digital badges: new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent

The Higher Education Achievement Report Introduction from The Higher Education Academy on Vimeo.

Learning takes place in a variety of settings as an ongoing process of skills and knowledge development in changing contexts. With the growing popularity of technology-enhanced learning initiatives, Cristóbal Cobo makes the case for more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition. The challenge is to create more versatile ways of recognizing uncertified forms of learning – both for formal qualifications of informal learning as well as wider social recognition of uncertified knowledge. [Cross-post from LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog]

Drawing on comparative and historical analyses of education, sociologist Randall Collins argues, “The expansion of education can contribute, under certain conditions, to the aggregate economic well-being on the population” (2000, p.237). It’s hard to disagree with that statement, but as always – the devil is in the details and those details refer to ongoing, rapidly changing conditions.

Take for instance, the credentialization of knowledge. Between the 14th and 17th centuries universities faced extreme bureaucratization. Collins highlights how this circumstance created a “credential inflation”, which affected the trustworthiness of universities at the time:

There have been several episodes of expansion of universities [in Europe], with accompanying formalization of examinations sequences, interspersed with periods when the demand for education collapsed in favour of informal alternatives to schooling (…) Between 1300 and 1500 half of all university foundations were failure. The market for educational credentials was expanding explosively, but at the same time such credentials were flooding the market, raising risk of failure and losing its former prestige (…) By the Enlightenment period of the 1700s, in the eyes of self-conscious progressive intellectuals and educators all over Europe, the university system was a medieval anachronism best left to die on the vine (…)

(2000:229–232)

The so-called “inflation of educational credentials” also came after the rapid European expansion of higher education around 1970. The inflation of educational credentials differs from inflation of a monetary currency; printing more money is relatively cheap, but minting new degree-holding persons requires a huge apparatus of teachers, administrators, testers, buildings, etc. While monetary inflation reduces the value of currency, credential inflation reduces the value of the college degree. Because so many people have it and/or are getting it, the degree qua degree is giving up its scarcity, and thus its relative value. There is no sign whatsoever that runaway credential inflation is about to slow down any time soon. The next couple of decades are likely to demand an increasing credentialization expected to escalate still further (Collins, 2000 and Scanzoni, 2005). Trow (as early as 1974) with visionary clarity foresaw that higher education was going to face a process of expansion and massification. He described after World War II only the elite had access to education (0-15% of population), later a larger portion (16-50%), subsequently, with information technologies becoming a vehicle for universal access he predicted a “universal higher education” (with more than 50% of the population).

 

Though, as a large number of authors pointed out (NonakaPolanyiWengerBenettFreire, among others) learning does not only take place in formal settings. The claim for lifelong learning should not be understood as hanging around at University for ever but “learning to learn” as an ongoing process of skills and knowledge development in changing contexts. Colardyn and Bjornavold, (2004) explained that validation of non-formal and informal learning become a key aspect. Lifelong learning requires that learning outcomes from different settings and contexts can be linked together. “As long as learning, skills and competences acquired outside formal education and training remain invisible and poorly valued the ambition of lifelong learning cannot be achieved,” they added.

Nowadays, we are living times where (almost) everyone seems to be dazzled by  flashy style of technology-enhanced learning initiatives, such as CourseraUdacity or Edx (now with “local” players inGermany or Brazil) but also Khan AcademyTED-Ed and a growing number of lifelong learning initiatives (see the Edupunks’ Guide). Instead of an over-bureaucratization of these learning initiatives (some more promising than others), and as Colardyn and Bjornavold proposed, more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition are required (i.e. signature track, skills passports, competency based credentials, independent examiners, portfolios, open badges, etc.).

cristobal credential inflation

Image Source http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/EN/Files/3048_en.pdf

