With The End of Average, Todd Rose sets out to reinstate the individual within a crowd of averages. Continuing the conversation started by those like Seth Godin, Yong Zhao and Simon Sinek, it is a book about empowering choice and change from the ground on up. The focus of Rose’s book is on on equal fit, rather than equal opportunity. This all starts with reinstating individuality. To get this message across, the book is split into three parts: the history of the average, the principles of Individuality and individuality in practice.
An Average History
In regards to the history, the story starts with Adolphe Quetelet. Rose discusses how in the 19th century, during the rise of industry and nations, Quetelet set out to develop a science for managing society. Applying the method of averages taken from astronomy, Quetelet worked the vast measurements being gathered by burgeoning nation states to develop a model of the average man. This is where the BMI index stems from. Quetelet’s work inspired many, including Karl Marx work on communism, Florence Nightingale in regards to nursing and Jon Snow in his response to cholera.
Another person inspired by Quetelet was Sir Francis Galton. The difference though was that Galton believed that to be average was far from ideal, instead it was mediocre. His interest was on improving on the idea of average. This involved redefining the notion of error, that is the difference from the mean, as rank. All in all Galton identified fourteen different classes, ranging from imbecile to mediocre to imminent. In addition to rank, Galton argued that the best qualities are correlated. For Rose, Quetelet and Galton represent the foundation for the invention of the average.
Taking the ideas of rank and average further, Frederick Winslow Taylor used them in the development of scientific management. Rather than empower individuals, Taylor was about maintaining efficiency through standardised processes.
In regards to education, Taylor’s ideas were taken up to organise learning through tests, bells, curriculum, textbooks and grading systems. A key figure involved in this movement was Edward Thorndike. A leader in the development of psychometrics, Thorndike saw the ranking of students as a means of measuring innate ability. For to Thorndike, education was about quality over equality. Rose makes the point that this was (and is) not a broken education system, rather a perfected one.
For Rose, the heroic history associated with the average came to halt when Peter Molenaar uncovered a flaw in our understanding of averages. For Molenaar, the issue lies with what is described as the ergodic switch. That is, taking something that is non-ergodic and switching it so it is. Using a process of aggregate then analyse, the switch involves understanding individuals without actually recognising their individuality. The problem with this is that group averages are OK if every member is identical and will remain the same in future. This is clearly not the case, for using a group average to discuss individuals treats humans as clones. The answer for Molenaar is the focus on dynamic systems, which are built upon a process of analyse then aggregate.
Principles of Individuality
According to Rose, the answer to the end of averages is the rise of individuality. Rather than an equal opportunity, where the goal is to provide everyone with access the same standardised experiences, Rose suggests we need equal fit, where we are all afforded the opportunity for our individuality to flourish. A key to all of this are what Rose describes as the the three principles of individuality: jaggedness, context and pathways.
JAGGEDNESS: Moving away from Galton’s one-dimensional view of ability involving correlations, Rose argues that our focus should be distinct jaggedness. As he states, “we can not apply one-dimensional thinking to something that is complex.” Jaggedness involves looking at the various attributes and achievements that make up the whole person. Rose states that there are two conditions for jaggedness: multiple dimensions that are weakly related. What is important about jaggedness is that it is not about finding diamonds in the rough, but instead about finding a way of celebrating true talent.
CONTEXT: Essentialist thinking would have it that traits and behaviours can be uncovered through the use of set model, such as the Myer Briggs test or concepts such as introverted and extraverted. These approaches are usually seen as helpful predictors of future actions. The problem is that our character traits are not consistent in all situations. For example, we are all a little bit shy sometime. The question then for Rose is within which context are we shy. Wary of opening a pluralistic Pandora’s box, he suggests that, “we are consistent within a given context.” The challenge is to understand these situations. The strategy that Rose proposes is the notion of ‘if then’ signatures. That is, if it is a particular situation, then it will produce these traits. For myself, an if then signature is exams. I struggle to stay focused in such situations, therefore at University I only chose subjects which involved essays. One of the important things to remember with context is that there is often more to someone than the context at hand. To me, this has many connections with strength-based education.
