29 September 2013

OpenBadges Potential

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

CHALLENGE TWO: Define the Currency of an Ecosystem

Tania  a Spanish teacher in an Auckland (NZ) secondary, undertook a year long Professional Learning course. Her focus is on improving her classroom pedagogy and deepening her understanding of second language learning acquisition. A fluent Spanish speaker who has travelled extensively to Spain and South America before settling into work and family life, she has developed a love of all "things Spanish" and often refers to her experiences as a language learner to support her students' learning experience and help them empathize with others' culture and ways of doing things, the Language curriculum resting on developing language as well as intercultural competencies for the purpose of communication.
Tania, through experiencing with Task Based Learning with expert support during her course, now realizes the importance of assessment for learning, and of providing timely feedback and feedforward to support her students' next step in their learning. This practice helps her and her students manage the evaluation of the internally assessed standards. She initially felt she was assessing all the time but now she sees her students identify their next step more rapidly. Tania also realizes the importance of providing authentic learning opportunities to motivate her students' engagement and scaffold their language learning. By authentic she understands authentic for her students, learning that will serve them in real life. Tania connects "real life" to jobs using languages. She has coffee with Ian, in charge of the school's career program and they discuss where languages currently fit in career pathways, in connection with assessment standards and credits. As always, Languages are not prominently featured, and retaining students from one year to the next can prove difficult.  It is a timely conversation though:  Ian reminds her to focus on the skills involved in learning a language, such as communication and use of technology to access native speakers for instance, and how these skills, if made explicit, have huge currency for employability.
Tania prints the "Know your own skills" quick reference published by CareersNZ  and takes it to her Department meeting. This prompts the team to revisit the Key Competencies, the "capabilities for living and lifelong learning" as outlined in the NZC. The NZC states that Key Competencies ought to be kept track off continually, monitored rather than assessed. Her school has not explicitly identified a focus on these Competencies, and they have not always been at the forefront of her and her team's attention when developing their learning programs which are articulated around content knowledge.
Yet the deliberate crosschecking by the Language team of the Key Competencies and the employment skills reveals a wide range of common vocabulary. Tania undertakes to unpack the Key Competencies, break them down in more granular skills, especially around Managing Self and Participating and Contributing, which are two competencies that develop in the unfamiliar learning context of Spanish immersion learning:  Managing Self because students need to structure their portfolio of evidence, use a range of tools to produce this evidence and meet deadlines for submission. Participating and Contributing as students must practice to be understood, and interactions in Spanish require that they are both listeners and speakers.
Tania decides on a set a key words for each competence and uses them to label the resources and activities she has uploaded on her Moodle course. She decides that she is going to track how her students develop these particular competencies for a term, as well as draw students' attention to them explicitly in her teaching, making connections with the skills they will require in the workplace.

Abbi is close to making her choices for her subjects for her final year. She has considered more than once to drop Spanish. It is tough and it requires quite a lot of self study for her to complete her assignments. Managing deadlines for submitting portfolio pieces, alongside the volume of her activities in other subjects and out of school is difficult. She finds it hard too to communicate verbally in the target language unless she has learnt a piece off by heart. But through listening to her teacher's consistent use of formulaic phrases in the classroom, she is starting to build a repertoire for herself. She is reusing some of it quite successfully now and can even provide some feedback to her peers when they are working on a common task together. Neither of them can speak English in the classroom (or else, which is "enforced" in a friendly manner by her teacher!) so she is developing new strategies to communicate, sometime using gesture, or her laptop to look up phrases, practice saying them, and then use them when interacting with others. It is really what has been keeping her in the Spanish class that, the fact that tasks require that they work in small groups, assign roles and go and find a way together to solve the problem at hand. It is a nice change from her other academic subjects where she is doing a lot of writing. Verbal interactions are captured by way of videos too, so she and her friends can make good use of their smartphone. Feedback she receives regularly from her teacher helps her decide when she ought to give recording a go. She has now worked out how to upload her video files to her ePortfolio, and she has made good use of the forum function to first ask for help and now to give a few tips on how best to do it. Her teacher recently has started to talk about work skills, and as a class they have spent sometime deciding on a set of labels that describe what skills they are actually developing in class. Since she contributed to the list, she understands all of what these words mean. A girl in her class pointed out in the group forum that Miss was using these labels on Moodle activities. This leads the conversation to the use of tags when organizing evidence of learning in their portfolio. Abbi can see her tag cloud develop and the word "helping others" and "communicating" get bigger. Her teacher has noticed she has helped others in the ePortfolio system through posting replies in the group but also has observed that Abbi is showing peers tips to access good Spanish podcasts and other resources online.  Her teacher awards her a "helping others" badge that she pins on her lapel alongside her Captaincy badge and her Service to Charity badge. Moreover Abbi can identify these two skills are developing now and can relate to this as she has recently filled in a Careers Questionnaire which indicated that if she wanted to work in Early Childhood Education (something she is considering at this stage) these skills were important to foster. Upon reading her Spanish teacher's feedback on her latest assignment she realizes the "time management" word in her tag cloud is yet to appear: her dad has been moaning over dinner at how poor at time management some of the people he employs can be. She makes note to self to ensure she will meet the next deadline. Abbi has noticed her teacher has changed her approach to delivering her lessons. She is starting to get into the swing of self and peer assessment rather than always relying on her teacher to get to her. While she would not say she is taking risks with her learning, she understands from the feedback she gets regularly that she takes initiative and is curious to learn more. Abbi might well take Spanish next year, as she has gained confidence in her ability through persevering. Some practical skills acquired along the way are developing, and are made visible as her teacher makes them explicit in her lesson outlines but also through her tagging. Abbi is starting to see the relevance this subject has with what her life may have in store after school.

