Using Digital Badges as a Framework for an Online Teaching and Learning Community of Practice

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this session we will present the Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) use of badges to support a complex ecosystem comprised of constellations of badges supporting membership and engagement in our community of practice, and online competency development and a culture of continuous improvements in online course design and teaching practices. 

Extended Abstract

In this session participants will:

  • Earn the “Friend of SUNY” badge by joining and participating in the online community.
  • Explore concepts of badging for specific purposes and the importance that "evidence" plays in the anatomy of a digital credential.
  • Earn the "Community Participation" badge for attending the presentation, which demonstrates interest in learning more about digital badging initiatives.
  • Have the opportunity to continue the conversation beyond the end of the workshop with others interested in badges, professional development and online teaching and learning by participating in online discussions in the Badging Group in the Open SUNY COTE online community.


Digital Badges are a mechanism that many organizations are exploring to recognize and support professional development. Digital Badges are being used in creative and innovative ways to recognize competency and reward effort. Digital badge credentials provide metadata that link back to evidence of contribution, achievement, skill development, performance, or behavior. Providing a more complete picture of an earner's knowledge and skills, digital badges can make accomplishments more visible, can be shared, and like certificates and other credentials, are becoming a professionally valued currency. They can be shared on online profiles, professional portfolios, with prospective employers, professional groups, schools, collaborators, and other learners in online social community spaces.

At the Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE), we are developing a digital badging ecosystem that recognizes online community of practice membership, contributions, and the competency development of our online practitioners. This digital system of badges has enabled an effective, engaging, and visible way to recognize the development of online teaching and course design competencies, and support/incentivize key behaviors in our community of practice. Four overarching paths are tied to the roles online practitioners play in our community, and form constellations of types of badges that add levels and a journey metaphor to the environment that help to clarify and integrate the goals of the badges within a true community of practice where members can move from novice to masters, share/learn from each other, and demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvements in their online teaching and course designs.

Digital badging offers creative ways to define professional development paths, recognize accomplishments, experience, and competency, and encourage behaviors. Badge systems can be combined with additional incentives such as promotion/tenure, institutional recognition, mentor opportunities, and further professional development.

The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence: A Case Study
Since 1994, the Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) formerly the SUNY Learning Network, has been developing online faculty and building a diverse community of online practitioners on a large scale with a great deal of positive and significant success, earned a number of awards and recognitions, trained more than 5000 faculty at all levels and disciplines to teach online, and developed and mentored more than 300 online instructional designers.

Today Open SUNY offers:

  • 200 fully online degree programs. - 64 online programs from 19 SUNY institutions carry the Open SUNY+ designation.
  • 400 certificates and programs with more than 50% of the learning online.
  • 12,000 online course sections.
  • More than 100,000 annual online enrollments.
  • 86,000 individual students studying online. 

In 2013 we began the design of Open SUNY and the Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) to take online teaching and learning at SUNY to the next level, focused on system-level initiatives to strategically leverage online education to address student access, completion, and success. Open SUNY COTE was designed to focus on system-level supports and initiatives targeting online competency development, online course supports, online community of practice, and research and innovation. We were charged with thinking of new ways to engage the newly formalized roles of Open SUNY Fellows in aspects of community, engagement and contributions, and competency development. We wanted to create an environment where our online practitioners felt accountable and recognized for participating, engaging, volunteering, mentoring, networking, and sharing their expertise, challenges, and reflections with their colleagues across the system.

Digital badges emerged as a way for us to recognize, honor, and track community engagement, professional development, and achievements. A core team with interest in badging was brought together from across the system in 2014 to define competencies and design the Open SUNY COTE badging ecosystem, and the first badges were issued in February 2015.  Badges are digital shareable recognitions that are being used by Open SUNY COTE to acknowledge, commemorate, recognize, endorse, honor, award, validate, certify and authorize various activities, behaviors, events, individuals, and accomplishments. Badges provide the earner, and the viewer, with a visual indication of their skills, progress, and status, enabling organic empowerment and recognition of our community of online practitioners.

We began by awarding digital badges to Open SUNY Fellows through Credly to document and recognize membership in the online teaching community of practice, level of engagement and contributions to the community, and online teaching and course design competency.

Badges are only awarded if the participant demonstrates evidence of their learning or effort, such as writing a reflection, creating a video tour of their online course, delivering a Fellow Chat to share an effective with their colleagues, or volunteering to mentor or peer review a colleague’s online course. The badging system is tied to the Open SUNY Fellow roles, is designed to guide development as online practitioners from novice to master, and supports networking, sharing, and mentoring across the entire community of online practitioners. The badging system supports and reinforces a culture of continuous improvement in online teaching practices and course design, provides recommended learning paths and levels, and promotes opportunities for various types of community engagement.  

Individuals who meet the established criteria for each badge or set of badges, have an opportunity to earn badges to recognize their accomplishment or engagement in online education, Open SUNY COTE, and with the community of online practitioners. Open SUNY Fellows can earn and share badges to demonstrate their role in, contribution to, and the value they place on our community of practice and professional development accomplishments.

To date we have created 4 constellations comprised of 30 badges in the membership, professional development, and community of practice categories, with multiple stackable levels envisioned. We have issued a total of 1,668 badges and of those badges accepted, 90% have been shared in LinkedIn and 10% in Facebook. This strategy has been both successful and motivating. Participants report they feel more accountable to participate, and the digital badge rewards serve as a source of engagement and motivation.

OS COTE Badges Offered in 2015/16

Badges have been awarded according to specified criteria:

  • Membership badges recognize role in the community of online practitioners.
  • Community engagement badges recognize efforts to share and network within our community of practice.
  • Competency Development badges acknowledge those who engaged in professional development programs and can provide evidence of their accomplishments and learning.
  • Social Media badges acknowledge efforts to share knowledge or expertise via social media.
  • Events badges commemorate participation in OS COTE events.
  • Participation badges endorse contributions and attendance at community activities and events.
  • Awards badges recognize community members honored through the OS COTE Effective Practices awards, Exemplary Online Courses, and Online Teaching Ambassadors programs.
  • Certify and authorize individuals and campuses to train and award badges on our behalf.