PATHWAYS: One of the legacies to standardisation is that everyone must follow the same set of rules and expectations in order to achieve some sort of mastery. This normative thinking often brings with it such standardisation of time and expectations. The problem with this approach is that it does not work for everyone all of the time, instead it works for a few some of the time. The pathways principle goes against this, instead arguing that there are many ways to reaching the outcome at hand and that the best path is a path just for us. As Rose asserts, “we are always creating our own pathway for the first time.” The only way to judge a pathway is how it fits with our jagged profile and if then signatures. One solution that Rose puts for individual pathways is self-determined competency-based credentialing. An example of this is the work around Open Badges. In their ideal form, pathways break with the analogy tgat success is to climb a ladder, instead it is more akin to a constellation of stars providing for numerous connections.
For Rose, the only path to a life of excellence is developing your own individuality, whether it be through your jagged profile, appreciating how you work in different contexts or finding the pathway that is right for you. Maybe it is finding a new solution in business or identifying your own problems to solve, at the heart of the quest for individuality is innovation.
Criticism and Connections
Although The End of Average makes a compelling case for change, this comes with its own set of questions and concerns. As a history, it reads as somewhat convenient. It can be easy to be caught up with the narrative of the heroic individual, however the reality is often much more complicated. For example, it is easy to simply associate scientific management with Frederick Taylor, however not only were there others involved in its conception, but it has long been out of fashion. Audrey Watters captures some of these intricacies in her analysis of the factory model of education.
Another question left somewhat unanswered is the place of the community. In The Good Education in an Age of Measurement, Gert Biesta argues that there are three ingredients to a ‘Good Education’: qualification, socialisation and subjectification. Although credentials and pathways encompass qualifications and subjectification, there is little discussion of socialisation. In a world which focuses on the individual, it remains uncertain as to how systematic change occurs. Maybe it doesn’t or maybe it is simply industries of individuals working together? Whatever the answer, this is not really addressed.
Connected with the question of community, one of the things that stands as a concern for a system built around individuality is that there is a risk that it will only be an equal fit for those with access. Although technology plays a large roll in the form of online learning, it is still dependent on human support. Again such dependency on funding and investment has the risk of reinstating a meritocratic system, especially when the simple answer is to just innovate. Those outside of this opportunity are at then left to the whims of Silicon Valley and the Californian ideology. Relying on such evasive movements as the AltSchool or Bridge International to provide a supposed personalised solution ironically at the expense of our control.
Moving Beyond Average
I remember when I used to live in the Victorian country side being amazed by the amount of Weeping Willows growing along the open channels that carried water between the various properties. An introduced species, they actually sapped up a lot of the water. I once asked the Outdoor Education teacher I was working alongside why they did not just remove them. He explained that to simply remove them actually causes even more damage through erosion. What is needed, he explained, was to plant something next to the tree that would be able to take its place and fill the same purpose. I see the same thing happening with this book.
The End of Average should not be read as a book of answers written to guide teachers and leaders through a new way of being. For that in itself would be the greatest irony, to provide an average answer for a complex problem. Instead, the book starts a conversation. For although Rose identifies the issue at hand, the answers are not necessarily set. Rather it is in part up to us as individuals to work together to move beyond an age of average to something of our own.
I consider myself an ideas man. Sometimes though this can lead to ideals. This can be both good as it allows me to dream big. However, it can also be limiting in that it can overlook some of the realities. One of the interesting things about my new job is that many of my ideas and ideals have been challenged and pushed further than ever before. What in the past were just seeds are given air and water to grow. Open Badges is one such seed …
The first thing to consider with Open Badges, or the Open Badge standard to be clearer, is what it actually means. To do this, it is useful to unpack each of the terms:
Open: When it comes to technology, open can mean many things to many people. In a survey of the various uses of the word ‘open’, Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek identified the following categories: open source, open standard, open access, open society, open knowledge, open government and open washing. In regards to badges, open can best be understood as relating to the agreed standards which provide the protocols to build the web upon.
