This project is alive… at least I think so.

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 2.15.07 PMThe INSIGNIA project got funded! I’ll be using this blog to record progress on the project.

Thanks to the Office for Learning and Teaching for providing ANU with seed funding to explore the use of open badges in research education. The project will be a collaboration between the research training team, the College of Asia and the Pacific and the ANU library, led by myself.

You’re probably wondering what the research project is all about, so here’s a brief outline:

In Australia research students need only write a long thesis or dissertation, most do not do any formal course work with their degree. People now enter research degree study at all ages and stages, and from many walks of life. No longer can we assume everyone starts with the same knowledge.

There is a growing need to provide research students with more formal training in areas like research integrity, research methods and digital literacy. But rather than sit through long courses which might not suit their needs, research students need ways to demonstrate they have competence, or find out what they still need to know. This project aims to explore alternative ways of providing this through open badges.

As you will know, in a conventional course you have regular delivery of content (in the form of lectures, tutorials or modules), activities and then assessment. Courses are linear through time, with clear roles for teachers and students. By contrast, open badges suggest an alternative framework for learning, one that is dynamic and complex.

An open badge is a piece of digital information that is issued for recognition of a skill or ability. One, relatively conventional, way to use open badges is to issue them for completion of an assessment task or activity. The key player in the field of open badging is Mozilla who are authoring a set of standards and tools to facilitate the design and delivery. Their forthcoming Badgekit will provide crucial tools for this project. Once it is issued the badge may be displayed by the learner on digital platforms like blogs or in Mozilla’s Open Badges Backpack.

There are many ways to think about open badges, but the first type we plan to explore is a ‘recognition of learning’ approach, which treats open badges as similar to achievements in computer gaming. To earn a badge learners must complete a challenge which demonstrates their knowledge. The course content to support a badge activity might be provided, or learners may customise their own learning from a range of course materials which have been curated by a teacher or a community. Or a learner might just already know how to do the task.

There are three main research questions which we will try to answer with this work:

  • Are open badges useful for research education?
  • Will students (and supervisors) want to use them?
  • What are some of the barriers to implementing open badges within conventional university settings?

That’s probably enough for a start… but I’d like to take the opportunity here to acknowledge the work of Dr Lyndsay Agans who worked with me on the initial project proposal. Lyndsay has now left ANU and can no longer be involved with the project, but it’s fair to say this grant would not have been successful without her input. I’ll do my best to carry on alone!

if you are interested in reading more, here are three references on open badges which we appended to the original application: