In the previous post, I suggested a way that learners may be able to reputably self-issue badges. I wrote it in response to the Open Recognition Alliance’s MIRVA project (Make Informal Learning Visible and Actionable). Here’s a link to a webinar in which Serge Ravet describes his goals for the MIRVA project: https://archive.org/details/ORA2018-January-17.
In this post, I would like to amend my original idea to replace “interest” badges with competency nodes on a pathway. You see, although I didn’t originally frame it as an idea about badge pathways, I’ve since realized that’s exactly what it is. But first, a recap.
The idea went like this:
Step 1: A learner identifies a competency that she is interested in developing, or that she believes she already possesses.
Step 2: The learner acquires an “interest” badge, which simply represents her interest in the competency, or her claim about already possessing the competency. There’s no criteria or evidence required to acquire this badge. This interest badge is akin to a meta-badge (but as you’ll soon see, I now suggest using a competency node instead).
Step 3: The learner begins to earn badges that support the claim of the interest badge. Each supporting badge is a child of the parent interest badge. These child badges contain evidence, perhaps from artifacts she’s created or events she’s attended, that support the claim of the parent interest badge.
Step 4: The learner’s supporting badges are endorsed by others.
In most badge pathway schemes, learners must earn all the child badges before earning the parent/meta-badge. Hence, badges and meta-badges continually stack up as the learner progresses along the path toward mastery, or certification, or whatever. This “upward stackability” seems to be the norm when it comes to badge pathway progression.
In the idea I described, it’s reversed: a learner earns the child badges only after acquiring the interest badge (which acted similar to a meta-badge). Hence, I called it downward stackability.
Enter Pathways: A competency node instead of an interest badge
I was all set to publish a second blog post, alternative to this post, that delved into more details about how Open Badges 2.0 + a badge pathway standard might support downward stackability. Then I read Tim Cook’s 2015 blog post, “The Quantum Mechanics of Learning,” (https://medium.com/sprout-stories/quantum-mechanics-of-learning-742f9ba70cc2) and was obliged to start over. In his post, he suggested that nodes in pathways could represent more than just badges. Nodes could also represent competencies or resources. I was instantly intrigued (and only a little annoyed) because I saw how his idea could work much better for what I was proposing. Instead of issuing themselves “interest badges,” learners could insert competencies into a pathway and then begin issuing, or acquiring, badges in support of those competencies. Downward stackability is still facilitated, and the learner is still very much in control of the development of his or her own pathway. But it has the likely added benefits of greater standardization and probably a more streamlined and intuitive user experience.
One more possible benefit of using competencies: adding a competency node to a pathway may not require any extensions to the Open Badges 2.0 standard, whereas interest badges may have required an extension to articulate criteria for issuance of supporting child badges. Of course, competency nodes on a pathway would also need to articulate criteria for issuance of supporting child badges. But as luck would have it, the new IMS Global CASE standard (Competency and Academic Standards Exchange) seems to provide support for just that sort of use case, at least as I understand it (but I’m still reading up on CASE, so please correct me if I’m wrong).
Why should pathways support something like downward stackability?
Why bother with something like downward stackability? Carla Cassili, in her 2014 “Paraquel” blog post (https://carlacasilli.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/badge-pathways-part-1-the-paraquel/), wrote what I think is as good an argument as any: “Badge pathways can be and most likely will be entirely emergent. This, friends, is from whence all their magic derives. Badge pathways provide people with opportunities to make decisions based in personal agency, to define steps that may seem more like hops, and to think about ways to do things that aren’t sequential or even seemingly rational.”
And yet, when I look around at the sorts of badge pathways that are emerging, they all appear rather linear and “top-down.” There is still the need to pre-define the curricular scope of the set of child badges required to earn a meta-badge. It is still the job of a designer to define the learning path, and the job of learners who want the credential to follow that path. And don’t get me wrong, that’s not entirely a bad thing. I imagine the vast majority of badging use cases that consumers want would require that sort of top-down design.
But I don’t see how that kind of linear or tiered design facilitates individuals making their own informal learning visible and actionable. I also don’t see how that type of design could be flexible enough to truly map the learning and interests within an organization as effectively as the more emergent system.
I think we want both types of pathway, linear and clustered, at the same time. After all, even if a clustered pathway can capture an individual’s informal recognition, that recognition probably won’t be especially visible or actionable if it exists in a bubble. Learners and communities will likely want ways to connect that informal learning to more traditional learning, because doing so will make their informal learning more visible and more actionable.
I believe the value an idea like downward stackability is in letting learners define and actively generate evidence of their own competencies. The more evidence a learner is able to offer in support of his or her competencies, and the more that evidence is endorsed by others, the more compelling the learner’s competency claim becomes. And I see no reason something like downward stackability couldn’t exist side-by-side with regular ‘ol upward stackability.
So the next question is: could we have a hybrid?
As I said, IMS Global’s CASE standard (Competency and Academic Standards Exchange) looks promising for enabling the description/articulation of criteria needed to define what ought to count as evidence that learners have acquired or demonstrated some modicum of competency. As for badge pathways standards, Concentric Sky/Badgr says that it has submitted a proposal to IMS Global for a badge pathways standard called Open Pathways. Supposedly it will make use of not only the Open Badges standard, but also of the IMS CASE standard and the IMS Extended Transcripts standard. You can watch Concentric Sky CEO Wayne Skipper describe the proposed standard in this YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBCCVdrIaDQ). Concentric Sky is obviously interested in enabling the alignment of pathways to standards. Maybe they have something in mind that is similar to what I’ve described. I certainly hope so.