Badges: For many when we think about badges the idea of sleeves full of achievements sewed on comes to mind. Digital badges are best understood as a continuation of this. In this sense, they usually offer a way of gamifying a learning activity. Someone somewhere has deemed you worthy of a particular achievement standard. However, there is often little evidence to justify the outcome. You can find such badge systems built into platforms, such as WordPress.com, Edmodo, Class Dojo or Khan Academy. The intent of these is usually to both reward the user, but also entice you to go further. One of the limitations with digital badges is their lack of transferability and seemingly credibility. Outside of the context in which they are given, they lack purpose and meaning. In contrast, with the metadata baked in, Open Badges allow anyone to check their credibility, while more control is given to the receiver to show them.
Standard: There are a number of standards associated with the web, including hardware, file formats and programming languages. In part, these allow users to access information from different browsers. Something that was not always possible in the early days of the web. Open protocols allow the creation of what are called ‘stateless’RESTfulAPIs that help develop the web in a simple and efficient way. These interfaces make it easier to deliver content across the World Wide Web without the need to store sessions on servers somewhere. The Open Badges standard can be understood as a collection of specifications and applications that combines to make up the Open Badges Infrastructure. For badges, this means that different sites can talk to one another, therefore meaning that badges can be stored wherever you choose. The leading organisation in regards to the maintenance of such standards and specifications is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
In addition to understanding what the Open Badge standard is, it is important to appreciate the background to this idea and development of the standard over time.
In 2014 the not-for-profit Badge Alliance was formed to keep work moving forward. With support and guidance from a number of organisations, the intent was to provide a stable centre around which the coordination of various working groups and weekly community calls could be done.
In 2016, Digital Me combined with City and Guilds and Makewaves to take a more leading role in regards to the maintenance of the infrastructure. This has included upgrading the Mozilla Backpack, in particular replacing the Persona login system with Passport.js.
There has been some conjecture around the changes associated with Open Badges. However, Doug Belshaw argues that this is the usual dip associated with innovation. Using Gartner’s Hype Cycle, he suggests that it is actually important to go through a ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in order to reach the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.
In addition to the roles of the various organisations, there have been a number of steps in regards to the the development of the standard. The initial capacity made available in Version 0.5 was to bake metadata in single JSON file, as well as host and verify badges.
In the specifications of Version 1.0 the single JSON file was split into three distinct objects: Assertions, BadgeClasses and Issuers. The Badge Alliance define these as follows:
The BadgeClass describes a particular defined achievement and points to the Issuer who defined it with its issuer property.
An Assertion contains information about a single Recipient’s achievement of a BadgeClass and similarly points to the BadgeClass’s identifying ID with the “badge” property.
The Issuer Profile is uniquely identified by a Linked Data ID (which takes the form of an Internationalized Resource Identifier, specifically a URI).
This was done to provide more flexibility and use of information.
It should be noted, like all things new and open, just because functionality is added to a specification, it does not mean that everyone necessarily builds upon this. Rather it is often about what is possible and allowing for the diversity of the community.
For more info on the development of Open Badges standard, go to the openbadges.org site. While for more details about the various the specifications, check out openbadgespec.org. Doug Belshaw has also started a curated slidedeck if you are looking for a list of those associated with Open Badges.
There are many perceived benefits to Open Badges. The Badge Alliance identify four key aspects. Badges are free for anyone to use and build upon. They are transferable in that they are not dependent on any one platform. They are stackable as they offer the means of collecting together different accomplishments. While they incorporate evidence that is baked into the data.
Approaching the challenge of hiring and the traditional curriculum vitae, Doug Belshaw discusses how Open Badges are granular, provide proof of achievement(s) and allow the earner to tell their story. They help people fill in the gaps to paint a better picture, as well as take back control of the way we trust one another.
