‘Non-traditional’ learning (for higher education)…portfolios and badges

Cool dude with a badgeThe projects that I work on aren’t really projects in the technical sense.  I like to think of them more as adventures into the unknown.  They have a beginning and an end, but they don’t stick to specific milestones.  Nothing is rigid and the work I am doing involves people, which means that anything can happen, particularly within higher education. However, I do get results, or rather ‘they’ do get results.  This isn’t about me, it is about the students and how they manage their university experience. I am interested in how they bring together all the experiences that they have at university and how these translate into skills that they can use.

A way of capturing all of this is through ePortfolios combined with Badges.  You need both.  Yes, yes, you do.  The portfolio represents a bigger version of everything that the student is involved in, the badges are the specific sets of skills or activities, based around evidence, that capture what their contribution was.

Badges + portfolios = 3D student/person 

This balance of skills and context provides a lovely way of demonstrating who the student/person is, and what they have contributed to their activities.  I’m finding that students don’t just enjoy creating the portfolios, they are gaining confidence, they are able to articulate their experiences and they can see what they have achieved (as well as how they have grown) and are guided by their tutors through sets of Badges.  Examples of the work of the iChamps who have been working alongside academics to bring digital skills to life show this very well:

Charlie Cosstick

Ursula Grover

Courtney Rowan

Clarissa Chay

Rebekah Kulidzan (now at LSE)  

The use of Pathbrite combined with Badges is a project that will end in July 2017.   This has been applied with Geography and soon, Social Sciences students.   I’m supporting more and more interest in this combination of development and digital literacies skills as we move forward with this project but I hope that when it ends, that we can use this model to enhance more educational and research experiences in this innovative way.

Another good thing from Scotland – Badges (yay)


Things I love about Scotland:

  1. Lovely people
  2. Edinburgh with the CRA in June was beautiful. So much culture.
  3. I love that they wanted to stay in the EU.
  4. They rock Badges.

I was looking for resources about Badges for the session I am running tomorrow with UG students from Geography.  I gave the talk last year but this year I wanted to show the students what their Badge would look like and who else was issuing Badges.  Last year, I could tell them about IBM, Samsung, City & Guilds and the NHS.  I thought there must be more and there are.  I discovered a wonderful site from the Scottish Social Services Council.  Not only can you be issued a Badge through their site, but there is a webinar about Badges (and not just for Social Services practitioners) covering all aspects from what is a Badge, how they can be used, how to issue and even how to future proof your service.  The webinar is a full 60 minutes but there is so much information and if you listen to the whole thing you can get a Badge.  This is not a trivial, motivational use, in order to get the badge I need to say what I learnt from the webinar and how I will use it in my organisation. It made me think and listen.  Awesome.

What (one thing*) I learnt from the webinar

It was refreshing to hear from an organisation with a practical, real-world use of open badges.  In particular, my key takeaways are around usage and application.  Robert Stewart sets out clearly how Badges (with evidence) can be used to evaluate events.  I really liked the Bronze, Silver and Gold attendance badges.  If you attended you get the Bronze (thats the hook to get you to see what a badge is) Silver attendance is what did you learn and plans for action, as well as sharing; Gold – having attended the conference or event, what have you done in your organisation.  Then you have evidence of action as a direct consequence of your event and not via a survey but with evidence.  It made my heart sing!

What I plan to do

I am going to take the idea forward of sharing.  There is huge interest in the use of Badges to engage academically. In particular co-curricular activities and I will ask people that when they gain their badges to share what they have done. I really liked the use of # in the naming of the Badges.  This also ties in with ePortfolios (inspired by Katie Coleman) where the evidence is part of a bigger picture of the online identity of the person.

The application has been submitted!

*I have a whole bunch of ideas but I need to digest all the things I have realised as I was listening, including format of presentation, resources etc

Everybody wants some (digital literacies skills)

Digital literacies (Fiona talking about them)
Hmm…digital literacies anyone?

We had a fantastic conference on March 8th, ‘Open Badges in HE’ (I wanted to call it BadgeCon but there you are) at the University of Southampton. Over 150 people attended in person, and 100 online, from around the world.  We were very fortunate to have both the UK and US perspectives on education using Open Badges with our keynotes, Doug Belshaw and Carla Casilli.  Both highly respected in the badge and education world, so it was a real honour to have them talk to us about the application and implementation of open badges in higher education.  We have captured a lot of what went on during the day via Storify and the iChamps are blogging about it.  It’s always after the event that the real conversations get started and I have already been talking to a range of people across the university and beyond, interested in how they might implement badges into their own practice.  It got me thinking about how everything that I am involved in revolves around digital literacies skills and competences.

In the last few months since I wrote my last blog post I have been here there and everywhere, but the underlying theme of the work I do, the research I undertake and the conferences I speak at, have always been digital literacies.  The importance of being able to work, live and learn effectively cannot be understated and I always bring it back to that one area.  Don’t ask people to run before they can walk.  If you are interested in implementing new curriculum support your staff and your students (or your customers and employees) to inform themselves of the concepts of digital literacies. Why is this important?  Don’t just assume they can or they know how to use hashtags, or that they will grasp concepts if they are not engaged in the global world.  I’m trying nor to use the phrase 21st Century skills (its 2016 folks) we have entered that space.

So, before you think about implementing a new concept or idea think digital literacies.  What are they?  Many before and after me will write reams about what they mean but essentially it is about communicating, creating, collaborating and critical thinking, with a bit of citizenship thrown in (lots of C’s).  Being digital literate isn’t a state that you will arrive at and tick a box saying ‘complete’.  It is something that is forever moving forward and is part of the life long learning set of skills, bring on the key phrases around agility and flexibility, being rigid and inflexible isn’t going to be an enabler to becoming effective  and efficient in a global world.


Do you like Cheese? Polls for the masses – Twitter gets interactive

“Do you like Cheese?” one question on everyones lips.  I knew that they were coming but wasn’t sure when, then over the weekend, I saw a Tweet via @EricStoller who drew my attention with his tweet poll.

I’d seen the links to Twitter Polls but not been able to do this myself (it wasn’t available) but then they arrived over the weekend. The first problem, what question to ask? I’ve been working with academic teams who have tonnes of questions that they wanted to ask their students, but I had nothing. Seems like I wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of tweets that reminded me of the early days of twitter.  The equivalent of the “What are you doing?”  prompts that create typical responses, hence the “Do you like Cheese?” question, always my goto question when I don’t know what to ask.

I pulled in a collection of responses here: TwitterPolls

I think these will pass and in particular, having asked my own question on the use of Open Badges, there were a couple of things that struck me.

  1.  Your networks are even more important now.  Following people on twitter that are like minded, or have something useful to contribute will mean that any question you ask will get better results.
  2. Engagement – through the one question on open badges I had responses from people that I wasn’t aware were interested.  My one and only qualitative response from the British Museum wouldn’t have happened, had I not asked that question.  It seems to me that the more interesting the questions the better the engagement.
  3. It’s not just for brands.  Of course, social media marketing gurus will see the potential and there is nothing wrong with that,  if you are following people that just push information at you then you probably should have a think about what you are trying to get from your networks.
  4. Education wise – have a poll for feedback on the session; who would you vote for?; What is more important?;  Is this answer right or wrong?;  the possibilities are endless.  Unfortunately, the customisation options are limited but that will improve.
  5. Value:  What is the value of the question?  Think about your responses and what you can do with it.  For in session discussion?  It won’t replace polling software like Socrative or Poll everywhere but it could be a good way of experimenting with this type of interactivity with students.
  6. Use images and other twitter usernames and hashtags in your question if you are trying to get a wide coverage.  That could stimulate further questions and could open up questions that you hadn’t thought about.
  7. Don’t over use it.  Golden rule: Everything in moderation.

Exploring ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’

Teaching in a Digital Age - Tony BatesI came across this wonderful open access book from Tony Bates ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’ I am still reading it but it is so completely relevant to the agenda for many of us that I had to share my thoughts here.  There are twelve sections all relating to aspects of online educational practice, from blended learning to Moocs there is something here for everyone.  One thing that I really like is that this book has made me think much more about digital literacies and their place in higher education.  I am particularly focussed on developing digital literacies skills at the University of Southampton and have been working with student iChamps to support this agenda.  I’ve noticed though that it is not necessarily a requirement to be ‘digitally minded’ to be effective online.   That term ‘being effective online’ probably is redundant anyway as so much of life is conducted through the web that it is an expectation and not an exception.  But then Tony nailed it when he talks in the first chapter of the skills for the 21st century.  These are not what I always considered them to be, solely digital literacies,  but skills that allow for the rapid pace of change in a knowledge society.  In this chapter he presents the Conference Board of Canada’s set of skills:

  • Communication skills
  • the ability to learn independently
  • ethics and responsibility
  • teamwork and flexibility
  • thinking skills
  • digital skills
  • knowledge management

Of course, all of the above have always been desirable but the task now is to map this set of skills to digital effectiveness.  This is something our students are already working on in collaboration with my colleague, Jane Stephenson from the University of Southampton Library senior leadership team and something that we can work into our new strategy.  The book is rich resource of evidence based practice and research that leads you onto a path of discovery for so many ideas around the online space.  I highly recommend it and look forward to discovery nuggets of inspiration that can enable me to support our online activities at Southampton.

