Monday, August 29, 2016

Badges + ePortfolios = Helping Turn Artifacts into Open Learning Recognition Networks

by Dan Hickey

This post summarizes a meeting between representatives of six leading ePortfolio providers, four digital badge providers, and four professional associations on August 2 in Boston at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL)
We searched for and found synergy between these two crucial technologies that are helping innovators re-imagine how learning can be represented in the Internet era. They are starting to come together to create what some are calling Learning Recognition Networks (LRNs).

This meeting also brings to a close the two-year Open Badges in Higher Education (OBHE) project, carried out with the support of the MacArthur Foundation. We will be discussing the Boston meeting and future directions for LRNs in the next Open Badges Community Call hosted by the Badge Alliance. The call is at 1200 noon EST on August 31 and all are welcome and encouraged to join (meeting at this Uberconference link).

Almost everyone in education agrees that conventional transcripts are a problematic way to represent learning. Academic transcripts and non-credit certificates are evidence of schooling rather than learning. But our existing credentialing systems emerged alongside other systems for recruitment, admissions, and hiring over the last century. These systems are not going to change overnight. But they define a network of networks that is opaque and inefficient. Many of the practices and relationships that define this network are tacit and private; some of the practices are actually very different than the stated policies of participating institutions.

Adding Open Badges and Standards to ePortfolios
Much of the enthusiasm towards eportfolios is that they offer new ways to represent learning. In particular they can serve formative functions in support of current learning while also serving summative functions by providing rich evidence of prior learning. As nicely elaborated on this page at the AAEEBL website, eportfolios are "the infrastructure behind the move from teaching to learning." Many have noticed the obvious overlap in these functions and the functions of open digital badges. Digital badges can contain specific claims and links to evidence supporting those claims and then allow this information to be curated and circulated in digital networks.

Efforts now underway involving eportfolio providers and badge providers reveal broad interest in using digital badges to help turn the digital artifacts contained into evidence of learning that is broadly meaningful and easy to display and find. By embracing common standards that allow claims and evidence that supports those claims to flow readily across platforms and systems, a true Learning Recognition Network emerges.  Such LRNs are made up of people and organizations that use interoperable technology built upon open standards to issue, share, verify, and understand records of learning happening in those network. These participants and the developers of the services that make connections between them can explore and make tangible the trust relationships that mediate understanding of expertise, skills, and knowledge in the network.

Existing Badges + ePortfolios Synergy
At the AAEEBL Regional Meeting at Notre Dame in May 2016, Alex Ambrose presented the pioneering pilots that had integrated digital badges from Credly with ePortfolios from Digication.
In my talk at that same meeting I tried to summarize the many points of synergy between open badges and ePortfolios that emerged across five or six presentations. In particular, badges can serve as "boundary objects" that can carry claims about learning and information about context needed to turn an artifact into evidence.

We revisited some of these ideas in July 2016 at a meeting in Monterey CA on Student Data and Records in a Digital Era organized by Stanford University.  I was part of the Representations of Learning working group that Helen Chen and Tom Black led.  We decided to focus on the idea of "re-imagining representations of learning." Organizing the Badges + ePortfolio meeting at the AAEEBL National Meeting was our first action item.

Badges + ePortfolio Meeting Attendees
One goal of this brief meeting was simply getting a quorum of representatives of leading ePortfolio providers, Badge platforms, and relevant professional associations to discuss common goals. Given that we focused on people who were attending the AAEEBL conference or were already in the Boston area, we were quite successful in this regard. As for ePortfolios, representatives included
  • Jeffrey Yan (CEO of Digication, Inc.)
  • Geoff Irvine and Justin Pitcher (CEO and Director of Product Development at Chalk and Wire Inc.)
  • Shane Sutherland (Co-Founder and Development Director at PebblePad Inc.).
  • Webster Thompson (President of Taskstream Inc.)
  • Katie Kalmus (Director of Product and Client Development, LiveText, Inc.)
  • Kristina Hoeppner (with Catalyst IT in New Zealand and the Mahara open source ePortfolio project)
Additionally, the OBHE project had previously discussed Badges + ePortfolios with Geoff Leigh (Director of Product Development at Foliotek). Geoff was on board with the goals of the meeting and provided input but was unable to attend.

