It was exactly three years ago, in spring 2016, when Wellamo Community College in Southwest Finland became the first community college in Finland to provide their students with the opportunity to apply for Open Badges.
The Open Badges are verifiable, portable digital badges with embedded metadata about skills and achievements and can be displayed wherever recipients want them on the web.
Merja Kittelä, a teacher responsible for planning at Wellamo Community College says the idea had been in her mind ever since she started developing an additional two-year programme for her weaving students with the aim of identifying and recognising their skills.
We asked Kittelä three questions about her work in the validation of non-formal learning.
1. How did you end up being the first community college in Finland to start issuing Open Badges?
“As I was developing the programme for our students, I got to know about a project that the Finnish Association of Adult Education Centres was running nationally. It was exactly what I had been doing in our college!
We started listing the criteria of skills that would be needed to demonstrate the students’ prior learning and came up with 14 different badges that our learners can apply for. They are mostly used in artistic and practical subjects in basic art education, such as singing and visual arts or ceramics.
The Badges may represent many different types of achievements, but we decided to issue ours based on skills instead of participation, for instance.
We also re-named our Open Badges ‘Taitaja (skills) Badges’ in reference to their concrete nature. In 2020 we will have two more Badges to issue.”
2. Why is recognition important for learners?
“Badges are not only a demonstration of one’s skills but also a guarantee of the quality of teaching. Identification and recognition of prior learning is an absolute asset, both in working life and further studies. For instance, the badges for basic art education are useful in social and health care studies.
They also help our learners to turn their hobbies into skills, not to mention the importance of such recognition to a learner’s self-esteem and motivation.
Last year, in 2018, a total of seven learners received a badge that can be issued in digital as well as in paper format. The price for one badge is €45 and this covers our expenses.”
3. How can adult education institutes benefit from issuing such badges?
“On a yearly basis, we have had a few students from the Kouvola Region Vocational College demonstrating their previously acquired skills in lace-making in practical learning studies. This is one good example of educational cooperation in regions where there are liberal adult education institutes and vocational colleges in the same city.
I think our education network as a whole should be re-examined. The Badges are beneficial especially for young individuals who are seeking to combine their hobby-based knowledge and future professional plans. For elderly people, it has been a public demonstration of their competence and can impact strongly and in many ways throughout their life.”