20 September 2013

Meet Abbi

MOOC "Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials" - Understanding the Open Badges Ecosystem and Building a Badge System

CHALLENGE ONE: Define a Current Ecosystem.
Consider an industry or community of practice where you anticipate that badges could have a positive impact
       Meet Abbi. Abbi is quickly coming to her seventeenth birthday, with mixed feelings about leaving school. She lives in Takapuna, north of Auckland New Zealand. She started college in brand new buildings 4 years ago. Abbi is in year 12 now, and in a year's time in December she will have to have decided what she wants to do next. Abbi does not mind going to school, even if sometimes the 5 lessons a day get in the way of all the other things she really wants to do. She is quite athletic, and with the school' s soccer team training in winter and the surf life saving club in summer, she keeps fit.  Abbi's efforts in both disciplines are often celebrated, as her soccer team came first of their division this season under her captaincy, and she has received many a trophy already for her surfing ability. Abbi is a popular girl with a good group of friends and she often signs them up as a team for charity events, organized both at school and the community. Her goal this year is to get the largest team to raise money for CanTeen, since her team only came second last year and missed on the "big prize"! She knows she needs to draw on her organizational skills as well as on her time management to pull this off this year: her part time job at the local supermarket is now taking up 10 hours a week. She needs to save up as much as she can for when she leaves school, should it be for university or training or maybe a gap year.  Abbi is busy. She goes from one lesson to the next with long to do lists of assignments deadlines for her 6 different subject areas. Most of her NCEA standards  being assessed internally, she has to compile a portfolio of evidence over the course of the year, culminating to selecting the best pieces for final submissions. Her teachers are on the whole pretty helpful and keen to support her but she finds she needs constant help with unpacking the achievement objectives. Above all the sheer volume of what needs to be produced for each of her courses puts her under pressure. Abbi does not actually have neither the time, nor is she regularly offered the incentive to step back and consider and reflect on her learning. She wants to achieve with Excellence as her mum keeps telling her that it will give her more options for after school. While she has overall above average literacy and numeracy, she gets little feedback in the way of the skills she is developing through managing all of this coursework, participating in all the extra curricular activities . She is also considering going back to handing her work in written form since her teacher, while providing positive oral feedback on her creativity, found it hard to assess the cartoon strip she designed with an online tool and presented as evidence towards her History credits via her ePortfolio.  Abbi is concerned mainly by getting school work done, rather than how she is getting it done.

        Meet Tania. She is Abbi's Spanish teacher. Tania is in her early 30s and likes her job. The school environment is pleasant, she has been here for three years now and has built a good rapport with her colleagues and her students, who respect her. She likes the area, her young family and partner live nearby, and they can enjoy the proximity of the ocean year long. Tania has had to change a lot to her teaching since she started ten years ago. The New Zealand Curriculum was implemented in 2007, and was quite a departure from the previous documents. This fairly slim document intends to be a holistic guide to all New Zealand schools to review their own curriculum and align it with the firmly student centered vision of the National document. Tania has been involved from the outset to grasp all of its intent, based on community engagement, learning to learn, and future focus. She is experimenting with her teaching, and has moved away from the painstakingly crafted units of work she used to base all her teaching on.  She is making some use of the School Moodle where she posts resources for her students to access. She'd like to use it more as she sees the potential but she has also undertaken a year long Professional Learning course which aims to accompany her pedagogical evolution towards a task based approach to teaching and learning. Tania uses the teaching as inquiry cycle to ensure her teaching meets the learning needs of her students. Tania is busy. She has a range of classes and responsibility for her learning area. She knows she could engage in her inquiry with more depth. Tania does not actually have neither the time, nor is she offered the incentive to step back and consider and reflect on her learning as a teacher. She also knows that deadlines for the high stake NCEA assessment are always looming. Despite having been aligned to the New Zealand Curriculum, offering students a more personalized and individualized pathway to achievement, the managing of portfolio of evidence proves very tricky and imply students taking "more ownership of their learning". Tania witnesses that all of her students are also getting to grip with their new responsibility, and the response varies greatly according to their level of engagement. Plus, Tania is intent on getting good grades, as the overall image of her Faculty and of her school, will be reflected on the results. To maintain her students' level of success, as measured by the tests, she is putting on the back burner discovering with them what online tools they could use to produce work, and her students, while they BYOD, use their device mainly for research, word-processing or sharing a googledoc and sometime use language learning apps. Tania feels she "does" teaching to her students while she wishes she could do more to get them to make sense of their own learning, as intended by the NZC. She also knows that the Key Competencies too often slips under her and her students' radar. When she stops and considers, she knows they ought to be the common language across all learning areas, as they encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. Tania knows too that these competencies are for teachers, learners and anyone beyond the school community.

        Meet Greg. Greg owns a medium size business, based on hydraulic engineering. He still drops his daughter Abbi at school in the morning: she can sleep in a bit longer if she rides with him rather than bus it. He has an engineering qualification and his business, thanks to a recent contract with a Chinese manufacturer, is doing quite well. Greg has been in the area for twenty years and benefits from the import/export activity generated by the Port of Auckland, the most active in the country.  Greg typically employs between 25 to 30 people. He would like this to stabilize but the lower skill employees come and go, often at the drop of a hat. He has also found it hard to find suitable match to join his management team, as he is often left disappointed that the qualification and veneer presented on the resumé does not convert into workplace skills once hired. Overall, he finds critical thinking and problem solving skills, often coupled with below par communication skills, are sorely missing. Greg is busy. He needs to travel to get more work. Competition from cheaper countries is a constant threat. While he knows he ought to do something to invest in the professional development of his employees to retain them and also to support them gain more quickly the skills he views are essential, he needs to invest in other areas first. Greg always wonders what the kids really learn at school. 

