Why students (and colleges) love digital badges

Profiles bring more nuance to the traditional transcript

Colleges are increasingly offering digital badges to help students show off the skills and experiences that a degree alone might not reflect, Paul Fain reports for Inside Higher Ed.

According to a recent survey, about one in five institutions have participated in digital badge programs.

The badges reflect both curricular and co-curricular experiences, such as academic achievements, lab experiences, and skills learned during internships or volunteer work.

Illinois State University launched a digital badge program at full scale last year, and has now awarded about 7,400 badges to honor's program students. Administrators in the honors program worked with a vendor to design the badges.

Staff members say the badges form a "three-dimensional transcript" that enhances a student's degree.

At Illinois State, evidence that counts toward badges can come from faculty or students and can include essays, infographics, videos, presentation slides, and more. Course instructors or university staff review these artifacts and determine whether to award the badge. Students can choose which badges to display or hide—and can bring them up on their phones.

Also see: How can a smartphone help improve student success?

"Even their diplomas would not necessarily reflect their good standing and ongoing achievements," she says Amy Oberts, who helped create the program.

Jackie Durnil, an Illinois State student majoring in communication sciences and disorders, has badges celebrating her achievements: being a peer mentor, earning a 4.0 GPA one semester, and working with a nonprofit, among other experiences.

The goal is to help students land jobs or acceptance to grad schools, according to Oberts.

While the criteria for badges were set by Illinois State's honors program, other institutions, like the Colorado Community College System, partner with local employers to design badge criteria.

Many vendors that offer digital badges work with companies to ensure that employers understand the value of the digital badges on a student's profile.

Experts compare badges to another trend in higher ed—competency-based education—because both systems are based on mastery of concepts rather than grades.

"It's a way for them to organize all of their experiences, all of the skill sets they learn," says Rocio Rivadeneyra, interim director of the badge program at Illinois State (Fain, Inside Higher Ed, 8/9).

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