The Making of a Microcredential: Penn State University Libraries Evaluates Badge Steps with Help from Artificial Intelligence

By Rimland, Emily | American Libraries, January-February 2019 | Go to article overview

The Making of a Microcredential: Penn State University Libraries Evaluates Badge Steps with Help from Artificial Intelligence


Rimland, Emily, American Libraries


In the last two years, Penn State University Libraries has seen rapid adoption of information literacy microcredentials among students. Microcredentials--transferable forms of metadata-encoded, performance-based educational credits--are not new; they started gaining traction in academic libraries around 2012. What is different at Penn State is that to help manage the sudden volume of badge submissions, librarians have turned to a new ally: artificial intelligence (Al).

Degrees and professional certifications are valuable, but in many scenarios it's important and cost effective to have a way to showcase granular skills. Microcredentials--also known as digital credentials or digital badges--are competency-based methods of demonstrated learning that do just that. For instance, a badge may show achievement in Java programming or project management, which can help a candidate land a job promotion or earn a classroom grade.

At Penn State University Libraries, we're embracing and rethinking microcredentials (bit.ly/penninfolit). We see them as an opportunity to extend our reach and deepen students' engagement with information literacy--and we see librarians as best positioned to evaluate these essential skills.

Usage of microcredentials at Penn State has recently exploded. From 2013 to 2016, we issued 160 total badges; in academic year 2017-2018, we issued 3,585. We attribute this boom to a broader national awareness of these educational credits and to the school successfully marketing the benefits of the program.

In 2013, when this virtual currency was fairly new, the library conducted a survey of employers from 10 different industries to figure out which information literacy skills would translate best to the job market (bit.ly/AL-PSUsurvey). Online Learning Librarian Victoria Raish and I used the survey rankings to inform the design of activities for 10 microcredentials to be embedded within general education courses.

We created badges for search, inquiry, and organization topics such as keywords, ethics, and citations. Our goal was that, by graduation, students would complete all badges to earn the "uber badge," which could be leveraged in portfolios or resumes or on social networking sites as a conversation starter with potential employers. Badge earners even have control over what metadata is displayed, such as the date earned, steps required to complete the credential, or actual work submitted to earn it. …

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