Coming from the perspective of assessment, Don Presant makes the case that Open Badges can provide the means for reinforcing self-directed learning. These links to learning are also elaborated in the results from the Design Principles Documentation Project(DPD Project) that arose out of the initial HASTAC funding associated with Open Badges. The project identified four categories of learning to help think about badges. They are recognise, assess, motivate and study. Associated with the research, a number of resources were developed, including a series of cards designed to help develop your own system. Another useful planning resource is the Open Badge Design Toolkit created by Grainne Hamilton.
Whether it be high or low stakes learning, badges offer a flexible form of micro-credentialing that is really up to your own imagination. Doug Belshaw captures this with a continuum which spans the formal to the interesting, while Serge Ravet presents a plane of recognition encompassing the formal and informal, as well as the static and dynamic influences.
Another way into Open Badge is to consider them as a substitute for a traditional certificate with built-in breadcrumbs baked into the code. Where they differ from certificates is that badges are often a part of an ecosystem. Although they can be created individually, their potential lies in the ability to be interconnect and provide different pathways for learning.
The most obvious pathway is the stepping stones approach. Sequential in nature, this involves completing one step at a time in a prescriptive manner. See for example, Doug Belshaw’s kanban badges using Trello.
Another option is where badges are a part of a collection. Like the game Trivial Pursuit, this is where several achievements are grouped together in a nonlinear manner. Prescriptive in nature, collections can be linked with the completion of standards or levelling up.
In contrast to perspective badge ecosystems, constellations offer an open-ended approach where users can choose from a range of possibilities, carving out any number of pathways. This is conducive to lifelong learning and offers the potential to collected together different achievements to write your own learning story. Open to borrowing from different providers, it is for this reason that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.
Reflecting on the place of badges, Greg McVerry suggests that they only play one part of the story and that credentials and qualifications are often verified by presence. In part this is what sites like LinkedIn try to tap into allowing people to endorse various expertise. There does seem to be some attempt to bake this information into the code with the addition of Extensions in the move to JSON-LD.
Although there are those, such as Todd Rose, who talk about rethinking learning around capabilities, credentialing and self-determined learning. Such discussions either ignore the underpinning infrastructure or simply fail to recognise such changes. In regards to Open Badges, there are a number of steps involved, including the platform used to issue badges, the evidence referenced in the process, the creation of the actual digital badge and where badges are stored.
When I first came upon Open Badges, it was via Peer 2 Peer University. What was good about P2PU was the ease in which you could create a badge. In addition to this, there were a few useful features, such as the ability to add different forms of evidence to the site, as well as the potential to distribute responsibility for credentialing others to everyone in the community. The problem though is that P2PU did not nessarily make it easy to take my badges elsewhere. This is one of many things to consider when working with open standards and open source software.
Does the platform include the ability to create the visual design of the badge?
Does the platform allow for multiple badge-issuing?
In regards to hosted platforms, some further things to consider include:
Does the platform allow badge earners to export their badges to other providers?
Does the platform attempt to lock me in if I want to move between badge issuing platforms?
Does the platform use Open Source technology?
Some other questions to consider include:
Does the platform allow you to add evidence?
Does the platform provide a means for submission and notification?
Below is a discussion of some of platforms:
Badgr: Relatively easy to use once you get your head around the workflow, Badgr provides a structured way to allocate badges. Like many platforms, it allows you to not only issue badges, but also bring them together into various collections. The problem faced is when it comes to notifications, while the evidence is required to be housed elsewhere. Being open sourced, one of the big potentials is to run your own instance.
Credly: In some ways Credly is to Open Badges what Medium is to blogging. It provides the means to both issue and receive badges, while it has incorporated almost all of the options associated with Open Badges standard, such as tags, categories and the submission of evidence. There is also the ability to add content, such as images and text, directly within Credly. In regards to creating your badges, Credly makes use of the icons via The Noun Project. While when it comes to issuing, there is the option of issuing badges to more than one recipient at once using a CSV file. If you are using Google Forms and/or Sheets then you simply download them as CSV. While once issued, badges can be grouped into lists and then referenced elsewhere. Although much of the functionality is available via the free account, there are various premium options which allow things like analytics, verification and the use of your own domain.
