Last week we published a blog (read here) giving a brief introduction to our plans for use of Open Badges technology in HE and wider. This post looks at the DMLL’s aspirations for capacity building provision of this kind, and the types of people and learning experiences that could be supported by digital recognition formats.


Current Challenges

Higher Education is facing a number of challenges. Global changes to the future of work, a growing need for socially inclusive learning opportunities, and advances in technology mean that the kinds of informal and formal learning provision necessary of universities is changing.

Recent changes to the national curriculum, as well as post-Brexit uncertainty and fewer students enrolling at higher education institutions in the UK forms a complex set of challenges which universities will need to respond to. Alongside these concerns sits the need for universities to rethink their relationships to their locality and wider communities, including their civic responsibility to local communities.

To meet these challenges, the DMLL is developing a framework that addresses the need for provision and learner recognition for activities that currently fall outside of formal curriculum and assessment. Coventry University Group’s new Corporate Social Responsibility agenda among other existing programmes support the need for locally focused provision that works in collaboration with local communities, organisations and industry.


Providing opportunity

As a University, we seek to produce graduates who are resilient, adaptable, creative and curious. And we do this through developing courses, experiences and pedagogies that are transformational for students, staff and anyone who engages with them. However, poorer individuals and communities have far fewer opportunities to develop the non-cognitive ‘life skills’ that are increasingly important for education, work and wellbeing. A recent study found that 46% of disadvantaged students compared to 66% of better off peers participate in extra-curricular activities (Sutton Trust 2017). The UK Government Social Mobility Commission found that only 51% of disadvantaged students had visited an art gallery compared to 84% of better off peers (Social Mobility Commission 2016). If we wish for our students to succeed during and beyond university regardless of background we need to address widening opportunity gaps and build socially inclusive access to participate in a broader range of learning activities and experiences.

There is a need to support learners to develop an understanding of digital citizenship and build confidence in the use of technologies. Digital fluency is not just about being proficient in specific software packages or hardware, but to have an understanding of the social roles, cultures and political economies of the web, including topics such as data privacy and digital health. In the same way that there is a disparity in cultural participation due to socio-economic background, opportunities for individuals and communities to develop their digital fluency can be effected similarly due to varying access to technology and differing life experiences. An RSA survey of working people in the UK found that only 11% would define themselves as ‘confident creators’ – the most likely “to use the internet, particularly for developing new contacts for opportunities, blogging/posting, selling a service, engaging in campaigns/politics” – with 20% reporting that they were ‘held back’ and 30% as ‘safety firsters’ who are the least likely to engage with technology such as the internet (The RSA 2015, p22). There is a need to support learners to become creators rather than reluctant users so that they can better understand and participate in digital cultures and types of technology that are increasingly essential in the 21st century.

Current and future technological advances also raise challenges in preparing learners for a world that is looking increasingly precarious and ever shifting. Alongside core literacies, the competencies and character qualities often defined as 21st century skills include the 4 Cs (critical thinking, creative thinking, communication and collaboration) and attributes such as curiosity, adaptability and social and cultural awareness (World Economic Forum 2015). There is a need to provide both access to digital skills training (including digital making) and cultural and social experiences that facilitate 21st century skills acquisition. This provision needs to allow for open participation across all disciplines and learning levels so that students, staff and local communities alike can develop the necessary skillsets to thrive in a fast-changing world.


Our ambition

We are proposing a framework that aims to encourage, facilitate and provide recognition for learning undertaken in extracurricular, civic and cultural activities. This is with the wider aim to broaden the horizons of young people and to promote lifelong learning, providing socially inclusive concentrated learning opportunities and recognition to a wider community of learners.

The proposed framework will use Open Badges technology to package these aspirations into bite-sized learning experiences, providing opportunities for those not engaged in traditional routes into higher education to learn, share, and excel alongside our student body. Open Badges reaffirm an ethos of social inclusion and open values and provide a sustainable and innovative way to act on our responsibility to best support both the local population and our diverse student community.

The proposed framework aims to question what is counted as learning and the line between formal and non-formal learning. Many experiences that provide rich learning opportunities and the development of cognitive skills and life skills are not currently recognised through formal education provision. With a recent narrowing of the national curriculum there is a need to ensure that both our university’s student body and the wider community have access to programmes that facilitate and provide recognition for increasingly neglected areas such as creative arts education and cultural and civic literacy (HEPI 2017).

The proposed will provide the infrastructure and space to provide learner recognition for extracurricular learning and social achievements. This will provide the capacity building opportunity to build new programmes of learning as well as means to profile and recognise existing programmes. The proposed will make visible concentrated opportunities that exist outside formal curriculum and the value of this learning through a shared and connected framework, driving cultural change towards valuing this broader set of transformative experiences.




For more information:

Lauren Heywood
Innovation and Community Producer
Disruptive Media Learning Lab
Coventry University

Debra James
Innovation and Community Development Officer
Disruptive Media Learning Lab
Coventry University