Monday, November 14, 2016

Competencies in Context #1: New Developments at Portfolium

By Dan Hickey
In this detailed post, I illustrate how the Portfolium ePortfolio platform is breaking new ground with digital badges and new networking features that readily connect learners and potential employers.  In particular, I highlight my own interaction with a student in LA around one of the badges he earned in his coursework. I presented this example in talks at ePIC in Bologna and Mozfest in London and lots of people had questions about it. What I find particularly exciting about these developments is how it shows healthy competition to around the most effective communication about competencies and evidence of competencies among educators, learners, and employers. The communication is crucial because it provides information about the context in which students competencies were developed and (therefore) the range of contexts where those competencies will be most readily deployed in the future.

Overview of Learning Recognition Networks
In a previous post, I summarized a meeting of ePortfolio providers and digital badge providers that helped find consensus around potential new synergy between these two learning recognition technologies. I was particularly excited by the announcement of MyMantl from Chalk & Wire, the first self-described "Learning Recognition Network" ("LRN"). As elaborated in a different post, ePortfolios are an ideal platform for providing the web-enabled evidence to support the claims of competence contained in digital badges.

It turns out that one of the newer ePortfolio platforms (Portfolium) that was unable to join our meeting has quietly but steadily advancing the synergy between badges and ePortfolios. Importantly, Portfolium also introduced groundbreaking new employer-oriented features that allow them to rely on revenue from employers seeking access to the best employees. In particular, the system provides crucial information about the contexts in which competencies were developed and makes it simple to seek additional information.  

The core argument behind this post is that this information about context is crucial to the functioning of Learning Recognition Networks. While competency-based education offers many advantages that help all stakeholders, it also has the tendency to strip away useful information that allows each learner to highlight their unique talents and helps admissions and hiring officials assess whether candidates are likely able to deploy those competencies successfully in subsequent learning and performance contexts.

Linda Delzeit at Los Angeles Trade and Technical College has been leading a major advancement of their allied health programs with a Department of Labor funded Healthcare Competencies to Careers Consortium (LAHC3). They worked closely with area hospitals and other employers to ensure that their courses and programs were providing learners with the competencies and experiences currently needed in the workplace. From the start, they worked to use ePortfolios and digital badges to help students develop and display evidence of their competencies.

LATTC started down this path using the Mahara ePortfolio platform that is a subsystem for the Moodle open source learning management system. But according to Linda, the Moodle/Mahara approach had limitations on file sizes and the badge integration was just getting underway (Kristina Hoeppner at Catalyst IT in New Zealand has apparently made significant progress in recent months) 

LATTC's Original Mahara Badges
So LATTC turned to commercial vendor Portfolium. They liked the fact the Portfolium was free for students and that the platform features several key features that appeal to employers. Here is how Recruiting Daily put it when they named Portfolium one the Top 10 HR Technology and Recruiting Tools of 2016:
Simply, Portfolium is building an incredibly sophisticated proprietary, fully searchable candidate database with a matching algorithm designed explicitly for college recruiting and reaches students directly on campus through exclusive partnerships with over 150 universities....Students can do a better job representing themselves to employers, and employers can start adding sourcing and data methodology to the graduate hiring madness.
So I went ahead and signed up with Portfolium. While I registered as a student, I indicated that I was a faculty member and a researcher when I filled out my profile. Then I asked Linda Delzeit to introduce me to some of her students. One of the students she introduced me to was Luis Lopez. I went to his homepage and learned that he is a Health Occupations Career student at LA Southwest and hopes to eventually go to medical school. Luis' full home page included an impressive list of previous education and experience.

Luis Lopez's Home Page in Portfolium

Connection Email from Portfolium
When I clicked on Connect, Luis was notified that I wanted to connect with him and he promptly accepted my request. When he did, the platform notified me with an email that also invited me to connect with other students using Portfolium at my own university.

This seems like a promising feature. I assume that the system picks the other students with whom you have the most in common. In my case, there was not much to work with, either in my profile or numbers of students at IU. However, I assume that, for students like Luis who have a much more comprehensive profile and portfolio on the website, these kinds of tools help students connect with like-minded peers and help employers connect with other students with similar profiles as the ones they connected with.

Like all such networking features, I presume that models of practice emerge around using them in particular communities and that the developers are constantly looking at these practices and tweaking the features accordingly.

Once I connected with Luis, I was able to click through to his portfolio of badges and competencies. It was pretty easy to find my way around and see the impressive list of both badges that he had earned and the competencies he had accrued along the way.

Luis' Portfolio of Badges and Competencies

This home page quickly illustrated one of the ways badges can help organize such information. In contrast to the long list of static competencies, the badges feature images and can be drilled into. Clicking on the badges took me to another page that displayed just the badges.

