Digital badges: tracking our ‘horizontal’ skills

Recently the Globe and Mail and EDUCAUSE Review published articles on the growing popularity and use of digital badges for tracking and sharing achievements in professional development. In support of a deeper and more enriching learning experience, higher education institutions and other organizations, including NASA and the Smithsonian, are using digital badges to encourage, track and validate formal and informal knowledge acquisition.

The Globe and Mail notes, “Both students and postsecondary institutions are increasingly embracing the ideal of the “T-shaped” graduate, who combines deep “vertical” knowledge in a particular domain with a broad set of “horizontal” skills: teamwork, communications, facility with data and technology, an appreciation of diverse cultures, advanced literacy skills, and so on.” The University of Waterloo is an excellent example of an academic institution fostering the growth of this new type of student, as showcased by our students’ growing demand to participate in Waterloo’s Co-op program, international exchange opportunities and other volunteer and training experiences. Digital badges could capture the horizontal knowledge and skills acquired during these learning experiences that are otherwise difficult to represent in a resume or university degree.

Purdue University Passport app screenshotIn this direction, Purdue University has developed a pair of mobile apps called Passport and Passport Profile that make creating, awarding and sharing badges easy.  Students must follow the steps set out by instructors to complete the challenge(s) and earn their badge. Badge information can then be quickly and easily shared with classmates and instructors on a tablet or smartphone.

While the student audience seems like the most practical users of such a feature, imagine the impact digital badges could have for staff. Digital badges could be used to represent the training, skills and abilities staff possess in a variety of areas. Instead of being ‘that web guy’ or ‘that developer person’, badges could be used to help depict a more holistic view of an individual. We start to learn a little more about a person and where their passions, interests and skills lay outside of their specific job description. Starting to form then is a repository other staff can reference when:

  • they could use a hand solving an issue,
  • need someone to act as a backup, or
  • would like to approach a qualified individual with an exciting job opportunity.

How would you envision the implementation of digital badges to your role at uWaterloo? What would be the first badge you would work towards achieving?


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