Greg notices Abbi's new badge on her lapel as he drives her to school. He congratulates his daughter and asks her how come she has been awarded it. To his surprise, as Abbi usually is quite vague when it comes to talk about school matters, Abbi launches into a list of what she has done to get it, and is quite eloquent when describing how she uses her ePortfolio system. Greg is surprised but suddenly realizes that school is actually preparing his daughter for the real world.

My attempt at a first visualisation
This story takes place in a secondary school (NZ) environment where most of the learning is happening face to face in a classroom setting, with only some elements of the course delivered digitally and some opportunities to use devices. Few connections between Learning Areas are made explicit to the learner. The potential to make the Key Competencies visible, traceable and "rewardable" is being explored and it could help with this.  The teacher is the assessor, she and her students are unpacking the Key Competencies together in their unique way, in their context. This teacher is "creating a mechanism to make students learning visible" (OpenBadges for Life Long Learning, p.3), in a formal context.  The Key Competencies are "future focussed, student centered and interconnected", and school is one of several environments where they can be gained.  To move from a 'Physical badge" system to an Openbadge system would further enhanced the interconnected nature of these competencies. But first of all, the system would need to be tested with other learning areas. It may be with the in school careers' program initially as students have the opportunity to identify a career journey. This would require that Tania took risks to continue her investigation through teaching as inquiry, was willing to share her ideas with colleagues (she is already working well with her Department) and was prepared to face ambient cynicism about change and new ideas. Secondly, it could bring to the fore that the badge can communicate information about the holder which could complement the NCEA qualifications. To that effect, it would be necessary to develop consistent, reliable and valid assessment activities with a determined success criteria to issue a badge, that is valid and recognized across the learning areas of the school. This could be tested by working in tandem with one other department at a similar year level for instance. MyPortfolio/Mahara as badge displayer with Moodle as issuer  would require more teachers and students jumped into the innovation bandwagon to make use of the learning systems available in the school. Badges would have more value if used school wide and recognized for what they represent. Schools have been in the business of issuing badges to recognize achievement outside of the classroom for a long time. What needs to be established is the specific skills they each represent, define a learning path (on and offline) to capture them, to ensure that the badges represent the development of the competencies. It is a dynamic process, a living record. Students have to see for themselves what is in it for them. That will motivate them to lead the development of their own Key Competencies and encourage them to seek opportunities to earn badges. If students recognize the value of badges for themselves and for the reputation of their peers, then there could lay the most potent strength of the system.


  1. Hi Pascale,wow! I'm thinking that must have taken you awhile to write. What a great concept. You have articulated it really well and have made it clear how open badges could be a success in a school environment. Imagine if we had something like the nation wide for the Key Competencies, how empowering would that be! I really like the idea of linking it across learning areas.There is often a disconnect in secondary schools between areas and to have something clearly connecting them, so students and parents (and teachers!) can see these connections would, I think, be positive.
    I would be keen to hear any future thoughts you have. We are getting Moodle 2.6 soon and I am looking forward to using badges. However, definitely need to look at good ways of implementing first.

    1. Hi Libby, thanks so much for stopping by and for your feedback. When I first came across OpenBadges, I thought Key Competencies straight away. I had sort of guessed your use of Moodle might extend to considering badges somewhere. I am coming in from my deep interest in ePortfolio. I see badges a bit as the cherry on the evidence cake! I am somewhat puzzled at the tech involved, but if you dont mind me nudging you at time as I progress in my discovery of what setting up a badge in a defined ecosystem might involved, I d gladly pick your brain. Cheers.

    2. Hey Pascale, nudge away! Although I'm not an expert on badges by a long shot. In return I would like to nudge you about ePortfolios, as you are a expert in that area and again at school we are looking to bring them in across the board soon. Cool!

    3. ePortfolio + badges indeed. Be in touch when you get to project digging/ planning!


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