As the illustration shows the challenge is to create more versatile forms of recognizing (and making visible) uncertified forms of learning (informal or non-formal). It is understandable that this flexibility might not be applicable to all the activities and professions (I wouldn’t want to fly with a DIY pilot, for instance). However, there is still a lack of research exploring the extent to which these more flexible models of certification are acknowledged by employers. Interestingly, the recent report published by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: The Maturing of the MOOC (pdf) suggest that concerning MOOCs, “In the UK environment, the accreditation issue is not as pressing” (p.79) but this lack of interest is not applicable in all contexts. There is much to explore in this area:

  • Formal qualification of informal learning: In 2013 Coursera started offering ‘signature track’ services to earn a verified certificate. In other words, a soft certification validated by identity verification (proof of ID and unique typing pattern) as well as sharable course records (with employers as previously done with Yahoo!, for instance). Now, Coursera has gone further widening the field providing “official” verifiable electronic certificate by offering more academically rigorouscredit-bearing versions (which include a fee). Here, the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service has evaluated and recommended and accredit some of the non-traditional courses offered by Coursera.
  • Social (peers-based) recognition of uncertified knowledge: A badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, competency, or interest. The Mozilla Foundation has promoted the adoption of online Open Badges (likewise DIY.org) that can be used to represent online and offline achievements, communicate successes, and set goals. These Open Badges can support learning that happens beyond traditional classrooms (today particularly relevant for promoting Computer Science’s skills in UK schools). Badges can illustrate a wide set of achievements providing evidence that be shown in the “places” (or spaces) that matter. Similarly, LinkedIn invites users to endorse people’s skills.

The cases suggest different equivalencies and currencies: while US ACE CREDIT College Credit is providing formal accreditation, the Open Badges initiative is promoting a greater social awareness and recognition of skills.

However, the bottom line is that conditions have changed (i.e. progressive mobility worldwide, as well as the increasing need for recognition of migrants’ qualifications). While some authors warn about the risky “inflation of educational credentials” others go even further claiming that “The university has already lost any claim to monopoly over the provision of higher education” (Duke, 1999). The initiatives described here are still in an embryonic stage but at the same time are promising in terms of new possibilities for more flexible tools and, as @daveowhite suggests, they provide new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent (find more in UNESCO UIL or the EU ESCO).

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Cristóbal Cobo (@cristobalcobo) is a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford. He coordinates research on open knowledge initiatives, emergent learning practices andalmetricsCristóbal is an active promoter of open access. Further information: blogspresentations,talks.

 

Can Coursera or Mozilla Foundation provide new methods of recognizing informal learning?

Despite the fact that the concept of ‘knowledge society’ is broadly adopted in our days, the management of knowledge, experiences, skills and capabilities is still something not necessarily easy to manage. Similarly the recognition of learning (assessment, accreditation, validation) can also become something extremely challenging, specially when the learning process occurs outside the structure of the formal education system (i.e. schools, higher education, e-learning, etc.).

Having said that international organizations such as: the EU (via Education and Training 2020), the OECD or UNESCO are constantly claiming for the need of new instruments and tools for a better recognition of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, as drivers of either mobility, migration or life long learning.

This presentation was given at the seminar: ‘New forms of provision in education’ in Barcelona (jointly organized by the University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, GIPE), and it discusses to what extent initiatives such as the accreditation given by the the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) to some non-traditional courses offered in MOOC (Coursera) or the Open Badges (Mozilla Foundation) should be taken into account as alternatives mechanisms of knowledge recognition outside formal education.

* Delighted to see that the University of Washington and HASTAC will continue this discussion in the US.

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 09.12.30
As the recently launched Oxis (2013) Internet is increasingly used as a platform for informal learning.

Digital Humanities and (a more) Open Science

state-of-dhDigital evolutions are increasingly affecting humanities research and education particularly since the final quarter of the twentieth century. Online resources, data sets, electronic teaching environments, open access publishing, data visualisation and data capturing have become ubiquitous.

In this context, the KU Leuven Faculty of Arts decided to organize a digital humanities summer school last week in Leuven (Belgium). The event was a great opportunity to learn more of all the transformations (and the lack of it, in some cases) that are currently taking place in the academic world.