Luis' Badges at Portfolium
Notice the simple sharing link below each badge that allows users to share their badges out to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Along with these one-click features, the sharing link also generates html embed codes that make it simple to embed any of the badges in any web-enabled document.

Luis's HIPAA Badge Description
When I clicked on the HIPAA badge, the site displayed information about where Luis had earned the badge and contained specific competencies concerning the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Technically speaking, this is not the actual badge. Notice the URL for the actual badge at Credly. Currently, that URL is not even hyperlinked—I had to cut and paste it into my browser to see the actual badge stored at Credly.

Troy Markowitz, Director of Product at Portfolium told me that they are busy working on this integration, but "taking the time to get it right."

Actual Badge Assertion at Credly

When we go to the actual Credly badge, we see the actual badge that was issued to Luis. Also, technically speaking, this is the actual assertion of the BadgeClass issued by LACCD. What you are seeing is the information that was inserted into each of the metadata fields when the HIPAA badge was awarded to Luis.

Because Credly conforms with the Open Badges specifications, all of this information is machine readable and interoperable with any platforms or systems that are also compliant with those specifications. The actual assertion of the badge includes the description that was included in the BadgeClass but adds the additional criteria that Luis met along with his name, the date of issue, and the issuer.

Going back to the HIPAA badge in Portfolium reveals an important new feature that seems crucial to the development of a true LRN. I was able to go in and ask Luis more about what he did to earn the HIPAA badge and probe his knowledge of HIPAA more deeply in a particular context that I made up to illustrate how these kinds of focused interactions about competencies and context can readily support the kind of communication that binds our existing LRNs together.

My Question about Luis' HIPPA Badge and Luis' Response
You can see how detailed Luis' response is. For some readers, this might seem like overkill. Indeed, if I was looking for a medical copy editor I might have second thoughts! But I was indeed a university researcher who worked with children and there is a lot of information to be gleaned from this response. For example:
  • In the first part of the response, it looks pretty clear that Luis went and looked at my profile to learn more about myself and knew I was a researcher rather than an employer. This is yet another form of contextual information that facilitates knowledgeable communication.
  • Notice how Luis is able to provide additional information about the badge above and beyond what was included in the badge assertion.  Given that Luis is clearly an ambitious and experienced student, he might have also added his actual scores on the various assessments.
  • In the second half of his response, Luis clearly knows, in general, about privacy in research contexts even though he likely did not learn about HIPAA in research contexts involving children. While I am not a HIPAA expert, I have quite a bit of experience with university research contexts involving children. I was able to make some quick judgments about Luis and HIPAA in this context and see his language become less precise as he started speculating about a context in which he likely was not specifically schooled.
  • A key point here is that the Portfolium platform would make it simple for me to find multiple individuals who are entering the workforce in my locale who had earned this badge. If indeed I was looking for someone who could bridge my imaginary gap between HIPAA rules and university research contexts, I could ask such a question of each of them and compare responses.
I am sure that some readers at this stage are thinking "hiring officials don't have time to do this because they are so busy sorting through hundreds of potential employees." But this is the sort of communication that takes place once someone has winnowed down the list and started calling people or conducting interviews. By making it simple to find individuals with the particular competencies that are most important to an employer and then fostering easy professional discourse about those competencies, LRNs make this all much easier and faster.  

Current and Future Developments
Linda and her colleagues are now working hard on their badge system and the learning recognition practices they support. For example, it appears that few (if any) of their courses or badges are actually using Portfolium as a conventional eportfolio and using the completed student work as evidence of competencies. Meanwhile, Portfolium and Credly are working hard on their platforms to further integrate and streamline their various features.

There are lots of other features already available in Portfolium that are helping connect educators, employers, and learners. I am looking forward to learning more about them and following the further integration of digital badges into the site. I am hoping to secure support for an extended collaboration with Linda and a handful of other innovators to systematically refine and further streamline the new learning recognition practices afforded by LRNs. For example, we are not far away from linking the competencies LAHC3 initiative with the Credential Engine developed by the Lumina-funded Credential Transparency Initiative.

The thing that I am particularly excited about is the new endorsement features that should emerge around the forthcoming Open Badge Specification 2.0 standards that are currently in development. As many readers may have heard, this work was moved over to the IMS Global Learning Consortium. As announced in this FAQ, Mozilla Foundation and Collective Shift are transferring the responsibility for the Open Badges specifications and community on January 1, 2017. This will provide a stable membership-driven context to support and sustain open badges. In a subsequent post, I will explore how the new 2.0 endorsement features might be used in the context of the LATTC HIPAA badge.

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