Due to advancing technology, the workforce continues to evolve, impacting how learning institutions prepare future professionals. By enhancing skills-based learning and providing ways for students to share their academic achievements, institutions can track and validate their students’ competencies.
Digital badging provides further credibility for institutions as well as students. In this article, we’ll dive into digital badging and the step-by-step implementation of a digital badging initiative at Florida Gulf Coast University.
What is Digital Badging and Its Benefits?
Digital badges are verifiable credentials that allow students to show the skills they have mastered. Unlike degrees and certificates that are received when a student completes a full program, badges can be earned within or independently of academic programs. Badges can celebrate skill development throughout a student’s journey, with the micro-credential serving as a way to showcase and verify those skills. Take a look at the benefits of offering digital badges within institution curricula.
Helps Engage & Retain Students: Endorsing students through their learning journeys can help increase student engagement and retention. Studies show that higher education students and professionals are more extrinsically motivated and benefit from tangible indicators of achievement. Badges reward students as they continue their studies, giving them a sense of accomplishment and the incentive to progress further toward their academic goals.
Tracks Academic Progress: With stackable badges, learners know where they are in their journey and can anticipate next steps. Learners are provided with a digital pathway that reflects an up-to-date mapping of their achievements. This is where students can check prerequisite steps, what badge they are currently completing, and what is expected later in their program or course.
Validates Student Competency: After receiving a badge, students can showcase their accomplishments to colleagues and prospective employers. Badges can be easily shared on social media or in an e-portfolio. Students can show their credentials digitally, making it easier for future employers to validate their skills.
12 Steps for Starting a Digital Badging Program
Digital badging is still relatively new to higher education, requiring adaptation and adjustments on the institutional level. To better support students in skills development and future employability, institutions are implementing digital badging initiatives. In particular, Florida Gulf Coast University successfully launched a university-wide digital badging initiative to increase the career readiness of its students and the Southwest Florida workforce. The university’s Digital Badging Executive Committee developed the following 12-step process for institutions interested in doing the same.
Step 1: Identify which of the institution’s strategic goals digital badging will support
FGCU tied the badging initiative to its strategic plan, which included a pillar for “Community Engagement and Outreach,” focusing on opportunities for innovative educational partnerships in Southwest Florida. With a focus on working with local employers, monitoring national trends in skill needs, and creating a structure to address skill gaps, FGCU created a micro-credentialing initiative to address its multidimensional strategic goal.
Step 2: Recruit a core team from across the institution to develop the initiative to ensure varied contexts and challenges are represented
Diversity is key when forming a large-scale micro-credentialing initiative. Getting input from different professionals and departments will ensure an unbiased and inclusive approach. Recruit faculty and staff who can contribute to the project, ensuring the institution can provide a quality digital badging experience.
Step 3: Write a White Paper Conceptualizing a Badging Initiative to Address Institutional Strategic Goals, Taking into Account Best Practices
For FGCU, developing a white paper was a natural next step to formalizing a proposed strategic initiative. A white paper can help gain buy-in across the institution because it provides a systematic overview of the initiative, answers potential questions, and helps the institution understand how the initiative is tied to the identified strategic goals.
Step 4: Present a Concise Plan to Campus Stakeholders for Buy-In and to Institutional Leadership to Secure Necessary Resources and Support
After a vision and documented overview are in place, a campaign is launched to present to key stakeholders. This is an important step in getting support and funding for the program. FGCU’s white paper, developed by a core group of campus champions, supplies the badging initiative with a coherent vision, a proposed structure, and an estimate of resources needed and benefits expected. In order to move toward piloting and implementation, a much larger constituency on campus had to be invested in the idea. This is where a broad and intensive campaign to present the badging plan to stakeholders across campus became a crucial next step toward implementing the ideas in the white paper.
Step 5: Broaden Campus Involvement by Establishing a Steering Committee
With stakeholder approval, institutions can progress into developing the initiative’s infrastructure, which is designed and developed through a steering committee. Its focus is on designing a new credential ecosystem and infrastructure within the institution, as well as on working with employers and other stakeholders in the region.
Step 6: Collaborate with Employer Stakeholders to Develop Initial Badging Pilot Programs
One of the key purposes of digital badging is to address the skills gap in the job market. By partnering with employers, institutions can assess what their students need to succeed. Industry endorsement further strengthens the initiative, ensuring digital badges support student employment.
Step 7: Identify and Implement the Technology Necessary to Support Your Badging Plan
Having the right tools and tech integrations is critical for an efficient digital badging system. Be sure to choose a badge management system compliant with Open Badges standards. For more functionality, consider a learning management system (LMS) that integrates well with badge management systems. Because FGCU has three distinct badge categories (i.e., industry-specific, transferable skills, and continuing education), the initiative required slightly different LMS integration and processes. Considering the impact scale-up might have, FGCU invested significant time in the badge system selection, ultimately choosing to implement Canvas Credentials.
Step 8: Conduct an Inventory of Existing Curricular Elements and Cocurricular Experiences to Develop Pathways for Skills Badges
The badging committee has final authority on what gets a badge, determining the badging pathways. Take inventory of existing assignments, events, programs, and offices with the goal of identifying items that might make a suitable component of a badging pathway.
Step 9: Develop New Courses and Other Activities Associated with Microcredentials to Further Initiative Goals
Because micro-credentials can take many forms, new curricula may be required, whether credit-bearing or noncredit. When developing new credit-bearing courses with associated badges, consider aligning with the institution’s processes and submission deadlines for new curricula. Also, draw a clear distinction between the grades a student receives in the course and the badging assessment activities.
Step 10: Create Branding and Marketing Materials and Strategies, Including a Website, to Inform Multiple Constituencies About the Growing Initiatives
Succinct and powerful messaging will help educate your institution’s stakeholders on micro-credentials and interest students in pursuing your badges. Create a comprehensive plan that includes internal branding and marketing to create organic conversations about micro-credentials before giving formal presentations to faculty and chairs at the colleges.
Step 11: Determine Appropriate Staffing Needs for Continuing Oversight, Growth, and Support of the Initiative
This initiative will make new demands on personnel and resources, requiring sufficient staffing for oversight, development, implementation, and support. Develop a staffing model that allows your institution to scale its badging initiative. Badge Management system administration, end-user training, and technical support usually operate more efficiently if they are centralized within a single department.
Step 12: Identify Long-Term Budget Models to Ensure Program Scalability and Sustainability
To ensure the scalability and sustainability of the badging program, identify long-term sources of financial support, such as industry partners, philanthropy, legislative budget requests, or redistribution of existing resources. Begin these conversations early, as faculty champions, Department Chairs, and Deans may have suggestions for auxiliary revenue streams.
To learn more about FGCU’s badging initiative, read the full white paper: A Step-by-Step Guide for Developing a Microcredentialing Program
Digital Badging with Canvas Credentials
Digital Badging allows institutions to enhance their programs while preparing students for diverse industries. Through Canvas Credentials, institutions can engage learners, track their progress, prepare students for the workforce, and validate their competencies.
Badges and credentials provide students with a record of their learning, allowing them to advance in their academic and career goals. See how other colleges and universities use Canvas Credentials to offer skills-based education and job readiness.
Source: Whitehouse, G., Motley, C., Timur, A., Jaeger, D., & Felton, S. D. (2022). A Step-by-Step Guide for Developing a Microcredentialing Program. In A. Brower & R. Specht-Boardman (Eds.), New Models of Higher Education: Unbundled, Rebundled, Customized, and DIY (pp. 272-295). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-6684-3809-1.ch014
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