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The Hype Cycle

Posted By Trent Batson Ph. D., AAEEBL, Sunday, March 08, 2015


The Hype Cycle

Response to: “What Will Truly Change Higher Education:  Online Degrees That are Seen as Official,” by Kevin Carey, NYTimes, 3-7-15

Carey’s article was adapted from The End of College:  Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Cary, Riverhead Books, 2015.

MOOCs and Badges

Before MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) there were badges dominating the headlines in articles about higher education.  Both MOOCs and badges appear to be a permanent part of the higher education mix, as neither have gone away, and both have continued to evolve and spread.

Kevin Carey, in his article adapted from his book, says that MOOCs have failed to “disrupt higher education.”  This is because MOOCs don’t offer official college degrees, “and that, it turns out, is mostly what college students are paying for.” 

But, he says, “Now information technology is poised to transform college degrees.  When that happens, the economic foundations beneath the academy will truly begin to tremble.” 

He continues, “free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs.  Now technological innovators are working on that, too.”  And then he explains badges.

How are Badges Perceived?

Now, as our community is aware, badges were around before MOOCs.  Badges have perhaps the wrong name: they are associated with the Scouts, with the military and with programmers.  They don’t seem to carry intellectual depth or academic weight.  It is hard to put together the phrase “liberal education” with the word “badges.”  One could, of course, make the same statement about “liberal education” and “grades,” as grades are increasingly viewed:  as inflated, non-predictive and devoid of any useful information.

Or, badges may seem too “micro,” as in the phrase “micro-credentialing.”  Does a collection of badges about micro-skills add up to a conceptual whole?  Do badges indicate that the receiver of the badges has gained the ability to make meaning because of mastering a set of micro-skills? 

That’s the impressionistic challenge to badges, and a challenge that is real as we ponder the place of badges in our assessment process. Are badges passé or still vital?

Searching for “digital badges” on the Web brings you to hits from three or four years ago when The Open Badges Initiative was announced.  However, it you go to, you’ll see that badges – that is, Credly on behalf of badges -- have gained traction with 10 or 15 organizations, including Pathbrite, Instructure, LinkedIn, Moodle, Drupal, uCertify, Haikulearning and others that provide a place to display badges, or an automated system to generate badges.  “Thousands” of organizations also use Credly to confer badges internally, including AAEEBL and EDUCAUSE.  Badges can be displayed via Twitter and Facebook also. 

It would seem that, just below the radar, badges are still vital and becoming part of the new learning ecology.

Badges, MOOCs and ePortfolios

Digital badges can be used and are being used in eportfolio platforms.  It seems from the Credly description of how badges are employed that badges are being granted as grades are granted.  But, in theory, badges can be granted by various organizations. 

MOOCs and online learning in general are growing in numbers of courses offered and enrollees.  But higher education continues drawing steady traditional enrollment.  Digital technology-based learning options are not either-or options.  A trope in our culture has been that some new digital tool or concept or use will completely replace an existing practice.  Time and again, we see that digital technologies primarily add to the options for ways to learn and to be recognized.

Just because we had a largely monolithic learning ecology in the past does not mean we will necessarily have a new monolith based in digital technologies.  The overwhelming evidence is that digital technologies add variety to learning, new opportunities, personalization, inclusion of whole-life learning, or, in short, a much richer learning ecology.  The digital revolution in higher education has already happened, but practice and systems have not yet adapted to that revolution.

The MOOC organizations – for example, Coursera and edX – do not seem to be focused on eportfolios.  My inquiries led me to understand the difficulties of trying to provide access to an eportfolio for thousands of students around the world.  MOOCs offered by a university for its own students would not have that same challenge. 

Badges are more directly tied to eportfolios.  It is logical to consider placing badges in eportfolios (once the provider has made the technical adjustments to allow for such display). 

The Hype Cycle

ePortfolios, we know, are in use on almost all U. S. campuses, at least in a course or two.  We also know that the number of students who use eportfolios in most of their courses has jumped in the last year or two.  Badges, MOOCs and eportfolios (and other ancillary digital technologies) continue to spread despite the headlines that, first, declare that a technology will revolutionize education, and then say no more, leaving the impression that all was hype.  This hype cycle serves no one. 



Tags:  AAEEBL  Badges  ePortfolios  MOOCs 

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