National University of Ireland, Galway
NUI Galway, the largest and oldest University in the West of Ireland, was founded over 170 years ago and the University has grown massively both in size and reputation over the years. NUI is among the top 2% of universities in the world and they’ve got recognition as being one of the best universities because of their international outlook.
Iain Mac Labhrainn, Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching at NUI Galway, observed that there has often been difficulty in obtaining widespread recognition for informal learning and professional development activities. Typically, recognition was only available through completion of full-scale Postgraduate Diplomas and Masters, but even these can sometimes fail to capture the specific skills of participants in such programmes. “We work with academic staff and aim to develop their skills in teaching and learning; some of the areas covered are clearly identifiable skills or knowledge and were very amenable to being badged”, Iain says.
First year students’ study skills, as well as their adaptation to higher education were also a concern. Whilst students were able to access self-study materials in their own time, the lack of some formal recognition of achievement may be demotivating for many. Again, such a situation seemed a perfect scenario for the use of badges.
“For graduates, too, there was no means of recording or signifying that the student had developed particular, transferrable skills that would help them with seeking employment. Yes, they have their degree parchment, but employers like to know about specific capabilities and experience.”
All in all, people were taking part in multiple training courses and developing their skills but this wouldn’t necessarily be captured on their official transcripts, or if so only in the form of a note of participation rather than an indicator of skills and capabilities developed.
NUI Galway started to look at Open Badges to solve all these issues. In addition, there was a realisation that badges within courses can also help students feel a sense of progress and motivation.
Iain Mac Labhrainn, Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching, NUI Galway
The University uses Open Badge Factory for creating, issuing and managing their Open Badges. “OBF is simple to use, flexible, scalable and offers the opportunity to integrate with a number of important platforms like Blackboard, Moodle and WordPress. The platform provides a greater control over badge issuing, categorisation and delivers useful analytics”, Iain notes.
NUI Galway issues different types of Open Badges: ’internal badges’ for students attending existing courses to motivate and encourage them to progress; and ’external badges’ aimed to make sense to a wider world of employers, educational institutions and civil society. The latter are tightly associated with clearly specified criteria and evidence and mark a definite capability or achievement.
The university is also developing Open Badges at the national level via its participation in All Aboard, which aims to develop digital skills and confidence in the use of technology in the Irish higher education sector.
There have been some challenges when they’ve explained what Open Badges are to traditional educators, as the word ‘badge’ can sometimes appear too trivial. With these audiences they use the phrase ‘digital micro-credential’, which has helped acceptance. The University is also engaged in refining policy and guidelines regarding badge issuing to ensure that the quality standards are maintained and that the badges have recognised value to those who use them. Iain states that so far the reaction to Open Badges, both internally and externally, has been quite positive: “Certainly, many have commented that they feel a sense of achievement when the badge is issued to them and often enquire about what other badges are available. But we need to show how the badges fit in the context of personal professional profiles, professional social networks and so forth.”
Present and Future
NUI Galway intends to issue more badges in the future and that the criteria and design process for badges are carefully managed. This is the best way to ensure that the badges issued have real meaning for the badge earners and other parties. “With our guidelines and with the support of national projects, we feel very encouraged about the future”, he concludes.