These descriptions showcase there are some good bases on which to dream a badge system development in New Zealand.

Here comes the not so distant future:

Abbi will start gaining badges, hopefully Openbadges, identifying and showcasing her sporting and community engagements and successes, issued by the reliable institutions that are offering these opportunities. Those institutions will find badges a natural digital extension to the cups, badges and certificates they already issue.  She will display them on her ePortfolio (MyPortfolio powered by Mahara, available to all New Zealand schools as SaaS) which won't be the rather dry venue where she has only been collected her speaking and writing evidence for Spanish. She will see her achievements accumulate. Abbi will start to engage in keeping a more consistent record of her learning, and possibly seek more opportunities to earn badges.  Or, why not, start issuing some to her friends when they achieve the Canteen challenge?
Through seeing the badges displayed on Abbi's portfolio profile, and engaging in conversation with her about their significance, not only will Tania get to know her student just that little bit more, but also will start thinking how she will herself issue badges. Not only it would get her to look more deeply into Moodle functionalities, she has always wanted to do to spend more time on that, but it will also be a way to finally evidence the Key Competencies in a concrete, visible, understandable manner: students getting expandable badges for essentials skills they progress on, but also for the aptitudes and competences they develop. Issuing badges credentialing time management, intercultural competence, communication skills... Tania is getting very exciting at the prospect! The visual badge would go a long way in materializing the complexity of each of these concepts, the task is now to be break them down in simple manageable steps.
When Greg reads Abbi's report inviting him to view Abbi's eportfolio, as she has not had the time to show him her badges, he will discover the Openbadges Abbi has been collecting and the competencies she has developed. Greg will relate to the vocabulary being used in the description, as these are the very things he wishes to see his employees develop or at least articulate. Short of thinking he could build badge issuing into the professional development plan he is currently considering to offer to retain his employees, he understands the value the Openbadges would bring to the interview table, or better still, prior to that as he selects the resumés. Greg  will start to see that kids in New Zealand schools really learn to learn at school.

I would argue that the New Zealand strong sport and service community coupled with a forward thinking education system offers, in appearance, a fertile ecosystem where there could be a multitude of opportunities to try and build a Badge System with a concerted approach. The next challenges will definitely allow to dive more deeply in the complexity of what it entails.

Pascale Hyboud-Peron
20th September 2013


  1. Maybe this badge idea is just the way to get buy in from all and sundry. The mousewheel description of both the student's and teacher's life serves to emphasise the challenges inherent in a shift of mindset. I think the time to step back and reflect is absolutely vital, otherwise things blunder on with no-one really facing the important 'why' question.
    At the moment I consider myself to be in a 'fallow' period and am trying to concentrate on Guy Claxton's learning dispositions (particularly 'resilience' and 'empathy') in order to keep my head above water. If it has done nothing else, this year has provided a confirmation of all the difficulties encountered in the educational sphere. If one works in a demoralised and demoralising, assessment-driven environment, where parents leap to the defence of their children and lodge complaints the moment they're challenged to consider their learning in new ways, it is easy to feel stymied and in the wrong. The challenge is to stay true to the NZC when the students and parents are saying 'just get us the credits'.
    Guy Claxton's Magnificent 8 qualities stare down at me from my wall every day but how can one encourage students to develop these dispositions?
    It has to be a school-wide commitment, I feel. When most of the school community are of the opinion that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', a few teachers trying to effect change are likely to be swamped by the status quo. As my daughter said, in this particular environment of relative privilege where the status quo has generally served them pretty well, there is no real incentive for change.
    I hope the badge idea takes off. It's a good one.

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    1. What interests me most about OpenBadges, is the "crowdsourcing approach" the Mozilla foundation has adopted to spread the word. I wished there was a silver bullet to ensure mindsets moved faster... I am not sure Badges will be it, but I like the fact they extend and to maybe simplify ePortfolios. So far Openbadges have been issued in online environments, that is the prerequisite is active online participation, one way or another. I suppose I would like to find a way they represented skills, interests, aptitudes not just online but in any environment. It too needs a concerted approach and a willingness from all parties to do things differently. It is not a given!
      'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentality is easy to adopt and hard to let go of. It's everywhere, just have a look at the campaigns for the local elections at the moment!

  3. Hi Pascal, a nice cross section of the teacher/learner/parent relationship and how badges can be adopted at school level. They are adaptable and as Ruth says the 'buy in' from all stakeholders is the key. There are many levels where they can (will) be adopted from the top for qualifications and awards where the issuer is the examination board. They can also be school wide for extra curricular and pastoral awards where the educational institute is the issuer. Both of these are top down and would drive the implementation and credibility of OpenBadges which is need as an incentive for students to display them.

    There always be the bottom up approach from enthusiastic teachers!

    1. Thanks Pete for your insight. I had a bit of an twitter exchange this week that started "NCEA and openbadges!" Right now it reads a bit sci fi but... I understand the point you are making regarding credibility and validity that is who the issuer is and what sort of data is the badge representing. This is something I am going to dwell on a bit further for the next challenge that consists of adding an assessor and a badge to the ecosystem i described above. I believe the assessor will be the teacher. I see badges as a neat visualisation of the learning conversations arising from assessment for learning. Ultimately though I can see a potential for peer to peer badges that can enhance one's reputation gain traction too. Thanks again Pete for making the time to stop by.


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