Thursday, April 9, 2015

Digitally promised: What do digital badges promise their public?

Is there an implied and implicit promise made by digital badges simply by their existence.  That is, does a digital badge promise the badge holder something?  Does it promise the viewer of the badge something?   If so, what?

Consider these four (4) cases.  What is the perceived value of the microcredential and related badge in each? Is each microcredential and related badge living up to its promise?

Case #1:  Rad Teen Skills

Rad is a 17-year old high-school exchange student in the United States. His US school offers participation badges.  While in the US, Rad is very active in school programs (a drama production, the school’s online newspaper, the video club).  Rad’s host family has other teens who participate in weekend programs at the library and at a museum.  So, during the year of the exchange program, Rad acquires badges in drama, online newspaper editing, video production, kitchen chemistry from the science museum, star-gazing from the planetarium, and library teen council member from the library.  Rad’s espoused goal is to go to college in the US.

What do these badges say about this teen’s abilities?  How will they help Rad transition back into his native country’s education system?  Will they help him get into college in the US? 
In effect, badges are not an international currency for which there is an exchange.  Those badges do not provide Rad with much assistance in transition back her home country, applying for or getting accepted into college at home or in the United States.  However, they do show the ability to apply skills (in a non-native language) to produce results in communications (drama, newspaper, video), in science and technology (chemistry, astronomy and video), and in community participation (drama, newspaper, and council member).

A perceptive US college admissions recruiter would look at the badges and compare them to SAT, ACT and TOEFL scores and, hopeful, decide that this was one very motivated learner.   Do we have college admissions’ recruiters on board with the idea of using microcredentials to supplement test-data?  This could be as important for any traditional high school student as it is for a non-tradition student.

Case #2:  Boot-strapping it

A young adult immigrant working third shift for minimum wage and trying to raise a family as a single parent finds herself able to speak and read sufficient English for work and life purposes, but does not write English.   She joined a literacy program that builds skills in writing and offers badges for those skills.  She is a success story for that program.  She recently started working for them as a mentor and coach for others in the program.  However, she continues to work her third-shift minimum-wage job.   She posted a Facebook message with the link to her badge on the day that she earned it.  To date, she has less than a dozen clicks on that badge and does not know whether her current employer has seen it.

What value do community-driven badges have?  What is the exchange currency in her workplace?  This young woman has seen additional work value in that she has a second job (also at or near minimum wage), but the job is less physical and carries more prestige.  She is more confident and is an advocate for the program.    
Have her badges met her need?  Are they helping her “pull herself up by her bootstraps”?

Case #3: Colligate Badges

A well-known university decides that digital credentials are the wave of the future.  They provide digital badges for their recent degree earners to use in social media.  University graduates can promote their degree through a shared digital badge for their degree program.   They can check their online badge portfolio to see how many clicks they received.

The university also decides that an assortment of participation badges should also be available for campus community activities such as drama, athletics, music, government, campus sponsored clubs, and leadership position such as dorm residence assistants.  In addition, the college creates a series of badges for completion of key degree-readiness steps such as STEM Requirements Completion, Communications Requirements Completion, and Health & Physical Education Requirements Completion.   Again, students receive the badges into their badge portfolio.   

The university is also trying to be more assertive about positioning their students for job-readiness.  They provide badges in resume-writing, interviewing, job application prep, practicum completion, internship completion.  

Teachers may also offer badges for key projects during each semester that integrate courses and skills – public speaking, writing for a community newsletter or blog, analysis and reporting.  Badge earners are encouraged to share their badges in social media.   Eventually, they will receive a degree and degree-related badge.

With all the variance in skill level, how do these microcredentials and leveled up credential (degree)? How are they fulfilling a need for students?  For parents?  For the community?  For future employers?  Is there a potential for ‘overkill’ creating a devaluing of the badges provided here?   

Case #4: Professional mastery

A professional association develops a series of microcredential certifications for professionals within a given field.  Professionals can earn one or more microcredentials with marks (the letters after a name, e.g. CPA) and digital badges.  Over time, they can ‘level up’ to an advanced level certification.  The program has yet to hit its five-year mark and only a handful of people are certified.   Employers have yet to request the credential as “preferred” on a job listing.  In the meantime, the association offers the credential and digital badges.  They can show that potentially interested parties are clicking on the social media or email links to access information about the credential and the credential holder. 

Is this series of microcredentials and badges living up to its promise?  


Digitally Promised Milestones & Markers

  In each of the instances, the promise of the microcredential may be somewhat different.  And, yet, in many ways, the promise is the same.  Each badge gives the badge-holder:  
·         The right to share a key milestone and self-promote
·         The ability to show milestone markers of successful performance against a defined standard (different standards, true)
·         The possibility of feeling successful and discovering the increased self-respect and confidence that comes from working toward a goal and succeeding to meet it.

Beyond those promises, there may be other implied promises – jobs, wages, skilled workforce, career readiness, college readiness, degree readiness.  Those promises are harder to define, track, and manage.  However, tracking the public promise of each credential (micro or otherwise) is the challenge of each credentialing program.   

It will be important to know which stakeholders (college recruiters, parents, employers, credential holders, etc.) expect what from the credential as promised by the digital existence of a badge.  Uncovering these expectations and putting them to metrics to share with the public will be the challenge of the future. 

Coming soon…

Cost of Broken Promises (Apr 16)
Elementary, My Dear Microcredential Provider (Apr 23)
Digital Badges Validate 21st Century ID Skills (Conference Presentation) (Apr 30)
Scaling, Scaffolding, and Badging (May 6)
Leveling Up and Career Paths (May 13)
Discovering Expectations and Promises (May 20)
                                       … unless a better topic unfolds, of course

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