Digital Badging: A New Way to Show What You Know
Two students enroll in the same program, at the same university. Student A completes all of her coursework. Student B also completes all of her coursework, but also maintains a leadership position in a student organization, works in a research lab, and completes an internship. And yet, at the end of their final semester, both students take home the same degree. How can Student B effectively communicate the unique skills, achievements, and experiences she has gained? The answer may be digital badging.
A traditional degree is undoubtedly a valuable credential, but does not necessarily reflect or articulate the full range of things a student may have accomplished in the process of attaining that degree. Digital badging is a way for students to document their learning on a more granular level, including experiences and achievements that may occur outside of the classroom.
Badges can be granted for things like community service, a particular project, or a specific skill or competency. However, not just anyone can sign up to get a badge. Rather, each badge is based on a set of criteria, and the fulfillment of the criteria is verified by the granting institution. Once earned and verified, these badges can then be stored in an online portfolio or “backpack”, and shared with prospective employers on sites like LinkedIn.
This system of alternative credentialing is already in use both for professional development and higher education institutions across the country. One university that has adopted the strategy is the University of California-Davis. UC Davis has integrated a digital badging program for their major in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The program focuses on 7 core competencies, including “systems thinking, experimentation and inquiry, understanding values, interpersonal communications, strategic management, civic engagement and personal development”. Each of the core competencies is associated with a badge, which students can display within an online portfolio,“accompanied by detailed information, including a description of the student’s experience, what they learned, photos, diagrams or even assessment scores.” Similarly, the Honors program at the University of Illinois allows students to earn badges for things like participation in community activities, research, and academic achievement. Through the tool, students are able to communicate a much richer picture of their learning than what could be articulated by a degree alone.
Working professionals seeking lifelong learning opportunities have also embraced digital badging as a way to improve professionally and stay up to date with current developments in their field, without having to go back to school and earn a new degree. Instead, professionals can learn through massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered through platforms like EdX. These programs award verified certificates that “provide proof for an employer, school, or other institution that you have successfully completed an online course”. Learners are empowered to pursue opportunities to improve their skills, knowing that they will have a real credential to show for it at the end.
While alternative credentialing will never replace a traditional degree, it offers exciting possibilities for how learners can document and represent learning and achievements in a variety of contexts and environments. Through digital badging, learners can paint a more vivid picture of what they’ve learned and how they’ve learned it, and share it with the world.