How Badges Really Work in Higher Education

Jul 1, 2013 by

Digital badge initiatives at colleges and universities across the country are challenging assumptions about learning and assessment.


In 2011, as the University of California, Davis added a new major in sustainable agriculture and food systems, it sought to create a curriculum that would help students develop competencies for addressing the environmental, social, and economic challenges involving agriculture.


Because much of the work takes place outside the classroom, administrators wanted students to create their own portfolios where they could demonstrate all types of learning and activities. “This seemed to match well with digital badges,” says Joanna Normoyle, internship coordinator and undergraduate adviser for UC-Davis’ Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI). “We want to help students organize their thinking about their different learning experiences and tell their story. It seemed to us that badges could help take something that is highly abstract and concretize it.”


The new major was selected as one of 30 winners of a MacArthur Foundation Digital Media & Learning Competition grant. That funding is supporting development of a digital portfolio that helps students build badges they can display on LinkedIn, Facebook, and to future employers. ASI initially worked with some third-party software developers but is now transitioning the badge system in-house. After 18 months of development work, the system is set to launch this fall.

“We want to roll it out carefully in our program,” Normoyle says. “We are focused on the individual student experience of building a portfolio and earning badges, and ways that faculty can comment and connect with [students] as they do it.”


Badges Get Serious
Digital badges are getting a serious look on many university campuses because they may allow students to demonstrate a greater variety of skills. “A diploma says as much about the institution you attended as it does about you,” notes Bill Wisser, instructional designer in the Graduate School of Education (HGSE) at Harvard University (MA). “A portfolio gets more granular, and badges can show individual records of accomplishment.”


But badges are only as valuable as the metadata behind them, and that is why the Mozilla Open Badges infrastructure is important, he asserts. “The badge image itself means nothing,” Wisser says. “But with Mozilla there is something behind it that links back to the issuer, the criteria it was issued under, and evidence verifying the credential.”

via How Badges Really Work in Higher Education — Campus Technology.

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