Open Badge Academy:Similar to Credly, Open Badge Academy provides the means to quickly and easily create and curate badges. One of the unique features is to develop a sequence of tasks, incorporating a range of media. Designed around the idea of organisations, provides a number of ways to brand your badges. It is one of the most visually appealing platforms and seems to make sense as a user. However, the limit of three badges for the free account means that to be meaningful, you have to pay.
BadgeOS: Combining WordPress.org with Open Badges through the use of BadgeOS plugin provides both the structure and freedom to develop a more personalised solution. Not only does BadgeOS integrate with Credly, providing the ability to create visuals, as well as store and send badges to various spaces, but it also allows users to build upon the open source infrastructure. The plugin itself provides a number of different options for setting up badges. In addition to modifying your WordPress blog, you are able to build upon the plugin. In addition to the core download, there are a number of add-ons designed to enhance the functionality even further. While those adept can also build your own add-ons to customise things to your context even further (see for example Martin Hawksey’s work with the Association for Learning Technology.)
This is only a selection of some of the spaces. The Badge Alliance has curated a comprehensive list of platforms (although it does not include Open Badge Academy.) It needs to be noted that being an open standard also provides the possibility and potential to build your own solution hooking into the various APIs. For ideas on this, see the work of Martin Hawksey for inspiration.
One of the biggest differences between badges (and digital badges) and Open Badges is the nature of the evidence. Too often formal learning is measured by a grade or a number, while professional learning is quantified in hours. None of this is attached to either meaningful or personalised evidence. Open Badges sets out to resolve this by adding verification into the process.
Anything that you can put on the web associated with a link can be used as evidence. The challenge with this is that not every link on the web is accessible. For example, you may wish to link something shared within a closed community. However, unless the person issuing the badge is also in that community this will not work. In addition, anyone who may wish to verify the evidence in the future will be unable to do so unless they too have access.
Here are some ideas and possibilities for creating such a space:
Padlet: A digital pinboard that can be useful for capturing a range of media files.
G Suite: Maybe it is Docs or Slides, but the cloud based nature of Google means that it is easy to share out.
OneNote: Like a Google Apps, OneNote allows you to collect a range of content in the cloud and share out.
Adobe Spark Page: An easy way of quickly making a website in which to share links, images and text.
Canva Website: Like Spark Page, Canva now offers the ability to quickly and easily create a website.
Slideshare: A space to upload and share presentations, whether it be a PowerPoint, PDF or Google Slides.
Storify: An application which allows you to easily curate a wide range of content.
Blog: Whether it be in the form of a post or adding content to a static page, blogs offer an easy means to collate content in one space.
GitHub: Although this involves a bit more effort, GitHub provides the means of creating a static site or a repository, especially using something like Jekyl.
Docs.com: A space to share Microsoft Files and resources.
A compromise for those who do not wish to share openly is to use an application which allows you to share with those who have the link. Whatever space you use though you need to be mindful that sites can come and go, therefore the most powerful option is often one which gives you control over the lease.
Although most sites provide the potential of creating visual badges. It can also be useful to create and store these elsewhere. You only need to look badges up on Google to find a range of options, including Makebadg.es, Canva and OpenBadges.me. The catch is often what information these sites are asking for in return, such as the requirement to sign up in order to download.
Whatever platform you use, it is important to be mindful of Creative Commons licensing when choosing images and icons. Sites such as Flickr and The Noun Project provide a wealth of options to use. Otherwise Tony Vincent shows how to use Google Drawings to create your own.
Storing and Sharing Badges
Once you have been issued a badge, the next question is what you do with them. This includes considering where you store them, how you organise them and where you show them.
The first thing to decide is where to keep your badge. Many platforms allow you to and encourage people to store badges with them. With this in mind, you need to wary that not all platforms provide the same portability as others.
