Do Open Badges Make ePortfolios Obsolete?

No, but Open Badges have been disruptive… and I mean that in a good way. Open Badges can make ePortfolios better and vice-versa.

KColemanbadgeEPKate Coleman – excerpt from video below

Why this post?

ePortfolio Pilot at the Local College

It’s sparked partly by a Mahara ePortfolio engagement I now have with Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (It’s also pretty cold here now and I have time to think.)
As I help facilitate the Train the Trainer workshops, I find I can’t stop talking about Open Badges and ePortfolios as #morethanfriendswithbenefits (thx Kate). As a result, they’ve asked me to present an updated version of my Open Badges presentation from last October’s CAPLA conference for their RPL@Noon next Thursday 21 January at 12pm CT. (Livestream link. I’ll link to the recording later.)
So right now, I’m refactoring the CAPLA presentation for a college audience, bringing ePortfolios and RPL explicitly into the mix. This post is prep, but it’ll go into more detail.

Increasing Traction for ePortfolios

In addition to the RRC gig and an ongoing Mahara gig at Carleton University, I’m seeing signs of life in recent posts by senior leaders in Canadian HE, such as this one about “Learning outcomes for life” by Peter Wolf at Queen’s. And earlier in 2015, Alan Davis, President of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, keynoted at a Carleton-organized ePortfolio summit on the need to document and validate the 90% of learning that happens outside the classroom (actual mileage may vary for the “70:20:10” ratio, but the principle is well-established).

DeakinPrime diagram; see also E-Learning Provocateur

Certainly ePortfolios are enjoying a surge of adoption in the US, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) with support from AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative and their famous LEAP rubrics, which fueled Deakin University’s innovative GLO Hallmarks initiative.
AAEEBL is currently chaired by Tracy Penny Light of Thompson Rivers University in BC. I wish more Canadian institutions belonged to this nonprofit organization that’s helping colleges and universities both improve and demonstrate the value of what they have to offer.

But There Are Issues with ePortfolios

Ideally, ePortfolios are individualized hubs for Personal Learning Environments that foster autonomous lifelong learners who can authentically demonstrate the kind of holistic outcomes that AAC&U’s LEAP rubrics are designed to assess. Alan Davis’ famous diagram illustrates this ideal in some detail…

What would Proust have done with an eportfolio – Dr. Alan Davis, EPIC 2013

… but in practice, ePortfolios are:

  • Hard work to develop (ironically, the chief reason it’s so valuable as a learning tool – “portfolios FOR learning”)
  • Hard work to assess (big problem for scalability and educator engagement)
  • Often poorly understood by stakeholders and/or hijacked from their learner-centred mission to meet the compliance needs of institutional  accreditation, resulting in a negative impact on learner engagement
  • Generally either siloed institutional technology platforms that can’t effectively integrate the entirety of a learner’s Personal Learning Environment, or fragmented “free” social media accounts that lack alignment with learning goals and whose data is owned and harvested for profit by a dotcom (Jim Groom’s commercial spinoff of  DS106, Reclaim Hosting, is an interesting exception.)

Yikes, sounds dire. Something was obviously needed to come to the rescue. Enter Open Badges.

Mozilla and ePIC 2012

Since their introduction at ePortfolio and Identity Conference (ePIC) in 2012, Open Badges have put the fizz back into this important international gathering, similar to how adding fresh yeast rejuvenates a bottle-conditioned Belgian beer (yum).
Open Badges have come to dominate subsequent ePIC events as a key innovation, enabling discourse about ePortfolios to escape from what was an increasingly stale intellectual space, popping the cork and pouring out new ideas (to torture the Belgian metaphor, although it’s coffee I have at my elbow, not beer.)
Here are some of those ideas, from a small selection of the community I learn from.

Kate Coleman – Portfolios and Badges – friends or foes?

My title for this post is a bit of a knock-off of a great cluster of discussion that Kate Coleman of Deakin University and David Gibson of Curtin University prompted early last year in this Feb 2015 instalment of the great Transforming Assessment series. Kate did a shorter version for a UK conference in April:

She sums up with these remarks in an online discussion after the first presentation:

I believe in the symbiotic relationship of open badges and portfolios for making:

  • badge claims
    (Don: i.e. targeted evidence packages to challenge for badges)
  • developing narrative for self and identity
  • learning about self, developing self efficacy
  • developing digital citizenship skills
  • creating badge context

Kate is pressing forward with these notions in her role at Deakin University (home of the GLO Hallmarks initiative mentioned above and DeakinDigital, which deserves a blog post all its own) and also as an international member of the Board at AAEEBL.

Serge Ravet – Open Passport: Reinventing the ePortfolio from Open Badges?

Serge Ravet of ADPIOS (better known as the impresario of the ever-evolving ePIC conference) is collaborating with Discendum Oy of Finland on a DML-funded project, based on a brilliant proposal.
Discendum’s Open Badge Passport is a more robust and flexible alternative to the Mozilla Backpack, but remains compatible with it. It can act as a micro-portfolio: its Pages improve on Collections in the Backpack: not only can you arrange badges on in the order you want, you can curate them with additional files, headings and text boxes. (See example at the bottom of the page.)
But Serge (as usual) is more ambitious:

To explore this issue, one needs to understand that Open Badges are much more than “Digital records of achievements, skills, interests, affiliations or roles” (Mozilla); they are also connectors between people, places, organisations and ideas!

And adds elsewhere:

With Open Badges, ePortfolios won’t be simply “open” they will also be “distributed” and “shared” and it is these qualities that will contribute to making them “trustworthy.”

Serge is currently pursuing this via blockchains and open ledgers. His vision: a distributed eportfolio owned by the learner, unbeholden to any institutional or corporate interest, that can be aggregated on the fly, and where the roles of issuer, earner and consumer interweave. I’m sure we’ll hear lots about this at ePIC in October (did I mention that it was in Bologna?)

G. Alex Ambrose – Pairing Digital Portfolios & Badges to Recognize Informal Learning

Alex Ambrose is another prominent member of AAEEBL, with a gift for expressing these ideas in ways that speak well to more mainstream audiences. As he says here in his great presentation to the Badge Alliance in August 2015 (also cited in my last post):

Why Digital Badges Need ePortfolios:

If digital badges are going to be evidence-based and transferable… the ePortfolio platform is best optimized to deliver that evidence and provide a logical space to showcase the badge.

Why ePortfolios Need Digital Badges:

If we want to keep the eP EKG pulse alive and connect employers to ePortfolios that communicate specific competencies…. digital badges provide the motivation and opportunity for the students to make their learning visible.

At Notre Dame, Alex is  exploring relationships between Open Badges, ePortfolios and even Co-Curricular Records (I’ll be exploring CCRs in a future post). His presentation, linked above, is well worth reading and you can also read the Badge Alliance discussion from the August presentation.

My Take

ePortfolios Can Effectively Demonstrate Soft Skills

Reflection, direct and indirect evidence, curation, alignment to rhetorical purpose or aspirational goal – ePortfolios can authentically demonstrate a lot of things, and Open Badges can recognize them.

Don Presant: Open Badges – CAPLA 2015

Open Badges and ePortfolios are Symbiotic

That’s pretty clear; I don’t have much to add to the others above, except that Open Badges can be the hardened pieces of evidence that can make ePortfolios more articulatable (is that a word?) What I mean is that badges and ePortfolio evidence can be recognized at a higher level such as Milestone badges, which can be combined with other Milestone badges and other ePortfolio evidence (and other forms of RPL assessment) to achieve even higher level recognition such as a DeakinDigital post-graduate credential. Gaps between badges can be filled by other eportfolio evidence and new learning in a fluid way. (I think this needs a diagram – future post!)

LinkedIn May Be One Kind of ePortfolio, But It’s Not Free and It’s Not Enough

Don Presant: Open Badges – CAPLA 2015

We Can’t Get Too Far Ahead of Users

This is one of the reasons I’m a bit nervous about blockchains. I think we have a long *social awareness* row to hoe, and we should be thinking more about that.
For example, we need to convince people why “Open” is important and how LinkedIn is not enough, otherwise they’re just going to take the easy route being offered by some digital badge providers and end up locked inside gated online communities.

Open Badge Passport is Awesome

This example from my own personal Passport has it all: badges, headings, notes, even embedded video! It’s basically a one-page ePortfolio whose contents can be remixed in other Pages for other audiences. You can see from this example why I’m so anxious to bring this to Canada. (See my Jan 1 blog post.)
I expect lots more from Open Badge Passport in 2016. AND its Canadian equivalent, TBA soon.
Another long post…ack! My goal is to get these under 1000 words.

Addendum: Badge Alliance Community Call

This blog post and another from Serge Ravet on his blog provided the agenda for the Jan 20, 2016 Community Call of the Badge Alliance. See below the presentation I threw together for that meeting. Here’s the Etherpad record.
[slideshare id=57286078&doc=20160120epandopenbadgesbaccforupload-160120164409]

4 thoughts on “Do Open Badges Make ePortfolios Obsolete?

  1. Interesting work Don. My feeling is that the Personal Ledger (blockchain-based) is the way to address several of the 10 ePortfolio challenges I wrote in 2010. The ePortfolio technology has not evolved over the last 10 years, and it’s a fact that most ePortfolios are institutional and ePortfolio authors are totally dependent on the institution and the system administrator. With blockchains things can change for the best: “here is MY blockchain, push and pull what you need, from/to whatever application, and don’t ask me for anything more!”
    Mahara must start working on a blockchain-based repository. This would greatly simplify the addition of services DECIDED BY THE OWNER AND NOT THE SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR!!! It is time that adults are stopped being treated like 10 year olds with a system administrator or a tutor deciding what one has the right to do or not with their data, what extension they can use or not!

  2. Now that’s an interesting thought.
    It definitely gets us closer to the notion of a fully distributed ePortfolio, aggregated on demand… the pieces “hiding in plain sight” until activated by the owner, as we discussed a few years back.
    The issue I see with Mahara is that it’s very influenced by K12 needs (MyPortfolio in NZ) and I don’t see this vision playing out at that level…unless it could look like a regular Mahara until the learner is ready.
    Maybe a new kind of export? “Block2A”? Something that would would stay in pieces when unzipped, but be controllable in one place.
    “Prepare the Transporter Unit…”

    • Yes Don, the idea of a fully distributed ePortfolio was one of the intentions of the Open Badge movement. The blockchain is the magic wand that can make it happen!
      What is interesting with the introduction of blockchains is that it radically changes the relationships between Open Badges, ePortfolios, LMSs and other edtech. The relationships were more ‘instrumental’ than ‘organic’.
      Catalyst started by using Moodle as issuer and Mahara as displayer (a project winning the 2012 DML competition) then came the idea of reinventing ePortfolios from Open Badges (the Open Badge Passport, one of the winners of the 2015 DML competition).Now, with blockchains, it is possible to imagine an infrastructure where the very same ledger is used to store badges, artefacts, testimonies, BitofTrust and xAPI statements. One technology, many different applications and services.
      The Open badge movement has a unique opportunity to bring together the main actors of the edtech community around the blockchain technology. And I can see no technical reason why Moodle, Mahara and the Open Badge Passport couldn’t work from the same ledger. We can make it happen!

  3. To expand the question “Do Open Badges Make ePortfolios Obsolete?” I would ask: do Blockchains Make Open Badges Obsolete? and my responses is:
    1) blockchains free credentials from the dictature of the “pretty picture” — I can give you credit for something without having to associate it with a pretty (or ugly) picture; consequently…
    2) blockchains rejuvenate Open Badges by offering an alternative to OBesity — due to Open Badges addiction. Don’t have to use a badge when a simple credential is sufficient.
    3) blockchains are an opportunity to rejuvenate ePortfolio technology — ePortfolio platforms have not made any significant progress over the last 10 years, except for an ever expanding list of bugs!
    So, far from rendering ePortfolios obsolete, by reinventing themselves Open Badges are opening the path for the rebirth of the ePortfolio — and other edtechs.

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