Thursday, 16 January 2014

Open Badges and Trade School


This blog is an attempt to see how two initiatives in learning that I have been involved in might come together. The first initiative concerns Open Badges, a new way of recognising, rewarding and accrediting learning. The second initiative is Trade School which is a way of offering learning opportunities through the ancient system of barter.

It strikes me that people reading this blog will either come from the world of Open Badges or from the Trade School community and may not be aware of what the other actually is and how they work. I'll start by explaining as best I can what each of these are and then finish with some thoughts on how Trade School could begin to exploit the potential of Open Badges.

Open Badges: An Explanation

The concept of Open Badges is easy to explain and to understand. When I tell people what they are I always ask them to refer back to their days in the Scouts or Guides (although for me these memories are quite painful). Scouts and Guides earn badges. These badges are recognitions of a particular achievement or endeavour. They have identified the tracks left by a wild animal or learnt how to orientate themselves with a map and compass or successfully baked a cake all by themselves. The badges awarded are then faithfully sewn onto the uniform sleeve or sash so that they are able to publicly display what their achievements are. In the educational field these narrow and specific achievements are known as granular.

All you have to do is to transfer those badges to an online environment and you have entered the world of Open Badges. Of course it's a little bit more complicated than that but it is a good way to understand what Open Badges are. They are a way of recognising a granular achievement and just like on the sleeve or sash, Open Badges can be displayed on a 'Digital Backpack' where any badges earned can be displayed for all to see.

An example of a 'Digital Backpack'

Broadly speaking, Open Badges can be awarded for three things: skills, participation and achievements.

A skills badge is awarded after a particular skill has been learnt and the learner has demonstrated that he or she can use that skill. As an example from my own backpack, this badge that was awarded after I successfully completing assignments on an online course with the Open University.

A participation badge is awarded for taking part in, or hosting, an event such as a conference, seminar or any gathering where ideas and learning are exchanged. Again from my backpack, I was awarded this badge after taking part in a webinar on mobile devices in informal learning environments.

An achievement badge is awarded to recognise that the learner has created something using new skills, tools or ideas. As a last example from my backpack, here is a badge that recognises that I built a webpage using Mozilla's Thimble tool.

Of course the boundaries between these three areas are by necessity blurred so an Open Badge that is awarded could recognise any combination of these three areas.

Open Badges are increasingly taken up within schools, colleges, universities and other centres of formal learning. In the same way that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) should not be perceived as a replacement for traditional university qualifications so Open Badges are not seen as taking over from formal qualifications at high school or college. Open Badges are acknowledgements of achievement and not a qualification.

My interest is not in the field of formal education but in the looser world of informal education. Here Open Badges are also beginning to make an impact. Informal learning spaces such as museums, libraries, science centres etc. can award Open Badges in recognition of learning within their environment. For example, the Smithsonian Institution runs a program called "Smithsonian Quests" in which children can earn badges by completing tasks that utilise the collections within the Smithsonian museums. As another example, the Museum of Modern Art in New York ran a six-week online course for adults on the use of multimedia in art. Participants who completed the course were awarded a badge. 

Trade School: An Explanation

Like Open Badges, the idea of Trade School is very easy to understand. Anybody with a particular skill or passion (and who wishes to do so) can teach. They run a class through their local Trade School and ask their students for bartered items in exchange. Students book for a course online and indicate which of the bartered items they will bring with them. As an example, there is a Trade School course being run in Indianapolis on CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). In exchange the tutor has asked for treats for his cat, colouring books, pieces of Lego or rechargeable batteries.  The bartered item does not have to be an object but could be advice on organic gardening or a promise to smile at strangers in the street. 

At no point does money ever exchange hands. 

Classes normally last for about one hour and usually focus on a very particular skill or achievement. In other words, courses on Trade School tend to be granular. On top of that, the kinds of skills and achievements being taught in Trade School are pretty wide. A quick look at courses that have been taught at Trade School London includes knitting for beginners, bicycle maintenance, Irish dancing, an introduction to Photoshop and how to create consensus in groups. What these courses have in common is that they are introductory and they do not assume any prior knowledge or skills on the part of the student.

Trade School began in New York in February 2010 when an empty shop on Lower East Side hosted 76 classes over 35 days with over 800 students participating.

Trade School New York

It was such a success that Trade School New York has continued to run and is spreading to cities around the world.

Trade School and Open Badges

It seems to me that there are several areas of cross-over between Trade School and Open Badges.
  • they both help with the acquisition of skills and knowledge
  • they are both 'open' in that they are available to all and can be freely shared
  • they are both concerned with granular learning
  • both of them encourage the development of further learning
  • they both encourage informal learning

Let's imagine that a Trade School course offers an Open Badge to those students who take part in the course. As an example, I will be running a course with Trade School Norwich on playing and making Medieval Board Games. At the end of the course students could have the option to be awarded an Open Badge which would acknowledge their participation, skills and achievements. They would be emailed a link to the webpage which holds the badge which they can then download and display on their "digital backpack". It could look something like this:

The awarding of an Open Badge such as this would show that the local Trade School is publicly acknowledging the efforts of their students. For students they can show they have a new set of skills and knowledge and may act as an incentive to continue learning through their local Trade School.

Open Badges can also be given to Trade School teachers. It acknowledges their contribution to Trade School; it could show future employers that they have teaching skills and again may act as an incentive for them to carry on as a Trade School teacher. Here's a mock-up of what this badge might look like:

Find Out More

If you want to know more about Trade School and to see if there is a Trade School close to you then follow this link. Why not sign up for a course or even become a teacher?

If you want to know more about Open Badges then there is a lot of material here

The two mocked-up badges above were made here. If they are to be used then they will be awarded via the Credly website. 

Any Thoughts?

I am open to thoughts and comments from people from both the Trade School and the Open Badge communities. It would be great if a discussion could be started to see whether Trade Schools around the world could benefit from becoming an issuer of Open Badges.

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