One of the big topics of conversation this year at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas was digital credentials. You may not have heard of “digital credentials” before, at least not in formal terms. However, you’ve most likely seem them. Anyone who uses LinkedIn knows a little bit about this. Remember that “Top Skills” list?
What I’m good at?
The idea is that your professional connections “endorse” what they think you’re good at. The problem is… how do they know? I could certainly put something like “Rocket Science” on my list of skills, but how can people verify that I’m actually good at launching rockets?
Before the digital revolution took hold, we may have seen the concept of credentialing or the certification of skills in something like boy scout / girl scout badges. Anyone who has been in the scouts knows that you don’t earn a badge unless you really can perform the task at hand. These badges don’t expire. Once you know how to swim, you know how to swim.
Badges have been associated with the demonstration of skills for a very long time.
Thus, a conversation has started about how we catalog these skills / credentials. Many organizations and web sites have started to come up with standardized ways of displaying these badges and providing a vetting process for their attainment.
Here are some good sites to check out:
Ok, so badges seem nice, but how does this apply to my students in a college classroom?
At SXSWedu, Michael Shawn Cordero, of the Urban Arts Partnership mentioned the importance of “showing students a visual trajectory of where they’re going.” The notion is that “you can put whatever you want on a resume, but digital badging allows you to see evidence of these skills.
That’s the key point here. Skills that are supported with evidence provide a much better picture of what someone can actually do. In addition, you can see the inter-relationships of how these skills fit together. Let’s think about it. When you are going through an academic program, you are provided with a syllabus, which most likely has learning objectives in it. “By the end of this class, you should be able to do A, B, and C.” Great! We also get prerequisites to know what skills I should already have prior to enrolling in this particular course. However, that’s often where it stops. The course is just one of many in a series, and I don’t necessarily have to take these courses in any particular order.
The problem is that students often can’t see the big picture of what they’re learning. How do all these courses and objectives fit together to make me a proficient in this field?
There are so many pieces on the table. How do they all fit together?
Jonathan Finkelstein from Credly.com noted why it so crucial to “… not just build a badge, but to connect the dots to help them [students] see the value.”
Some good questions to consider are: Do we start badging everything? Who should be allowed to issue badges? Should badges be monetized?
Tracy Petrillo, Chief Learning Officer for Educause, had a good insight. “Badging platforms were meant to be open and free. This is not a threat to the certification industry. Badging is a complement.” In addition, “[It] helps us to think in smaller segments. You get more people to believe they’re good students.”
I think Tracy is right on. We shouldn’t badge absolutely everything, but rather, think about how we deliver content to our students and what they are expected to demonstrate back to us. We start off slow, providing a visual recognition of skills they’ve begun demonstrating in the course. This builds confidence. “Look! I’ve earned some beginner badges!” The next step is to help students build on those foundation skills, and through providing evidence, move them along from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced. We’re not charging for badges, we’re merely showing them that they have in fact learned a new skill.
As an example, in our Designing and Developing your Online Course Workshop, we provide badges for our faculty members when they demonstrate that they are able to complete or follow along on a specific task.
These badges are really about basic proficiency, but in the future, we plan on introducing a more rigorous, evidence-based, application-level of badges. These badges could then be tracked over a lifetime and displayed on the faculty member’s online profile of choice.
Our end goal is to show our students (and our faculty) that the process of lifelong learning never stops. It’s not about seat time. It’s about the application of skills and their inter-connectivity that really empowers (and informs) what they can do.
– Steve K.