The buzzword  was ‘open’ (i.e. o-science, o-education, o-learning, o-resources, etc.), as Erik Duval suggested there is also room for other areas of openness such as ‘open accreditation’, something that we would like to see more ubiquitous.

Here you will find my presentation also discussing about openness in academia (the video of the lecture might be published soon-ish). The subject of my presentation was Open Publication and Authority 3.0 (enlighten by Michael Jensen works).

Summary: Digital Identity is the virtual reflection of how data referring to a person are created, managed, verified and used by themselves and/or others (individuals, businesses or government) in life and death (EPSRC, 2013). Despite having such a ‘digital identity,’ academics and their research outcomes and impacts are more usually assessed using bibliometric techniques (H-index, data citation, journal impacts, etc.).

A number of initiatives have highlighted the importance of recognizing different and equally effective means of assessing academic outcomes (i.e. ACUMEN, WISER, EICSTES). For instance, the EU research framework ‘Horizon 2020’ and the 1st EU Digital Humanities Manifesto (2011), are clear examples, the latter stating: “The diversity of digital media and publication genres need to be accepted as genuine means of scientific communication”, including “ repositories, publication platforms, social media networks and blogging”, where “Peer-reviewed texts in print journals can no longer be the only publications to be considered in application and proposal procedures”. Terras (2012) adds that academics need to work on their digital presence to aid the dissemination of their research, to both their subject peers and the wider community.

Assessment of the performance of individual researchers is the cornerstone of the scientific and scholarly workforce. It shapes the quality and relevance of knowledge production in science. However, there is a discrepancy between the criteria used in performance assessment and the broader social function of scholarly research (Wouters, 2010). Peer review and citation counting measures are useful but not sufficient anymore (Priem et al, 2010). It is therefore necessary to design a comprehensive set of “citation data” that simplifies and stimulates the recognition of academic contributions in the digital world (i.e. measuring social engagement, web base indicators, digital outreach).

 

Many thanks to Dr. Fred Truyen (Research Unit Cultural Studies, KU Leuven) for organizing this summer school as well as for inviting me there.

(*)The image posted at the top of this blog was borrowed from Northeastern University.

Webinar: Skills & Competencies for Knowmadic Workers

Life in the 21st Century has become international, multicultural, and inter-connected, requiring new skills for educators to succeed. What are the so-called “21st Century skills,” and which key conditions are needed for the development of these skills within and outside of formal educational settings? Learn what it means to learn in a “knowmadic” society [eBook], and explore the shift from what we learn to how we learn in this free, online webinar.

cobo-webinar

 

Event co-sponsorsEducation Futures LLCMinnesota Association of School AdministratorsTIES education technology collaborative, and Whitewater Learning

Twitter hashtag for discussion#knowmad


[Source: Cross post from Education Futures]

Can MOOCs offer new patterns of knowledge accreditation?

To what extent Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) could diversify the existing mechanisms of skills recognition and knowledge transfer? Lack of evidence in this field make challenging to distinguish between speculation and reality. However, there are promising potentials in tools such as the “Verified Certificates” to become a new academic accreditation and therefore an instrument to ‘bridge’ between educational institutions, companies and governments. This presentation aims to retrieve and compile useful sources to better understand the potential of MOOCs in order to enhance employability in emerging and developed economies around the world.

MOOCs are a relatively recent online learning phenomenon. During the last months they have generated considerable media attention and interest from Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and venture capitalists, who see a business opportunity to be exploited. The expansion of MOOCs has opened up discussions about their transformative potential to HEIs by opening up the possibility of online learning and Open Educational Practices (OEPs) as strategic choices for the future (Yuan & Powell, 2013). One of the business adopted suggests that everyone who registers for a course is not charged but those who seek credentials certifying that they have mastered the content are charged a “small fee” for such certification (Bowen, 2012).

