Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016 AAEEBL Midwest Meeting Keynote: Open Badges + ePortfolios: Searching for and Supporting Synergy

By Dan Hickey

This is a brief report and link to a slideshare from the keynote address at the 2016 Midwest Meeting of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence Based Learning.  It summarizes potential synergy between these two important educational technologies, as well as progress towards this synergy by the seven leading eportfolio platforms and between AAEEBL, the Open Badges in Higher Education Project, and the Badge Alliance.

Keynote Address at AAEEBL Midwest Regional Meeting at Notre Dame

Once I get this post up I will get to the several dozen emails awaiting me in my inbox with headers suggesting that we have indeed made some progress towards increased synergy.
The potential for synergy between open digital badges and eportfolios has been since badges became a reality. Badges emerged in 2011 thanks to the efforts of the MacArthur Foundation and MacArthur Education Director Connie Yowell, the Mozilla Foundation, and Peer to Peer University.  It was an honor to be invited to give the keynote at the 2016 Midwest AAEEBL conference and summarize just one of the many promising developments that has happened with digital badges in just five years.

Potential Synergy Between Badges and ePortfolios

Local organizer G. Alex Ambrose of Notre Dame opened the keynote  session with impressive examples of integration of open badges in his ePortfolios and Evidence-Based Badges (E2B2) project. Alex and his colleagues worked with Credly to integrate badges into eportfolios created on the Digication platform. It really helped the audience see how open badges can offload some of the credentialing and evidential functions of eportolios. Here is a press release from Credly for more information about how they did it.

 In my talk a dove deeply (but briefly) into some key ideas from sociology (e.g., boundary objects) and assessment (the difference between evidential, consequential, and systemic validity).  Several key inter-related ideas about how open badges might help eportfolios seemed to resonate with this crowd and were touched on by various other presenters during the day:

  • Offloading credentialing evidence.  As Alex's examples showed, digital badges might allow eportfolio platforms to offload some of their credentialing and evidential functions.  Right now this is a rather messy space because all of the platforms have some sort of features that incorporate some of the credentialing functions of badges.
  • Making eportfolios more meaningful. The various fields of data in the badges can make the artifacts in the portfolios much more meaningful. Badges contain specific claims, evidence supporting those claims, and links to more evidence (i.e.,., artifacts in portfolios). But they also contain information about when and where those artifacts were created. This addresses s massive validity challenge for portfolios as evidence of competences: without information the context of creation, you can't evaluate the portfolio as evidence of much of anything.  A portfolio developed in a capstone project course with tons of individualized feedback should look a lot more compelling than ones that students develop on their own, without that support. Badges put this information right there alongside the statement of competency where it belongs.
  • Separating discourse about artifacts and evidence. Adding open badges to eportfolios allows the discourse around artifacts to take place around the eportfolios while allowing the discourse around competencies to take place around badges. There are different discourses. I believe that one of the big challenges with eportfolios and portfolio assessments is that these two discourses are often conflated. In fact, I suspect that many people like the notion of "authentic" assessment because they believe they want to conflate evidence and artifacts. This is often problematic. 
  • Traversing the public/private boundary.  For example, this separation of discourse allows badges to serve as "boundary objects" moving between the public artifact space of the eportfolio and the private competency space of the course gradebook or student competency map. Badges contain links to portfolios can be easily stacked into the prithe badges are stacked, by automatically passing on student pasting of URLs into the gradebook.  The FERPA-protected private space can include grades and private instructor feedback that can't/shouldn't occur around the public artifacts.
  • Bringing coherence to a complex ecosystem and marketplace. This is getting complicated right?  Like I said, the various platforms are already dealing with these issues, mostly without using badges.  If they all went with badges and particularly with open badges that were compliant with the Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) standards, they could all learn from each other and come up with some relatively common practices.  While the current approach has created a vibrant ecosystem of innovation, it may not be the best thing for the field. It seems possible that digital badges might provide useful coherence as different (and competing) platforms work to connect with the larger credentialing systems at different universities.
  • Allowing interoperability and extensibility. OBI-compliant badges would also allow interoperability across current platforms and extensibility towards future platforms.  So for example, badges earned for artifacts contained in one eportfolio platform might be displayed on the portfolio in a different platform.  Perhaps more likely, someone an OBI-compliant badge earned outside of their university work on an eportfolio completed as part of their university work. 
The level of interest in these ideas was certainly enough to confirm the need for a formal literature review and theoretical piece on this topic. Hopefully I can get to that before the national AAEEBL meeting in Boston in August 2016.

Current and Future Integration of Badges and ePortfolio Platforms
Doc student Joshua Quick and OBHE project coordinator James Willis did another presentation about the current status of badges in the seven leading eportfolio platforms.  We interviewed CEOs and product leads for all seven in the last three weeks. while it is very current it is also very preliminary.  But this summary slide from my talks shows were things are currently at.
Current Status of Badge Integration in Seven Leading Platforms

There are some very interesting developments underway at this time.  AAEEBL President Trent Batson has asked James and I to organize a panel on this topic for the upcoming National Conference in Boston in August.  Stay tuned for that.

Coordination between AAEEBL, OBHE, and the Badge Alliance
Probably the most exciting thing were the extensive discussion that James and I had with Trent and Alex about further coordination. The Open Badges in Higher Education Project co-sponsored the session, and the OBHE team were well-represented on the local program committee.  But the MacArthur funding for the two-year OBHE project actually expired on May 1, 2016. We had extensive discussions about how we might formalize this coordination and bring it under the umbrella of the Badge Alliance.

James and I subsequently met with Badge Alliance Director Nate Otto and it seems like this is a very promising direction for the BA. We also discussed how the Badge Alliance might facilitate further coordination with other relevant entities, including IMS Global's Open Badge Extensions in Education project , the EDUCAUSE Badges and Microcredentials Constituent Group, commercial firms like Credly and Accreditrust, non-profits like Digital Me and their Open Badge Academy, and open source resources like Mahara and Open Badge Factory.

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