Changing the Credentialing Narrative: Creating a Game-Based Badging Pilot at UMUC

Concurrent Session 1

Brief Abstract

Colleges and universities are under increasing pressure to justify the value of their degrees and credentials. University of Maryland University College (UMUC) is using gamified learning in a digital badge pilot to validate how students’ academic content knowledge and experiences align with the career-ready skills employers seek.

Sponsored By


In her role at the Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success, Laura Harris is responsible for implementing student success initiatives through retention-focused pilots and rapid prototyping. Before coming to UMUC, Harris worked as a policy planning specialist in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Student Success Initiatives at Northern Virginia Community College. In this position, she conducted research to inform college-wide policy and planning and evaluated the effectiveness and impacts of student success initiatives. Previously, Harris held a variety of positions in education and public policy, including as a research analyst at TechVision21 and an education policy analyst at the National Governors Association. Harris holds a master's degree in public policy from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. She is also a graduate of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia and the Women & Politics Institute's WeLead program.

Extended Abstract


During this time of disruptive change in higher education, colleges and universities are being challenged to justify the value of their degrees and credentials and to produce evidence of return on investment.  Specifically, employers are not convinced college graduates are arriving at the workplace with the problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, leadership, intercultural, and  professional skills needed to succeed (William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, University System of Maryland).


While this is likely true for some college graduates, many others who actually do possess the requisite career-ready skills struggle to synthesize what they have learned and translate their curricular and co-curricular experiences into the specific competencies sought by employers.  College students need help “connecting the dots” among their general education and major courses, campus activities, work, and other real-life experiences in order to see how these all add up to acquisition of the career-ready skills employers seek. In addition, employers need better ways to verify that prospective employees have, in fact, achieved these skills through validated credentials that communicate more information than is currently available on the college transcript.


As a way to better validate how college graduates’ experiences align with the career-ready skills employers seek, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) is participating in the University System of Maryland’s Digital Badging Initiative. Digital badges “make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings” (MacArthur Foundation). Because they are digital, badges include access to viewable artifacts that provide evidence of learning to employers and other key audiences. Being digital and openly accessible means these badges can be shared through electronic portfolios, social and professional networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, or other online venues.


UMUC is piloting digital badging by offering students in the Doctor of Management (DM) program the opportunity to earn a Critical Thinking badge through their participation in a gamified learning simulation developed by Muzzy Lane. Students will use Rapid Evidence Assessment, a research methodology taught in their academic program, to solve a business problem presented by the simulation. In developing the simulation, DM program faculty collaborated with staff from UMUC’s Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success, Learning Design & Solutions, and Muzzy Lane to ensure alignment between simulation content, academic program learning goals, and the dimensions and assessment criteria of the Critical Thinking badge.



The purpose of this Emerging Ideas session is to examine how creative approaches to teaching and learning can be used to help students make connections between the academic content they learn in the classroom and how that translates to career-ready skills, such as critical thinking, that they can communicate to employers.


Session Structure and Goals

Presenters will discuss how UMUC used gamified learning in a digital badging pilot to validate and communicate students’ career-ready skills. The presentation will be structured to solicit feedback and participation from attendees in various roles, including administrators, faculty, design thinkers, and researchers, by exploring the role of gamification in skills-based digital badges through three lenses:

  1. System/university-wide strategic innovation: How can higher education systems and institutions utilize piloting to answer specific questions regarding the larger context of the value proposition of the university credential and career-ready skills.

  2. Internal conditions for piloting innovative practices: How can administrators and other critical stakeholders foster a growth mindset within their institutions to facilitate change and create the conditions for learning through piloting innovation?

  3. Aligning academic learning goals and badging competencies: The critical role of program chairs and faculty in ensuring rigor and alignment across academic learning goals, assessments, and badge criteria.


Audience Engagement

Conference session participants will be asked to engage in a larger discussion structured around the three lenses described above. A facilitated dialogue will be used to gain additional insights from workshop participants regarding the project as well as the broader focus of badging, game-based design and the changing landscape of higher education.