As for associations and organizations, representatives included
As for badging platforms and firms, representatives included
The OBHE project has also had conversations about Badges + ePortfolios with Pete Janzow (Senior Director and Open Badges Lead for Pearson's Acclaim system).

Current Status of Badges + ePortfolio
Another goal of this meeting was simply taking the pulse of the ePortfolio providers in terms of their interest in adding badge functionality to their platforms. All indicated interest but most advanced a "wait and see" stance and indicated that their clients were currently interested in other new features.
However, Digication had already initiated pilots with Credly and had articulated an intention to commit to open badges standards. Likewise, Pebblepad (which was one of the first portfolio platforms to support open badges) announced its intention to support Credly, Badgr, and Open Badge Passport by October 2016.

A particularly significant development was the introduction of the MyMantl platform by Chalk and; Wire the next day at the AAEEBL meeting. Geoff Irvine coined the term Learning Recognition Network to describe this new platform. It promises very sophisticated integration of digital badges with an entirely new platform that will include endorsements and other features. MyMantl represents a significant step towards a "Universal LRN" because these features embrace open standards that will allow information to flow across platforms, (rather than being trapped inside of a single platform) that should make it more of a "Universal LRN" The platform is currently in development and should be ready for use by clients in early 2017.

Consider, for example, the learning recognition platform STEM Premier. This learning recognition platform emerged from Project Lead the Way and the open badges that the Manufacturing Institute developed as part of the 2012 Badges for Lifelong Learning Initiative.  STEM Premier recently partnered with the ACT testing company as part of their ambitious effort to help connect colleges and universities, scholarship providers, STEM students, and STEM employers. STEM Premiers is in the process of building in the infrastructure to transform its current internal badges into open badges. Once they build in that functionality, badges earned on the STEM Premier platform could be readily displayed on MyMantl--and vice versa. Importantly, the earner could choose to annotate and curate those badges in ways that makes them more meaningful when doing so, potentially adding addition endorsement regarding their value. Earners could even "stack" those same badges into a school's learning management system where an instructor or reviewer could examine the evidence and endorsements they contain to award formal credit for that accomplishment. The FERPA-protected grades remain secure in the LMS while the badges and evidence they contains live on in public or wherever the earners chooses to display them.

Commitment to Open Badge Standards
The other goal of this meeting was getting input from eportfolio providers regarding their needs to inform Nate Otto, Kerrie Lemoie, and others at the Badge Alliance who are working on the next version of the Open Badges Infrastructure Standards, and Sheri Braxton-Lieber, Mark Lueba, and others at the IMS Global Learning Consortium who are working on the Open Badges Extensions in Education project.  These standards are crucial if open badges are to be interoperable. This means that the badges earned on one platform can be displayed on another platform,

But standards are also crucial if badges are to be extensible. This means that all badges earned today will be displayable on any new platforms that someone might want to use in the future. And this is not a simple matter. Case in point, a central goal of the current standards community is the move from JSON (Javascript Object Notation) to JSON-LD  (Linked Data). Doing so will make it dramatically easier to build services that help people understand how badges connect with one another, in the form of enabling services for endorsement, recommendation of relevant badges, and discovery of badges and learning opportunities, job opportunities, or qualified applicants with highly specific combinations of skills and experiences.

Next Steps and Community Call
With the MacArthur Foundation moving away from education, one obvious question is how to continue supporting the vibrant community around open badges that they helped establish. Several other US foundations and the US Department of Education have expressed interest in badges and the broader notion of "alternative credentialing." As technology-induced changes cause more and more disruption in the economy and education, focused efforts are need to the help our credentialing systems adapt to and take advantage of these changes.

Nate Otto, myself, and others will recap the Badges + ePortfolio meeting on the upcoming Open Badges Community Call.  The call is at 1200 EST on August 31 and all are welcome and encouraged to join (meeting at this Uberconference link). We expect these issues to be key topics at upcoming conference this fall, including ePIC in Bologna (ePortfolios, Identity Conference, Oct 26-28) and  MozFest is London (Mozilla Festival,  Oct 28-30).

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