Pros Cons: Some accounts of MOOCs are positive: they provide novel educational formats (Haywood, 2012); they open up learning to more people (Mackness et al., 2010), improving quality, reducing cost and speeding up certification (Shirky, 2012).  However, MOOCs also attract criticism. A recent survey of UK university vice chancellors indicates that only 8% think it is highly likely that MOOCs will lead to reduced fees for “HE services” (Morgan, 2013). While some academic institutions, such as the Open University in the UK, see MOOCs as a prioritization of quantity over quality (Bean, 2013), others note the extremely high level of dropout (Zellner, 2013; Parr, 2013). MOOCs have also been criticised for adopting a knowledge transmission model that lacks any innovation (Cuban, 2013). Among others, there are two problematic elements in this debate. It has been stated that MOOCs play a key role in providing opportunities for engaging in lifelong learning outside of the confines of an institution (Kizilcec, Piech, Schneider, 2013). In that sense, MOOCs are praised for being a transformative force for the existing education market, providing more flexible methods for skills and knowledge recognition (i.e. signature track, competency based credentials, independent commercial examiners, open badges, etc.). There is still a lack of research exploring the extent to which these more flexible models of certification are acknowledged by employers (Gorissen, 2013). The second challenge is to develop an empirical study focused on the understanding of MOOCs in non-English-speaking communities. Since “language differences, cultural barriers, local relevance of materials, access concerns, and the availability of adequate technical resources (infrastructure)” (Klemke et al. 2010) can hinder a broader adoption of these kind of open education initiatives, it is important to conduct research in this area in order to establish how some of these barriers may be overcome (Hatakka, 2009; Rossini, 2010; Klemke, Kalz, Specht, & Ternier, 2010).

Emerging economies: Most of the literature that discusses the applicability of MOOCs in ‘developing regions’ primarily addresses problems associated with connectivity and broadband, however there is evidence to suggest that the problem might not only be technical, but that there are more complex issues including institutional, cultural, contextual and even pedagogical factors that make MOOCs not necessarily an ‘exportable’ solution.

In sum, a number of key questions need to be addressed:

  • To what extent are MOOCs perceived as a beneficial innovation?
  • Should one-size-fits-all vendor-designed massive courses become the norm?
  • What are the barriers when foreign educational models are adopted in different cultural settings?
  • To what extent a “local” customization of these courses and certificates should be developed?
  • What benefits/challenges are observed by the education and employment sectors?
  • How are non-traditional forms of knowledge transfer valorized from the employer’s perspective?
  • Can the ‘soft certification’ contribute to meet the local demands of employability?
  • What recommendations should be adopted in order to consolidate MOOCs?

 

* This text is an excerpt of a larger document written by Dr. Edgar Gómez Cruz and the author of this blog.

Social media a tool for connecting formal and informal learning

Social Media Use

The increasing adoption of mobile devices facilitated by the accumulative acceptance of “social networks” (far beyond the Facebook world) is becoming characteristic of modern societies.  A recent study (conducted  by Telefonica Foundation on the 5 continents) indicates that Millennials (people between 18-30 years all) are online an average of 6 hours per day. That figure is equivalent to 168 hours per month or 84 days per year. In other words, young people spend 2.8 months a year online. These figures not only reflect the relevance of digital technologies in everyday life but also indicate a potential changing pattern in the way people communicate and share information with each other.

In a similar way that the boundaries between being off and online are becoming increasingly blurred, the distinctions between using social media for personal or professional use is becoming less clearly defined. In that sense, the ongoing use of social media has growing relevance and importance for everyday and lifelong learning practices.

For instance, the British National Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS) shows that internet is progressively becoming a key source of information. Interestingly, one of the more evident changes during the last decade or so can be observed in the accumulative volume of online self or informal learning activities such as: finding or checking a fact or looking up a definition of a word, followed by investigating topics of personal interest.

Despite the notable interest in open learning practices such as the massive open online courses (MOOCS), it could be argued that ‘online learning’ is becoming an everyday life activity. To what extent are people aware of these micro but continuous informal learning practices (such as watching a lecture, reading an e-book, translating contents, discussing the result of a survey or criticising a theory via forums, chatrooms or blogs)?

