With digital badging rapidly growing as an educational technology of the future, one reality is becoming clear: institutions without a digital badging initiative will eventually be left behind. As a result, students from these institutions will, unfortunately, suffer as peers at competing schools gain digital credentials they can use to display competencies and achievements, while obstinate institutions scramble to keep up with expanding innovations.
Now, a badging program may look different at each institution which depends on your objectives, but no matter what your role is, you should be planning how to adopt the new technology in order to benefit both students and faculty. But why exactly? In this article, we will explain all the different ways a digital badging initiative can help your institution leap towards the future of learning.
1. Student Success
Badging creates a scalable way to provide recognition to students and learners, either through the form of positive reinforcement or to inspire achievement. What’s more, the badging process yields compounding returns: As students accrue badges, they become more invested in the learning and earning process. This instant reward utilizing the method of gamification helps develop a tangible value to learning, allowing students to gain a new dimension of purpose in pursuing curricular and co-curricular milestones.
This urgency to succeed as a direct result of digital badges doesn't just exist on paper, either. As evidenced by a Chicago City of Learning initiative to begin the world's first citywide digital badging program in 2014, over 100,000 badges were earned by Chicago students in the span of one season. This system, in turn, created real-world results, with "a record-breaking 22,000 youth" starting their first "jobs at thousands of worksites throughout the city," as reported by the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.
In regards to the importance of connected learning, Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation, explained: “Learning today needs to be powerful and relevant to prepare young people for the demands and opportunities of our times. Cities of Learning are stepping up to the challenge with programs that encourage curiosity, develop higher-order thinking skills, and help youth see how they might apply their talents in our increasingly complex and connected world. We call this approach Connected Learning, and we’re excited to see it catching on nationwide.”
Pathways are a way of tracking a person's learning journey or badge earning path. Badge earning pathways vary in their duration and complexity based on the number of milestones and requirements built into each pathway. The types of requirements for earning a single badge, for example, range from attending an event to getting an 80% on a course assignment to completing a community service project. One badge may require completion of several requirements.
Badge earning pathways are often constructed by program leaders at learning institutions, though at times, badge earning pathways can be constructed by industry leaders (often in collaboration with academia). For example, Del Lago Academy's Competency X, a student science hub that emphasizes on digital badging and learning pathways, is a collaboration between K-12 academic leaders and a consortium of biotechnology companies.
These badge earning pathways don't also just benefit students. Funding to support the planning and automation of badge earning pathways has come from myriad sources in recent years. The Digital Media & Learning Competition, for example, has awarded over $13 million to seed more than 100 projects in order to inspire novel uses of badging and other emerging technologies.
Badges can extend the value of accreditation-driven student learning outcome assessment by making assessment results portable for students interested in sharing proof of their competencies with the world. This is a benefit to students and to institutions who might use badge circulation data to close the loop on the relevancy of competencies conferred upon students through the curriculum.
Here's an example of how badging and assessment can work together: Institutional, program or course learning outcomes are defined and later measured using rubrics. A program administrator can use software that connects to an institution's existing assessment process, automatically issuing badges to students (or faculty) when an ePortfolio artifact is assessed and scored above a certain point threshold.
Let's look at a specific example related to a nursing program:
Badges issued in connection with course-level assessment would certify unique knowledge and skills attained in a nursing course. Badges issued across courses could point to program-level outcomes, useful for both the institution and the student.
As explained by Heidi E. Parker of Purdue University, “Badges provide the opportunity to assess skills that we do not normally assess in more traditional forms of content-based assessment like summative exams and reports.” Parker continues, “In addition, there is an increasing number of institutions that are revising their core curriculum to incorporate learning outcomes such as creative and critical thinking, global citizenship, leadership, teamwork, and ethical reasoning (to name a few).”
4. Normalization of assessment criteria
The best strategy for normalizing digital badges in such a way that the relative value and meaning of a given badge can be understood alongside another is to leverage standards-aligned badge issuance criteria, instantiated in badge assessment rubrics. For example, by leveraging the standard rubrics of institutions such as the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) or the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE), assessment criteria becomes standardized on a massive scale, and thus normalized for all participating institutions.
There are several benefits of normalized assessment criteria used across multiple institutions:
- Credit transfer: Students can easily transfer credits between institutions when they have evidence of the competency required to obtain the credit and the corresponding digital badge.
- Learning success and pathway analysis: Educators can share data between their institutions using the same rubrics and assess larger datasets in order to make decisions that improve a student’s learning success.
- Employers reviewing candidates: Hiring managers will be able to understand what each badge means, the competency required to earn the badge, and quickly see the artifact or pathway attached to the badge. Currently, badges are mostly ad-hoc and not meant for helping learners share their competencies with employers.
5. Career Readiness
Though badges obviously benefit the student as an active learner, it is also important to keep in mind the efficacy of badging as a learning tool for career readiness and eventual recruitment within the growing standard of competency-based hiring. “Digital badges also enable genuine job applicants to benefit from instant credibility and avoid losing out on career opportunities to unqualified fraudsters,” says Brandye Barrington, Sr. Program Manager at Oracle.
Institutions like LaGuardia College's Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) have already taken the lead in promoting career readiness focused initiatives. Over the course of LaGuardia's pilot program, Center Director Jessica Perez noted, "We thought [badging] to be a critical element to the success of this program, to uplift our students and make them more employable," Perez says. "The digital badges offer students the opportunity to showcase and validate on social media platforms such as LinkedIn their skills, interests, and accomplishments based on NACE's Career Readiness Competencies. During the pilot program, students [established] their online presence and built their brand."
6. Institutional Branding
In a study published by The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance that traced the adoption of innovations in higher education, it took an average rate of 26 years for innovations to become a median standard among institutions, with computing innovations being adopted twice as fast as curricular innovations. Compare those two decades and a half of standardization with the rapid growth of badging in the six years since it’s educational implementation. Not only does campus-wide digital badging mark an institution as a part of a forward-thinking movement, but it also helps to signal to the market that your students are skilled and accomplished.