Academic journal article College and University

Revolutionizing Academic Records: A Student Perspective

Academic journal article College and University

Revolutionizing Academic Records: A Student Perspective

Article excerpt

The digital revolution of the 21st century continues to produce numerous innovations that affect the way we live, learn, and communicate. Sixteen years ago, Apple introduced us to the iPod, a groundbreaking technology that paved the way for a decade of market dominance. In 2002, Mozilla's Firefox became the first browser to challenge the dominance of Internet Explorer, catalyzing the expansion of open-source software. In 2016, a start-up company within Google brought augmented reality to the fore and animated our surroundings with Pokémon Go.

For the last two decades, these and many other technological innovations have reshaped the human experience. Our lives are reckoned by activity trackers, enhanced (arguably) by smartphones, and recorded in public memory 140 characters at a time. However, higher education seems to have avoided modernizing at the same pace. More specifically, the evolution of students' credentialing needs outpaces what their alma maters can provide. Despite students' widespread adoption of new technologies, colleges and universities tend to adhere to a principle of gradualism, constantly looking to others to develop and troubleshoot new technologies before adopting it themselves. Some would argue it's the nature of higher education.

However, as institutional leaders are thrust into a collective public conversation about the merits of college in the information age, they have begun to quicken their pace of modernization at least in part to justify rising tuition. Many institutions have eliminated financially infertile initiatives and have reallocated resources to programs that promise their students competitive advantages. These new programs, like Georgia Tech's online Master of Science in Computer Science or Southern New Hampshire University's College for America, are often framed by the popular metric of "return on investment" and increasingly involve employer partners. With today's employers spending $177 billion annually on postsecondary education and training (Carnevale, Strohl, and Gulish 2015), the conversation between employers and universities is certainly overdue. The dialogue often produces solutions to the more complex problems facing today's graduates, such as skill gaps, leadership development, and societal costs. Indeed, employers and higher education share many goals.

Other higher education leaders remain dutifully committed to the virtues of liberal education, eschewing intimacy with selective employers for strategies that underscore the broad appeal of all students' skills and sensibilities. Instead of establishing inroads in the marketplace on behalf of their students, these institutions empower them with broad knowledge of the wider world and transferable skill sets. Both approaches advance the interests of all parties involved, but the latter is not predicated on market forces or employer preferences. Its value is based instead upon the enduring principles of adaptability, ethics, and pragmatism.

As posited by Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, "Who wants a technology-driven economy when those who drive it are not grounded in such fields as ethics?" (Wendler 2013). Indeed, it seems that even at organizations such as Lockheed Martin, a powerhouse of engineering and mathematics, the tenets of a liberal education are still desirable. However, without innovation on the part of the institutions that espouse these qualities, how will their students compete?

A promising solution has emerged in the realm of academic credentialing-more specifically, in the realm of digital credentialing. Institutions that have endeavored to expand the academic record hope to document more of the breadth and depth of their students' experiences, and they create advantages for their students by adopting a digital-first approach. The term "digital credential" is often used to refer to digital badges, certificates issued online, or even the completion of a massive open online course (MOOC), but for the purpose of this discussion it is used to denote data-enabled transcripts that contain embedded information that could not be accommodated by a paper transcript. …

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