involved in and believe will continue to grow in 2015 is digital credentialling, and in particular, the open standard for this, Open Badges. With apparently 12,000 sign-ups each day for the student profile platform MyEdu, which supports Open Badges, the use of digital credentials to showcase achievements and engage with employers seems likely to rise throughout 2015.

Organisations like DigitalMe in the UK are continuing to use badges in active learning programmes, to help students demonstrate skills as well as to gain a sense of their learning journey and other achievements they can build towards

I’m hopeful that Open Badge developments in the public, private and voluntary sectors in Scotland will also continue to grow this year.

I had the good fortune at the end of last year to finally visit the Mozilla Monument in San Francisco and hunt for my name amongst the other Mozillians working to keep the web open. I do hope Open Education and an open web will continue to be priorities in 2015.

Competency-Based Education and Open Badges

The past few weeks have seen a few exciting developments for Open Badges. In June, and in response to recommendations of the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG), the UK Minister for Skills commented that educational agencies and awarding bodies should be actively looking at the opportunities offered by ‘Open Badges in the areas of peer assessment, employer partnership, learning analytics and the engagement of learners’

Discussions on how Open Badges could benefit the areas mentioned above and a range of other educational opportunities in Scotland, have been taking place via the Open Badges in Scottish Education Group (OBSEG) I set up with the RSC Scotland, over the past year. This group brings together many Scottish educational institutions, agencies, employers, student groups and the national awarding body to consider how this form of digital credentialling could enhance learning and accreditation. Members of the group, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), made a commitment to investigating how they could use Open Badges in 2013, and it is likely this will initially include badges for Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) for SQA qualifications and recognition of Continual Professional Development (CPD) of SQA staff.

The SQA have also been working with Education Scotland and educational practitioners on a new competency-based education system, implemented in Scottish schools this year, Curriculum for Excellence. This curriculum recognises that learning happens everywhere and aims to support learners develop skills for learning, work and life through the development of four capacities: successful learners; confident individuals; responsible citizens; effective contributors. It is acknowledged that Open Badges could be a good fit for recognising the wider range of an individual’s attributes and strengths, as well as academic achievements, such a competency-based system can allow.

Given this Scottish backdrop and as I am about to commence a new role with Blackboard, I was pleased that Blackboard also recently made a strong commitment to investigating competency-based education and badges. They are collaborating with the American Council on Education to undertake research into a competency-based approach and the use of digital badges to record achievements.

Interesting developments and I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress over the coming year. Finally, the Open University have also published an intriguing post for a Senior Producer Accreditation and Assessment, to drive a programme of accreditation for informal learners. Great opportunity for implementing Open Badges…