Pacting with your own professional development: the National Forum PACT digital badge

No better way to start our professional year than an enjoyable trip to Dublin with a great colleague, and an inspiring CPD session with other educational developers. Of course, there never seems to be time for these kind of treats, especially when the institutional rhetoric often seems to remind you of the sterile, seemingly strategic arguments such as ‘what is the point?’, ‘what does this count for?’ or ‘do I really have to do that?’. In ‘The slow professor: challenging the culture of speed in the academy‘, Berg and Seeber encourage us to risk candour and forge a new type of collegiality based on openness, mutual respect and encouragement; as opposed to political agendas and competition. There is no one single time that the Educational Developers in Ireland Network (EDIN) network fails to provide me with this (and I hope that I have something to offer back), so I decided to face the 6 hours commute in order to attend their first 2018 event, and I was not disappointed.

As part of the certified National Forum Professional Development Digital Badges (all available as open-access materials), facilitators are required to check that earners have met the requirements of criteria required to earn a badge. The criteria has been laid out in the badge metadata document within each of the badge material packages and is also embedded within the digital badge (interested in learning more about digital badges, see here). The workshop was designed to prepare those of us who wish to deliver the PACT – Commitment to Professional Development Digital Badge in our home institutions, and was brilliantly delivered by Dr Terry Maguire (former director of the National Forum) and Dr Roisín Donnelly (who led the pilots and digital badges development around the National Forum Professional Development Framework (PDF).

The PACT badge is conceived as the starting point in the National Forum’s badges constellation,  followed by the ‘Reflective practice in T&L‘ (currently being piloted by Robert McKenna in Griffith College). PACT has been digitalised through a series of Articulate resources including an introduction which sets the expectations of both participants and workshop facilitator, and then dealing with each of the sections of the material. By the way, a number of participants in the event had been involved with the development of other National Forum digital badges, so a suggestion was made that this template was circulated so as to help us to reproduce a similar introduction to our digital badges that is identifiable and branded as a National Forum product.

Three routes for completion are suggested for this specific badge: a. fully self-guided; b. through a two half-day workshops to be organised by the facilitating institution (recommended), or c. through recognition of prior learning (although this option was not discussed at the event). No official pilot has been launched by the badge authors, but  a natural conversation developed around the importance of taking this badge as a learner, before being able to facilitate this. The resulting action point was that EDIN would  organise triads to facilitate this amongst those interested in getting the badge with a view to implementing it in our respective institutions.

Roisin then addressed the next the question in my mind: What is the advised means for reflecting the badge criteria? Any suggested portfolio/eportfolio structure? The section ‘Your professional development portfolio’ of the badge introduction encourages to be creative with multimedia and creative artefacts, and share it openly through a website of your choice:


Of course, we would all like to get our hands on some examples and exemplars, and she pointed us to the PDF pilot, when a total of 45 people uploaded their (finished or work in progress) artefacts… I commenced my own e-portfolio as part of this but I need to align it to the PDF framework, so I hope that the EDIN triads will help me to drive this forward. Personally, I saw some linkages in the material in this badge with feedback that I received on my Senior Fellowship SEDA submission: emphasise the role of communities of practice (criteria 3 of the badge requires ‘To engage in conversations with a critical friend on our PD activities and identify key actions from these conversations), and rescue and reflect on the implications for practice of my MBTI.

Finally, some concrete advice followed in issuing digital badges, which will obviously be essential in organising myself for the pilot of the ‘Getting started with online teaching‘ digital badge, which will be piloted this Spring in collaboration with Hibernia College and Cork Institute of Technology. It is currently envisaged that a date in May will be called with the development teams in order to complete any follow up development work that will emerge from the completed or projected pilots.

The vision for implementation of all these badges is based on a devolved model where centres for teaching and learning in each institution will enable other departments in their institution to implement them in ways that make sense in their own environment. This ‘train the trainer’ model is not without challenges however. The same conversation that I have witnessed in previous digital badges events came up once again: in terms of quality assurance, if the delivery of the badges is devolved to departments, who controls for the quality of the work? Terry recommends that we must remember that this initiative is about recognition, not accreditation. She reinforces their ‘light touch’ approach and affirms that ‘if it gets tangled up in the official ECTS quality assurance accreditation, is going the wrong road’. Of course, the potential implications for recognition of certified badges towards accredited CPD programmes also came into discussion. Some attendants were of the opinion that the best way to promote the badge is to build it in existing programmes and embed them within assessment. I also see some potential for this within our accredited academic development programme at UL, but there is a long way to go still.

In any case, the newly published Higher Education System Performance Network 2018-2020 plan specifically  includes the implementation of the National Forum’s PDF and digital badge initiative as key performance indicators within objective 5 (Demonstrates consistent improvement in the quality of the learning environment with a close eye to international best practice through a strong focus on quality & academic excellence). With further funding from National Forum being ring-fenced for them, it looks like digital badges are to become the ‘cryptocurrency’ in the Irish Higher Education sector in the near future!




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