Stopping and Thinking at the #CRAResidential2014

I’m up in Birmingham (Aston University) with the Centre for Recording Achievement for their Annual residential conference.  There seems to be a lot of reflection going on, and in the interests of that I thought I would write my own reflective piece.

As usual there are a lot of people here from a range of universities and organisations.  The conference started with us reflecting on how students reflect, with immediate discussions from everyone.  I think we all agreed or came to the conclusion, that reflection was becoming a dirty word with students, along with the likes of a variety of other, over used terms thrown about  in education.  ‘Stop and Think’ was suggested as a viable alternative.

I’m up here because I was talking about Digital Badges.  I wasn’t going to talk about the technology behind the badges, we had a lovely workshop last year with Chris Millsom (York) who gave us all Badges.  My talk was more about the thinking process behind the badge, the stages of development for an institution.

The focus of the session was really to encourage colleagues to identify what awards they already offer and apply the stages of Badge development to them, getting them to think about how they might ‘Badgify’ these.  Each table (3 ) were asked to pick one and work through from identifying stakeholders to gathering evidence, authenticating and issuing.  I think the general consensus was that it was much harder than you think, but it is a valuable opportunity to get a range of different perspectives and those who attended really engaged and provided us with lots to think about.  I always think that networks like these are invaluable to innovation in institutions and this was no exception.

Building Badges workshop

Badge Resources

I had some feedback that the session was useful but I used an acronym that was unfamiliar – MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and Credly – oops!  Follow those links for more information.

I attended the AGM where there was a discussion about more collaborative working between organisations and in particular there was a mention of ePortfolios.  This seems like a natural collaboration between the CRA and the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) so hopefully something will come of this.  The CRA also want to run Special Interest Groups as suggested by the CRA community.  I know that Badges is definitely one and I noticed that someone had suggested a region specific group, and London and South East was listed.


The final presentation this evening was from students and their lecturer who have used ePortfolio (Mahara) within their module as an assessment.   The module was ‘Land Law’. The two girls who came along were confident and gave a ‘warts and all’ presentation. They were a great example of the community itself, in that they were friendly, interactive and informed and t was great to hear from them. One thought I had is that there could be scope to use the CRA to perform some research across other institutions to see what their experiences of using ePortfolios had been like.

The conference dinner was great as the girls sat on our table so we had a long chat with them and I got to show them Twitter.  They are both graduating next year and I reminded them to capture this experience for their own ePortfolios



Forget the straight and narrow – focus on the Curve

Picture of curve patternsI’ve just been reading a book by Nicholas Lovell called the Curve. It’s essentially about embracing the change that has come with the digital world in which we live and about thinking differently. He makes a point about how the old fashioned way of thinking about your ‘product’ (whatever that is) was about the number. How many do we sell, etc. But its all changed now and it’s more about the customer – the experience. Giving stuff way for free is a good thing, there will always be people that will pay for something extra, the ‘superfans’ he calls them.

I was thinking about how this idea could be applied to HE. I especially started to think about this for MOOCs. We offer them for free but we are trying to apply old fashioned models to them. Creating them in the image of the established models from our antiquated lecture theatres and then asking everyone to buy a certificate, or pay for a model that offers authentication. Where’s the experience in that? We could offer so much more, what if everyone could do the MOOC for free but a few could pay more for a package, (don’t ask me what) but I think the super fans, as Lovell put it could come up with what they would want? How about the EdX MOOC Justice offering a series of sessions on the campus, with a signed book by Michael Sandell, or for the super rich, super fans, how about an audience with? Or better still, an evening with, someone has the money and some would pay.

I’m not saying that this is the answer to the business model question for MOOCs but its much more interesting to think about it in the way that Lovell has described in his book. It doesn’t have to end there either, we could be so much more creative with our courses, and offer differing levels of packages.

I’m not sure everyone is quite ready, but I’m watching with interest for the effects of the Curve with Higher Education.

photo credit: Kris Krug via photopin cc