Magazine article University Business

Badging Breakthroughs: Microcredentials Awarded for In-Demand Skills Give Employers Deeper Detail about a Student's Abilities

Magazine article University Business

Badging Breakthroughs: Microcredentials Awarded for In-Demand Skills Give Employers Deeper Detail about a Student's Abilities

Article excerpt

Diplomas--those venerable printed documents that lack hotlinks and interactivity features--have lost some of their luster. While employers increasingly demand that new hires have college degrees, the transcripts supporting those hard-earned credentials are no longer the most informative tool students have to exhibit their skills.

"The bachelor's degree or Ph.D. will never go away," says Philip DiSalvio, dean of the College of Advancing and Professional Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. "But every higher ed portfolio is going to have some form of alternative credential that will demonstrate a student's competency in certain areas."

Digital badges, a tool DiSalvio has studied and written about, are gaining currency as an effective alternative credential that students can use to show off skills from "problem-solving" to "3D printing" to "career readiness." An estimated 1 in 5 institutions issue digital badges, which can be posted to social media, stored on digital portfolios and displayed by other specially designed platforms. When clicked on, the badge lists a range of skills a student has demonstrated beyond grades.

"The reason they're taking off in higher education is most employers are not getting the information they need about people emerging from higher ed, with previous tools we've been using," says Jonathan Finkelstein, founder and CEO of the widely used badging platform Credly. "The degree itself doesn't get to level of describing particular competencies."

And while some employers may not yet be deeply versed in the capabilities of digital badges, colleges and universities are leaping ahead of the curve in developing rigorous and purposeful microcredentialing programs that recognize students for skills acquired on the path to completing courses, degrees, certificates and co-curricular activities.

Connecting the academic dots

Esoteric course titles listed on transcripts can sometimes baffle employers trying to determine the skills a student has acquired. The same can be said for learning experiences such as service trips to foreign countries, which may only appear on a transcript as a pass/fail course. Geoff Irvine, CEO of the assessment and e-portfolio company Chalk & Wire, calls this a "transparency gap."

"The degree itself is a very opaque document," Irvine says. Badges can better connect what colleges teach to skills needed in the workforce.

Badges can also bring some valuable clarity to a student's academic record. For instance, a Notre Dame student who goes on a trip to Ecuador to build bridges can earn a badge for mastering the calculations involved in the construction, says G. Alex Ambrose, associate program director of e-portfolio assessment at the Indiana university's Kaneb Center for Teaching & Learning.

The most popular badges aren't necessarily validated on traditional transcripts and resumes, Ambrose says. "We now have a way to show videos and pictures and the algorithms of that bridge, and write about the skills gained."

At a handful of University System of Maryland's 12 institutions, students can earn a "Career Ready Skills" badge--even though none of the schools offers a course called "Career Ready Skills."

Students can be pretty certain when they have passed calculus or creative writing, but they don't always recognize when they've excelled in demonstrating soft skills such as critical thinking, communication and work ethic, says MJ Bishop, director of the system's William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation.

For instance, a recent system graduate didn't claim any leadership skills during a conversation with a job recruiter. However, that student had managed several group projects.

"Students have never connected the dots--they don't realize they've developed these skills," says Bishop, who is helping five system institutions launch badging programs. …

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