I thought: this is the future!
Goosebumps got Wim Siemann, who works at mbo institution Albeda, when he discovered Gentlestudent in Ghent, a project of the Arteveldehogeschool. Walking through this city, Belgian students received notifications on their phones of neighborhood initiatives in which they could participate. For each task completed successfully, they received an open badge, a microcredential with information about the skills they had acquired. 'Throughout the city were connections to learning,' Siemann says enthusiastically. 'I thought: this is the future!'
Innovations translate to practice
Siemann is something of an oddity within Albeda, an MBO institution with 120 degree programs in the Rotterdam region. Originally from the international business world, he held various positions within Albeda, from English teacher to head of Internationalization. In his current role as advisor for the College of Economics & Business, he keeps an eye on technological and social developments and translates them into innovations that benefit his students and teachers. At the request of the business community, he had been looking for some time for a way to make his students' 21st-century skills more visible. The brainwave that overcame Siemann upon seeing Gentlestudent was that edubadges could well play a decisive role in this.
Skills such as collaboration, creative thinking and making original things are important for future employees, but how does an employer know whether an entry-level worker has them? Albeda had been working on ways to map these skills for some time. The institution participated in KOMPAS21, a project of 12 mbo institutions on 21st-century skills, in which rubrics were drawn up for various skills. The rubrics provide Albeda students with an instrument to ask for feedback, for example from internship supervisors, teachers or their parents.
"I see it as a gift to the student: not focused on the qualification specification, but meant to gain more insight into yourself," Siemann says. A gift that needed to be validated with an edubadge, so students can show the outside world what they can do. Albeda has since developed edubadges for 21st-century skills at the beginner, advanced and expert levels. Teachers determine when a student meets the requirements.
544 edubadges for students
Together with Deltion College, Albeda was the first mbo institutions to join SURF's edubadges pilot. During the corona crisis, some Albeda students voluntarily delivered flowers to nursing homes or organized workshops for fellow students. With these extra-curricular activities, they developed new skills, for which they earned edubadges. In several pilots, a total of 544 edubadges were awarded. One learning point here was that students did not always disclose the edubadges after a project. This needs more attention, Siemann confirms.
It may sound like edubadges at Albeda are optional perks, like a sticker on a test, but Siemann has a mission. To remain attractive to the business community, it is important as a mbo to innovate and become more flexible. Edubadges are a way of responding to a future-proof labor market.
This larger story is complex, he realizes. Concrete examples better demonstrate the added value of edubadges. "A student was struggling and looking for a side job in addition to her education. She shared a badge in the area of collaboration on LinkedIn, along with a story about the project that earned her the badge. Two days later, she received a message on LinkedIn from an employer eager to talk to her. That's how she got her side job.'
With stories like these, he tries to spark enthusiasm for edubadges, especially in the workplace. 'Once teaching teams, students and employers are enthusiastic, management eventually pulls that naturally wider.'
Projects with edubadges
This is succeeding quite nicely. Edubadges are penetrating more and more places within Albeda. Among other things, in the subject of citizenship, the use of student coaches, the Global Entrepreneurs Week and at pop-up schools abroad, Albeda students will soon be able to collect edubadges.
Inspired by Deltion College, which developed edubadges for teachers, Albeda decided to issue edubadges for teachers as well. The institution is participating in the EU project Digital transformation for VET (Ditravet). Five countries are developing modules for students, teachers and executives on digital literacy, with edubadges that provide insight into learning outcomes.
We are in talks to create badges based on the judges' reports from Skills Heroes vocational competitions.
On to the examination board
And then there are Skills Heroes, vocational competitions for mbo students where Albeda students regularly win prizes. 'The judges' reports contain learning outcomes that come directly from the qualification file (SBB) of mbo students,' Siemann said. 'Albeda and Deltion are in talks with Skills Heroes Netherlands to create badges based on the jury reports.'
This is the first time he runs into a challenge he has avoided until now: deploying edubadges for skills involving the exam board, or microcredentialing. Currently, students competing in Skills Heroes must pass the Practical Learning Foundation (SPL) aptitude test, which counts as their exam. If it were up to Siemann, a microcredential for successful participation in Skills Heroes would soon be an official alternative. 'This is my dream now. But the mbo is very afraid to get the official qualifications. Schools really struggle with this issue.'
Boosting people to work
Siemann emphasizes that edubadges are not an end in themselves. 'Our society is struggling with a staff shortage as well as with people who supposedly don't have the right skills, while a lot of learning is going on in non- and informal ways. Open badges, edubadges and microcredentials can be a way to recognize such skills. As an MBO, we are working with skills and lifelong development so that those people can get to work through our education. That fits with a promise from our strategic vision: "We do what works!"'
Text: Marjolein van Trigt