Some people reading this blog may be old enough to remember a time when physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other professions allied to medicine were trained in colleges and schools attached to large teaching hospitals. Others will have only known the university system.
For most of us though, the university holds a special significance. It is where knowledge is acquired and one discovers the rudiments of one’s future practice. (Of course, we all know the real learning takes place in the clinical environment, but this only serves to enhance the ivory tower image of the university and the people working within it).
You used to go to university to acquire an education and a qualification. At graduation you would pass into the ranks of your chosen profession and become a colleague, a worker, an employee, and you would leave your student days behind.
Universities were the repositories of knowledge, and the only place where these special knowledges could be acquired. Graduation meant that the university had weighed and measured you and found you to be adequate for the task ahead.
These days, knowledge is far less constrained. People can acquire knowledge of pretty much anything, pretty much instantaneously. And if they don’t possess any particularly knowledge, it’s now relatively easy to find it at the end of their fingertips.
The democratisation of knowledge that has come with the World Wide Web has radically transformed how we think about the world around us, and opened up worlds that were once highly restrictive.
Even areas that were once strictly off limits to the average consumer – approaches to surgery, cervical manipulations, emergency department trauma – are all now easily consumed by anyone with a wifi connection and access to a computer.
So what role for the universities now that they no longer control people’s access to knowledge?
Some believe universities are now little more than accrediting institutions – places where the knowledge acquired out there in the world can be validated. But even this role is now in doubt and a radical new movement to democratise the awarding of credit for learning is taking place.
The Open Badge movement (you can find this easily in your preferred search engine), is based on the idea that we can all accredit each other’s learning.
Say, for instance, you go on a course. Why shouldn’t the course organisers give you credit for your learning? But wait, you say, don’t some professional bodies already give credit for continuing professional development? Yes they do, but what if that credit no longer relied on the paternalistic, controlling interest of a professional body?
The Open Badge movement is an initiative that tries to address this, allowing people to design and distribute ‘badges’ for whatever purpose they see fit.
Develop a new information sheet for patients; treat your 100th patient since graduation; develop a course for your colleagues; build a physiotherapy empire…Open Badges allow each of us to acknowledge our colleagues without waiting for a university, college, professional body, or any other traditional authority figure to recognise us.