09 October 2015

Open Badges, Social Capital, Advertising and Extra Curricular Activity

I've been involved in a very interesting project investigating how open badges might work in the profession of advertising, so as to better position RMIT graduates seeking to enter the profession.

Our project has just completed its research phase, where we've been focused on discussions with people about the project, the concept of badges and how it might be applied. From this we're developing a concept to pilot.

Open Badges are a tool looking for a job

The slogan, "it's not about the technology" has never really sat well with me. In my experience, it has always been about the technology. The Internet, software and Internet enabled devices enter our space absent any apparent need, yet they're compelling enough for some of us to want to look for something to do with it. I guess this is what is meant by the phrase, "disruptive technology", or even "technological determinism". I realise their is a deeper layer to this, relating to the ideology in the technology.

Open Badges seem to be like this. It's a technology that carries with it a certain ideology and proposes a way of doing and thinking about things. It isn't immediately obvious how badges might be used, but they have a proposal in them that is compelling enough for us to look for ways to use them. The technology embodies an ideology, makes a conceptional proposal, which can then cause a functional disruption. With badges, we find ourselves wondering the corridors showing the tool, making the conceptual proposals, to the point of engaging in the functional disruption. It might be that we suddenly realise something that we hadn't recognised before. The tool found the job.

Social Capital needs some light

In the case of professional advertising and the formal education of it as an industry entry point, it has been a very interesting space to test the proposal of badging. Aside from the initial degree and some early career professional development courses, the profession is not negotiated so much by structured accreditation, but more with social capital. There is a crude concept of professional development described with terms like "junior, midweight and senior" or "foundational, advanced and expert", but what really counts is your record of achievement, typically expressed in a portfolio, and more by those you have worked with.

Our discussions with industry representatives and practitioners have all expressed an almost prejudicial attitude toward recent graduates of a degree in advertising, generally believing them to be not even junior or foundational in their status. When pressed to explain how they come to this general perception, these same people show that they are not entirely aware of the sorts of work and projects the graduates have done in their studies.

Take for example the course taught by Kerin Elsum: Advertising Professional Practice 2. Students effectively operate as professional advertisers, of real campaign projects, in real advertising agencies. Kerin has also established a number of extra curricular activities that her students take on, namely Pitch Night and Hungry Talks. These events involve activities that are essentially real-world professional practice, involving budgets and large audience. They have evolved into branded events in their own right, quite distinct from being simply an RMIT student activity.

It is curious to us, why these and other activities don't count as professional experience to the industry representatives we've spoken to. Perhaps if the detail and evidence of these activities were made more apparent, our emerging professionals would be better received into the industry than if they were to simply say, "I have a degree with transcript attached".

Advertising a symbiotic relationship

It becomes apparent to us that badging real professional activities should be thought of as a symbiotic advertising arrangement between the individual and the agency they have worked with.

To explain: an individual's profile that features the visual brand of a well known agency, and linking that listing to any examples of the work they did with that agency, is obviously a strong display of that individual's work experience. If that agency's brand is widely recognised, then all the more so for the individual claiming it as their work experience.

Likewise in the other direction. If an individual displays an agency's brand in their work experience, then that is a reinforcement of that agency's status in the profession. If the individual is widely recognised for their talent, then all the more for the agency that has associated with that individual.

The same can be said for specific projects, events or campaigns. Many people use LinkedIn exactly this way.

Think of Google's accreditation program. With an Adwords Certificate an individual is displaying the brand-verified skill they have with that brand's product. Likewise, Google's brand and product is gaining value as people display it and thus give it value.

Extra Curricular Activity and how we advertise social capital using badges

So this is how we're thinking badges would work in advertising, especially for those entering the profession. For those who do real work, inside a recognised agency, project, event or campaign, they will be given a badge that displays the branding of that agency, project, event or campaign. It won't come from their educational provider, as this must be recognised as real and legitimate work. By coming from the agency, project, event or campaign, we're aiming to support a symbiotic relationship around social capital.

But it's not as if we are wanting to leave this entirely up to the agency, project, event or campaign. We believe this system will need a broker, someone to manage the issuing and verification. And there is no better person in this instance than the teacher who coordinates the course in which the agency placements, projects, events and campaigns take place.

Our teacher is now working to convince the agencies and project coordinators that badging is a symbiotic advertising relationship between them and the individuals receiving the badges. For her students the value should be self evident - it is an opportunity to use the visual brand of the agency, project, event or campaign in their CVs, and to link to those symbols the evidence that shows exactly what it is they did and why it was of value. This will help to articulate in significantly more detail their professional experience over and beyond their degree and transcript. The goal is to foreground the real and valid professional work they have done.

By making herself the broker, Kerin will evidence the significant social capital she herself has accumulated - having been able to bring all these agencies and events together so as to offer her students the opportunities that her courses provide. By issuing badges on behalf of the agencies, projects, events and campaigns, she is building a database of professional talent, complete with a record of their achievements and the evidence of that. There is potential here for her role to develop into something additional to teacher... and here we have a motivation to engage in Massive Open Online Course development.

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