Going in no particular order, my first review of an independent education portfolio will focus on Degreed .
Actually, Degreed is the site I got up and running first, which is why I’m in a position to share my Degreed dashboard with you so you can take a look at how the system presents information related to a lifelong learner’s courses, reading, and other formal or self-study resources.
Degreed makes it easy to become operational since the site is basically a big inventorying system that allows you to specify a course you’ve taken or book you’ve read with external databases supplying many of the details you would have otherwise had to input manually.
For example, when I started inputting my MOOC courses, Degreed already knew the name of the class and other details and supplied this information for me. Similarly, adding a book to a reading list pulls descriptive text from an online book database, requiring a user to only provide the title and when you read it.
To get a sense of how Degreed deals with different types of learning “objects,” I added my college degree in its entirety (which required me to dig up my transcript after more than 30 years of not thinking about it) as well as all of the independent learning I’ve done for my Degree of Freedom project.
In honor of last week’s podcast guest, I also added information on some Lynda.com courses I took (ones associated with tools used to create this site), as well as inputting a few books and articles that were assigned from recent courses.
The course listing is the only thing you can assume to be complete (I just threw the books and articles into the mix so that you can see how Degreed presents such materials). But if I wanted to be exhaustive with regard to those materials, I suspect it wouldn’t take more than an afternoon to generate fairly complete book, article and educational video/media listings that would reflect the work done for my One Year BA project.
Such ease of use/input seems be a driving goal for the Degreed site, which is really more of an educational dashboard than a traditional educational portfolio (such portfolios are usually built around supplying evidence of work accomplished in a class – called artifacts, and student-generated comments about the experience they had creating those artifacts – called reflections).
But the virtues of the Degreed approach make the most sense if you plan on using the system to chronicle your learning experiences on a regular basis since it acts as both a table of contents for your ongoing work as well as a motivator to add more (i.e., learn more) daily.
One the key motivational tools built into Degreed is their scoring system which assigns points to virtually everything you do (taking a class as part of a formal degree, taking a MOOC, listening to an iTunes U course, reading a book or article) with your overall point score constantly accumulating to motivate you to reach higher and higher thresholds (I’m at 3800 points now, and already feel the urge to hit the 5000 mark).
But it is this very point system that caused me the most concern, not with regard to the overall ticker score but to how points are assigned to individual learning activities.
For example, the bulk of my points (over 3100) came from my original Wesleyan degree, with most of the full-credit courses taken during my four undergraduate years assigned upwards of 100 points each. In contrast, the most points ever assigned to a MOOC class was 14 (for Coursera’s The Modern and the Post Modern), with MOOC scores seemingly hardwired to class length.
Now one could make the case that MOOCs in general are not as demanding as traditional college classes. Although you could also make the case that some non-traditional learning activities are comparable or even superior to standard classroom courses taken at a college or university. But once an automated system like Degreed assigns ten times the number of points to one activity vs. another, such an assignment is making all kinds of claims and assumptions and don’t provide any real method of explanation or appeal.
To take an extreme case, Degreed gave me six points for listening to the lectures available from iTunes for Ohio State’s Life in the Universe astronomy course. But if you tell the system you actually took the course at Ohio State, you’ll earn twelve times as many points (72) for studying the same material. Again, one could make the case that taking the course live involves reading, homework and professor-to-student and student-to-student interactions you won’t get via iTunes. But even for people who (unlike me) didn’t search out available homework to supplement those lectures, is the classroom version of this course really 1200% better than the electronic one?
One of the books I added to my Degreed reading list is called Proofiness, a text I used as the basis for a podcast on numbers and reasoning that you can listen to here (discussion of this subject starts at the 11:25 mark).
The key point the book makes is that we humans attach almost supernatural belief to numerical information. This is because 2+2 always equaling 4 (or any common mathematical operation) are some of the few absolutely true things we human beings can grab onto (which is why math was such a fixation for Socrates who was trying to determine what in the world, if anything, might be equally real).
But as the author of Proofiness points out, two plus two does not always equal four in real life. For if you’re nailing together a pair of two-foot planks, each of those planks is going to be slightly more or less than two feet (which you can prove if you’ve got a good enough measuring device). And this fact, combined with whatever inaccuracies result from your nailing, means that the resulting union of the two planks will be more or less than four feet total.
It is in this gap between the perfection of abstract numbers and the messiness of real ones that you find things like the 2000 presidential election fiasco (a tie within the real-world margin of error for voting, even though the public refused to believe there wasn’t an “accurate” count lurking somewhere).
Perhaps I’m making too much of too little (especially if the Degreed point counter is merely meant as a shorthand scoring system to help motivate users to ever greater levels of achievement).
But once you assign numerical values to human experiences, you are making claims that will be taken at face value by others. And I’m not sure if the claims Degreed’s automatically generated numbers are making about my One Year Degree program are ones I agree with (or would necessarily share with others evaluating what I’ve done).