Another option is the Open Badge Passport. The sister product to Open Badge Factory, this site allows you to collect your badges, as well as easily share them on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
It can be easy to get excited about technology such as Open Badges, but a badge in itself will not transform education. It is therefore important to be mindful that badges may not be for everyone and should therefore maintain a voluntary element, as Martin Hawksey warns. Also we still need to be wary when it comes to the criterias we set and the evidence we provide. For as Alan Levine has shown, quality is not always a given. Ale Armellini questions the benefits altogether. Whatever choices that we make, it is important that they are situated within a wider debate about digital literacies and education.
So what about you? What have been your experiences with Open Badges? Do you have any thoughts to add to the discussion? As always, comments welcome.
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This is my second post in regards Open Badges in response to the course offered by Think Out Loud Club. My first post can be viewed here.
There are so many different ways that you can create and allocate Open Badges. Whether it be high or low stakes learning, badges offer a flexible form of micro-credentialling that is really up to your own imagination. One way of making sense of an Open Badge is as a traditional certificate with built-in breadcrumbs. Another difference is that badges are often a part of an ecosystem. Although they can be created individually, their true potential is ability to interconnect and provide different pathways for learning.
The most obvious pathway is the stepping stones aproach. Sequential in nature, it involves doing one step at a time in a prescriptive manner. See for example, Doug Belshaw’s kanban badges using Trello. Another option is where badges are a part of a collection. Like the game Trivial Pursuit, this is where several achievements are grouped together in a non-linear manner. Perscriptive in nature, collections can be linked with the completion of standards or levelling up. In contrast to perspective badge ecosystems, constellations offer a more open-ended approach where users can choose from a range of possibilities, carving out any number of pathways. This is conducive to life-long learning and offers the potential to write your own learning story. Open to borrowing from different providers, it is for this reason that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.
To make more sense of these differences, lets consider the act of blogging. Although sites like WordPress have badges built in, these are more about engagement and gamification than the actual skills and competencies involved. Approaching it as a set of stepping stones, you could create a space, write a post, add an image and embed different content. This is often the way that Edublogs structures their challenge and the manner is clearly outlined. Thinking about it as a series of collections, you could have a series of levelled badges, each a combination of smaller steps completed in any order. So a Basics of Blogging Badge might include micro-credentials such as creating a blog, writing a post, making an about me page and using tags and categories to organise. As a constellation, a wide range of badges with support, but without set structure, allows users to create their own blogging pathway. This might include such skills as adjusting the theme, improving engagement, turning a blog into a book or self-hosting a blog. You could complete all of the badges or some of them, in whatever order you like.
If you are looking for a guide for creating a badge ecosystem, DigitalMe have a canvas which outlines all the different requirements in a clear manner.
So what about you, do you have an example of a badge ecosystem? Or any thoughts on badges for blogging? As always, comments welcome.
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Open Badges are online representation of a skill you have earnt. It is an infrastructure that was originally backed by Mozilla, but has since been taken over by the Badge Alliance, with the support of the MacArther Foundation. Open Badges allow you to verify different information, such as a description, issuer, criteria of achievement and standards met. This is done by hard-coding the metadata, that is the data about data. Some such as Doug Belshaw suggest that the future of such hard-coding is connected with the blockchain.
Digital badges are a continuation of physical badges issued by organisations, such as Scouts, just in an online form. They usually offer a way of gamifying an activity and are usually built into different sites, whether it be WordPress or Khan Academy. A few limitations is there lack transferability and lack of credibility. In contrast, anyone can check credibility of the open badges and they can be shown anywhere. In addition to this, they are not controlled by any one organisation, often devised to be stackable, evidence-based and add an element of trust into the process.
Open badges can be used in a number of ways, including gaining recognition for skills demonstrated and plotting your own learning pathway. Don Presant suggests that they could be used to celebrate the acquisition of skills, extra-curricular activities or the completion of different programs. In the end though, it allows different organisations to develop a secure yet open foundation to recognise learning.
See Bob Price’s book for a more comprehensive introduction to Open Badges: