The iELT Blog

News and views from iELT and friends
27
Apr

Pushing the Digital Boundaries

There’s no denying the transformational impact technology is having on our personal and working lives. If reports and media stories are to be believed, it’s not just robots taking our jobs that we need to worry about – algorithms and Artificial Intelligence will play their role too. A recent report from leading consultancy firm PwC suggests that by 2030 one third of UK jobs will be under threat as a result of automation.

Reassuringly, this research highlights that education is one of the professions least at risk of a total digital takeover, as social and literacy skills are less easily replaced by technology.

At Cambridge English we’re trying to ensure that teachers’ use of digital learning grows dramatically in the coming years and that teachers learn to use it to support their teaching, not in place of their teaching.

But the rate of change driven by new technologies means that many teachers are preparing students now for jobs that don’t yet exist. If the future of job hunting lies in the hands of smart algorithms then it’s becoming ever more important to leave a digital trail that differentiates between skills at a more granular level. Open badges can help us do that.

What are Open Badges?

Many of us own an impressive collection of certificates and trophies, school badges and brownie or boy scout badges earned over our lifetime, which, when combined, give a detailed picture of our skills, interests and experience. We often present a small selection of these to employers in the form of a traditional CV and then have to hunt around for the tangible evidence to support the claims we’ve made. Many of our less formal credentials never get shared.

But what if we could combine our formal and informal credentials in one place with all relevant supporting evidence and share at the click of a button?

And, even better, what if we could easily serve up multiple, customised versions of our portfolio to different employers, colleagues or friends, and share them across social media platforms?

Digital open badges enable us to do this.

As well as providing evidence of qualifications and training, open badges include extra information, or metadata. This metadata can include the name of the badge, who it was issued to, who it was issued by, when it was issued, what you did to get that badge along with additional digital evidence. That evidence can be anything shareable – a video for example, images, a document, a blog post you wrote.

By collecting badges you build up a richer and more detailed picture of yourself – a personalised digital portfolio which can help employers, organisations, educational institutions and individuals to verify your skills, interests and achievements more easily.

What are the advantages of Open Badges to educators and learners?

Open badges help to integrate formal and informal learning by giving value to learning outside formal pathways and qualifications. They can help learners become more autonomous and the motivational impact of badges can help to improve the learner experience. We know that skills and competencies develop over time and can be added to, enhanced, or forgotten. Open badges help to support and encourage lifelong learning, demonstrating progress along individual learning paths.

While adoption of open badges by employers in the ELT industry is a slow process, we are witnessing a more obvious shift in the tertiary sector. Many education institutions in the US, for example, are adopting them for some of their programmes. The Open University run a free online learning platform with a selection of courses culminating in an open digital badge awarded for completing all sections of a course and passing the assessments.  Coventry University in the UK have been experimenting with badging students for extra-curricular skills they are developing alongside their studies, which encourage learners to select their own unique pathway.

Organisations such as IBM provide professional training with badges that employees are motivated to get because the badges are transferable and recognised industry-wide as a standard.

But it’s not just big institutions that can benefit from open badges – teachers can issue badges to support and motivate learners by, for example, gamifying learning with teachers creating the criteria for badges and students negotiating which tasks they complete and in what order. Or trainers can issue them to recognise internal training courses.

Cambridge English and Open Badges

At Cambridge English we’ve been experimenting with open badges in a number of ways: issuing open badges for attendance at webinars, events and training days; awarding badges to institutions which connect with partner schools in our Penfriends project and introducing an element of gamification into badging – rewarding the first school to connect with a school in every continent, for example. We also award open badges to education agents who complete online training courses and to teachers taking part in non-certified training courses.

We believe open badges represent a really interesting opportunity in the future of learning and we are working with groups of teachers in different countries to assess uptake and interest in open badges and to determine the potential value teachers and their employers place on them in different contexts.

The future of open badges obviously raises some interesting questions – as learning and assessment are increasingly seen as a process rather than just a destination, what role might open badges play in the future of qualifications? Should we offer open badges for passing Cambridge English exams or only for evidence of the journey?

We will be talking more about open badges at InnovateELT where all conference attendees will receive a digital open badge.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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