Digital Badges, not just a pretty picture

Digital badges are back! They never went away I hear you say and yes? Of course not but we did enter an odd phase were badges were being issued for anything or everything (I like to refer to this era as the ‘Oprah Winfrey’ era).

you get a gif

So we all got badges and the value of a badge declined plus how could we validate the badge, where do we put the badges to promote ourselves? So the badge hype slowly dwindled to some hardcore fans who issued badges sporadically. Badge strategies were forgotten and images of badges were added to email signatures with no ability to validate someones claim to be an Google Cloud wizard.  I should also state that the frustration with badges also may be related to lack of platforms to develop and issue plus the limited options for styling, metadata and a space for an earner to host (yes Mozilla backpack was available however if you used it then you would understand it had issues).

I personally worked with badges via Blackboard learn a few years ago and we had some great use cases but the value of badges was not recognized by external institutions or private companies.

Fast forward a few years and the digital badge ecosystem has evolved. IMS open badge standards have been widely adopted by numerous suppliers, the options for badge creation & management is also diverse with open, free and paid for services available and most importantly the understanding that to maintain value for digital badges institution needs to have a strategy for badge creation.

The value aspect is key, speaking to other institutions in the UK and US they have stressed how value can only be maintained by guidance and governance. Guidance ensures standardization of the visual, the metadata and criteria for awarding. The visual is key and in most cases badge consumers (someone who sees a badge on a host platform aka linkedin, personal web page, email signature) will only see a small thumbnail of the image so keeping it clean and not going full Picasso is key. To get around the visual issue the creation of a style guide and a badge template helps subdue any hidden artistic desires.

picasso art

Metadata is key, its the data/information that provides the context for the badge and includes fields like description, competencies, achievements, award criteria, expiration and the ability for consumers to check validation! Yes, if you have shared a badge I can check if your a world of war craft level 6 orc from the dune sea by clicking on the validate button.

Governance allows users to request a badge and for it to be reviewed by badge champions to ensure we do not create 100 badges for the same thing, ensure badge value is maintained (aka we don’t hurtle back to the Oprah era, PS you get a badge for reading this far!) and badge visuals are maintained (we want the University of Edinburgh badge experience to follow established design guidelines and best practices) . I would stress that governance is a mix of academic and service staff all with a vested interest in the success of digital badges.

So we have a process and some standards so what do we issue badges for? As highlighted earlier they have been issued for everything and we are keen to avoid those dark days. Badges have a place for recognition of extra curricula or non-curricula skills, competencies or achievements that may not be recognized via other awards or even at all. Badges can be used to level up the softer skills that are core to user development or simply recognize the skills, competencies or achievements a user has gained. Badges spans the digital ecosystem and user base and could be issued on a MOOC platform to a user completing the book MOOC or to a member of staff for competing the Information security training.

So I gained a badge what next? How about recommendations for associated badges which can build upon your skills, achievements or competencies gained via a previous badge. Or the ability to share on a host platform (go on be that LinkedIn boaster who announces everything they are doing to the world) or it can be kept private. Even better imagine having a space that is yours for life and doesn’t need you to be registered at the university, your account, your personal email address your in control. Or don’t claim the badge its all up to the earner (They have the power!)

i have the power

The good news is that this service will be launching in the academic year 2022-23 and the team will share more thoughts once we pick a platform. The last thing I wanted to share is that whilst we are focusing on non-credit extra/non-curricula skills, achievements and competencies we are starting to hear institution considering issuing badges for UG and PG degree awards which kinda makes sense. Question if you have a degree what do you have to show your awesome achievement? and more importantly where is it? Personally I got a paper certificate and it sits in a cupboard with all my life admin things. Its not visible, its not verifiable and its on a bit of paper which isn’t great for the environment. A digital badge is verifiable and can be shared on numerous professional and/or personal platforms plus no trees were cut down to produce it. Sure the award ceremony might be slightly different however I have a feeling that the digital badge will be more useful to graduates.



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