Northeastern University where I teach in the Masters of eLearning and Instructional Design has begun awarding badges to acknowledge specific skills or knowledge gained through the university’s credit-bearing, curriculum-based experiences.
In a recent Forbes article, Tom Vander Ark noted that badges offered a better credential of learning, and that the pandemic had accelerated this shift to verified credentials. Credly, the platform that Northeastern is using for its badges, noted that badges can help bridge the gap between higher education and employment, with badges potentially providing a graphic representation of lifelong learning. Christopher Pappas noted that badges are “…visually appealing reminders of all that your employees have accomplished and how far they’ve progressed.”
Douglas Belkin wrote in the Wall Street Journal that badges provided an alternative to formal education and the associated debt. I am not sure I buy his “end of college as we know it” theme, but I do believe that as higher education continues to evolve, micro-credentials will be a part of the landscape.
As a retired naval officer, I understand the concept of badges.
In my home office, I have a shadow box given to me by my final Navy station underneath a signed painting by R. G. Smith of the Little Beavers Squadron battle in World War II – the last major battle between destroyers, the type of naval vessels on which I served. In fact, my first ship, USS POWERS (DD-839), was the same class as these ships in the painting. The shadow box contains a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol during my final month in service, a list of my duty stations during my 26 years in the Navy, my various rank insignia, and on the right, my Surface Warrior badge and the seven medals/ribbons I earned. Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly said that “a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” My bits of colored ribbons include the Defense Superior Service Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals. three Navy Commendation Medals, one Navy Achievement Medal, one Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal, two National Defense Service Medals, and six Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbons. Veterans would instantly recognize details of my service simply by seeing the ribbons I wore.
In a similar manner, badges can provide a snapshot of one’s levels of achievement, learning and growth across multiple institutions. ISTE noted that individuals can “…filter, shuffle, sort, hide or display badges in various configurations to appeal to a variety of audiences and for a variety of purposes.”
I worked with the folks at Northeastern who were establishing badges to have a badge created for my course – Technology as a Medium for Learning: EDU-6323. The Digital Learning Integration badge notes skill development in advanced searches, curation, digital tool analysis, and screen casting – all skills associated with integrating digital technology into learning. I hope that students will claim this badge and display on their LinkedIn pages or eportfolios going forward.
Badges make sense to me as visual reminders of where students have come and where they might be going. As higher education re-tools for the post-pandemic age, I would anticipate that badges will be part of the future learning landscape.