Digital companies such as LinkedIn, the Mozilla foundations or DIY.org are promoting all sort of online badges aimed to bring visibility and recognition to some of these informal learning activities. It is still to be explored if some of these ‘soft skills’ will be recognised by the employment sector.

Additionally, from the formal education and training point of view, it will be interesting to see how social media is embedded into formal and non-formal learning practices. The adoption of new ways of using social media provides plenty of opportunities to enhance the access to formal education resource. At the same time, social media offer novel possibilities in order to expand and diversify the learning opportunities. Samples of the latter are: Open Badges, ED TED, Khan Academy community, Coursera Meetup, a few others are described at Open Michigan, etc.

Important contributions in this field can be learned from people like Zane Berge (UMBC), Neil Selwyn (Institute of Education, University of London), Sebastian Thrun (Stanford University and Udacity) or Keri Facer (Education and Social Research Institute at the Manchester Metropolitan University).

 

 

Future Internet Assembly: ‘from the lab into the real world’

According to Wikipedia User-centered design is a ‘multi-stage problem solving process that not only requires designers to analyse and foresee how users are likely to use a product, but also to test the validity of their assumptions with regards to user behaviour in real world tests with actual users’. The idea of  placing the user at the centre of the process has been increasingly acknowledged as a ‘good practice’ in the design and implementation of technology and services. However, that practice is not necessarily adopted in the industry, probably because is a complex task, time-demanding, it requires multidisciplinary interventions and also it need to be done with some level of consistency (one single survey or focus applied to users might be almost relevant).

During the next Future Internet Assembly (Dublin, Ireland on 8th, 9th and 10th May) we will participate in the session “Linking user populations to novel networks in Future Internet research programmes” in order to discuss this topic and exchange perspectives with a broad range of communities.

“Many ‘Future Internet’ projects face the challenge of scaling-up the innovative internet services that they developed or experimented with in their projects. Such scaling-up requires large-scale adoption by stakeholders, especially by engaging (local) communities of users and engaging (local) businesses and entrepreneurs. In this workshop, we will address this challenge. We will share insights and practical experiences, regarding human-centred innovation and business modelling. As a participant, you will increase your understanding of possible approaches for successfully scaling-up innovative internet services: ‘from the lab into the real world’.

This initiative is organize in by Experimedia and in collaboration with members of Future Internet Socio-Economics (FISE) community.

 

 

Internet Science and the shift in academic knowledge landscape

Banner Internet Science

Last week was the first International Conference of Internet Science, hosted at Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts, Brussels. The event was truly  international and remarkably cross-disciplinary. Here a Twitter summary of the tweets feeds (#icis2013) of these says.

These day our paper “Digital Scholarship: Exploration of Strategies and Skills for Knowledge Creation and Dissemination” which explores opportunities and some of the transitions that the academic world is facing in the digital times. Openness, digital scholarship, co-authorships, new models of knowledge creation and dissemination are discussed in this paper co-written with Concepción Naval, visiting fellow at Balliol College here in Oxford.

Below the presentation (in Slideshare) and the summary of the article (already available at the Social Science Research Network open access repository).

ABSTRACT: Widespread access to digital technologies has enabled digital scholars to access, create, share, and disseminate academic contents in innovative and diversified ways. Today academic teams in different places can collaborate in virtual environments by conducting scholarly work on the Internet. Two relevant dimensions that have been deeply affected by the emergence of digital scholarship are new facets of knowledge generation (wikis, e-science, online education, distributed R&D, open innovation, open science, peer-based production, online encyclopedias, user generated content) and new models of knowledge circulation and distribution (e-journals, open repositories, open licenses, academic podcasting initiatives, etc.). Despite the potential transformation of these novel practices and mechanisms of knowledge production and distribution, some authors suggest that digital scholarship can only be of significance if it marks a radical break in scholarship practices brought about through the possibilities enabled in new technologies. This paper address some of the key challenges and raise a set of recommendations to foster the development of key skills, new models of collaboration and cross-disciplinary cooperation between digital scholars.

