Your institution’s digital badging initiative is getting off the ground and students are “earning” badges, but are they providing value to the student today and in their future career? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.
According to a report by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), one in five institutions now offers digital badges, but as educators tinker with micro-credentialing, digital badging initiatives at educational institutions can prove worthless to students due to seven common mistakes:
1. Making faculty and staff manually issue badges
All too often, faculty and staff set up manual processes such as web forms or use email to collect badge evidence from students. From there, formal evaluation and scoring of evidence happens in a separate environment from the badge platform, if at all, and then badges must be issued manually (often one at a time) based on those evaluations. This process doesn’t scale, which is why most educators end up dabbling with badges and then, realizing the time sink required, give up on their initiatives.
The key is to look beyond badging platforms to a student success platform that integrates assessment management with badging. Through this integration, faculty and staff can streamline the digital collection, (rubric-based) scoring, and automated issuance that removes 80% of the manual effort and time required to issue high-quality badges. Automation is a difference maker in determining whether or not institutions merely dabble with badging vs. truly invest in a sustainable badging program.
2. Issuing badges without authentic evidence
The second deadly sin of badging is when a badge is issued but not backed by any rigor - i.e., assessed evidence - to validate competencies certified by the badge. While many badges list specific issuance criteria, most don’t provide samples of the tangible evidence submitted by students to earn the badge, nor the assessment rubrics used to evaluate the submissions.
When you imagine a student telling the story of their skills and experience in a job interview, you can imagine how important it is for a badge - like any certification - to be accompanied by work samples that bring the certification to life.
3. Issuing badges randomly
The market value of badges is cheapened each time faculty and staff issue badges arbitrarily. Employers don’t want to see participation trophy badges on a student’s resume. And trivial badges don’t help students reflect on the progress they're making in their learning journey.
Instead, when badges are issued as the result of progress made along a student success pathway (Read about the Georgia State University initiative) learners earn meaningful badges for curricular and co-curricular milestones that signify competency attainment. By launching badge-earning pathways like those conceived by the University System of Maryland, students become more engaged in their learning and understand the value of what they learn each step of the way. A badge-earning pathway can mirror an existing academic or co-curricular program, or can be created from scratch.
In an educational system often blamed for a “skills gap” in the United States and under scrutiny for how well they are preparing our students for careers, the biggest mistake an institution can make is to issue badges not tied to pathway-linked competencies or achievements.
4. Expecting students to manually claim badges
If we know that faculty struggle with the manual nature of badge issuance, we should anticipate that students also struggle with manually claiming badges. Some studies have suggested that up to 90% of badges issued have gone unclaimed.
There is a better way: Instead of forcing students to manually claim a badge from a badge issuing platform, institutions need tools that automatically insert (i.e., “direct deposit”) badges into a student’s official professional profile.
5. Hiding badges where employers won’t look
One of the worst mistakes an institution can make is to award a student a badge and then proceed to leave the badge tucked away within the LMS, limiting circulation to those with access to the LMS.
Portfolium’s TalentMatch platform for employers makes badges discoverable and searchable. Crucially, the badges are searchable in CONTEXT. I.e., right next to students’ resumes and academic profiles. Which is a good segway to the next deadly sin…
6. Storing badges in a separate silo
It is a common error for institutions to encourage a process that places badges and resumes in separate silos. Badges need to cross-link with portfolio projects (i.e., the evidence behind the badge), resumes, LinkedIn profiles, etc. Since employers are most likely to search for skills and keywords inside of resume databases, LinkedIn, and e-portfolio databases, badges need to live in integrated harmony with these networks.
7. Issuing badges that don’t match to internships or jobs
Similar to the mistake of issuing random badges, issuing badges that have no relation to skills required by internships or employers can be detrimental to the value of your badging initiative. If a badge does not equate to a concrete skill (whether soft or hard) that an employer can search and identify then its purpose in propelling the student towards success is worthless.
While digital badges may be a great tool to incentivize students, it is important that all badges awarded are tied to competencies employers are actually searching for to really give the student lifelong value from their education.
The way to ensure your institutions badging initiative is set up for success is to ask, “how will this help our students,” every step of the way. The seven deadly sins are only relevant if you’ve mistakenly built a badging program that students get zero value from after they graduate. It’s time to turn badges into valuable tools for learners and help them connect with employers searching for their specific skills.