Suggested Citation:

Cobo, Cristobal and Naval, Concepcion, Digital Scholarship: Exploration of Strategies and Skills for Knowledge Creation and Dissemination (April 12, 2013). International Conference on Internet Science Conference Proceedings, Brussels, April 9-11, 2013. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2249794

#Knetworks: Educational Innovations Beyond Technology

DSCN4471

Picture taken by Vyacheslav Polonski

Last week was the closing meeting of the research project KNetworks.The event that took place at the Instituto Superior Técnico (Lisbon). The meeting was a good opportunity to present some of the main outcomes and lessons learned of this multidisciplinary and international collaborative research. This initiative was funded by the European Regional Development Fund (Atlantic Programme).

In this opportunity my presentation was focus on the transformations that Higher Education sector is facing. The analysis highlighted some of the key transformations identified during the period of this project (2010-2013).

Some keywords of the presentation are: Higher Education, Open Access, Open Publishing, Digital Identity, Liquid Times, Knowledge recognition, disintermediation, Moocs, Creative Commons, Open Badges, Skills, and Human Capital.

High-tech companies looking to hire people with soft skills for innovation

Emerald Group Publishing and its journal On the Horizon just released our article: “Mechanisms to identify and study the demand for innovation skills in world-renowned organizations

[Excerpt] “Since extensive studies have been carried out to establish the relationship between functional skills, economic performance and workforce this research analyzed the need of soft skills for innovation among world class organizations. A comparative analysis was performed to explore the type and extent of soft skills for innovation that are demanded in recent job vacancies promoted in worldwide recognized organizations”.

Three of the six organizations included in the study are high-tech companies. The  world recognized organizations studied are Greenpeace, World Bank, OECD, Google, Apple and Samsung.

Title: Mechanisms to identify and study the demand for innovation skills in world-renowned organizations
Author(s): Cristobal Cobo, (Oxford Internet Institute)
Citation: Cristobal Cobo, (2012) “Mechanisms to identify and study the demand for innovation skills in world-renowned organizations”, On the Horizon, Vol. 21 Iss: 2
Article type: Research paper
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Abstract: Purpose – This paper explores the interrelationship between the fields of education and workforce in the context of post-industrial societies. We analyzed key challenges associated with the match (and mismatch) of skill supply and demand between education and the work force.

Design/methodology/approach – Using a ‘purposeful sample’, this study provides an evidence-based analysis that explores how and to what extent soft skills are currently required by world recognized organizations such as Greenpeace, World Bank, OECD, Google, Apple and Samsung.

Findings – After a revision of different perspectives to identify and categorize the key skills of the 21st century, this study describes seven non-technical cognitive and social key skills called soft skills for innovation.

Research limitations/implications – After exploring a small sample size on recent job vacancies promoted by six major international organizations, this study analyzes the current demand for soft skills for innovation such as, collaboration, critical thinking, contextual learning, searching, synthesizing and disseminating information, communication, self-direction and creativity. The methodology adopted and the data retrieval process can be replicated with either a larger sample or more focused workforce sectors.

Practical implications – The described ‘skills mismatch’ emphasizes the importance of creating different strategies and tools that facilitate the recognition of skills acquired independently of educational contexts.

Originality/value – Finally, this study provides evidence-based information (data available online) that can contribute to rethinking curriculums and exploring ‘blended’ models that mix real life and teaching contexts stimulating the development of soft skills for innovation.

Here the headlines of the conclusions:

  1. Soft skills are increasingly becoming hard skills.
  2. The commodification of education and flexible delivery.
  3. The ‘Tower-of-Babel’ problem, in which people use identical words but mean different things.
  4. Lifelong and self-learning in a complex world.
  5. A knowledgeable workforce with re-skilling and relearning capacities.
  6. Planning for uncertainty and recognition of soft skills.
  7. Innovation often requires a departure from conventional approaches.