Validating Students' "Career-ready Skills": Lessons Learned (So Far) From a System-wide Digital Badging Initiative

Concurrent Session 5
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Brief Abstract

Lessons learned from a 2-year, system-wide project that is collaboratively exploring the feasibility of digital badges, both for our students and for prospective employers.


Dr. M.J. Bishop is Associate Vice Chancellor and inaugural director of the University System of Maryland’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, which was established in 2013 to create a collaborative culture of academic innovation that catalyzes new ways of thinking about student success, translates ideas into action, and scales and sustains promising practices. The Kirwan Center leverages the power of multi-institutional collaboration to increase access, affordability, and achievement of high-quality credentials for Maryland students. As Director, Dr. Bishop is leading statewide initiatives in open educational resources, analytics, digital badging, adaptive learning, high-impact practices, academic integrity, and online education. Since coming to the USM in 2013, the Kirwan Center has been awarded grants totaling over $5.6M in support of a variety of initiatives aimed at exploring the role that state-level consortia can play in advancing institutional efforts to improve student success. Prior to USM, Dr. Bishop was an Associate Professor and Director of the Lehigh University College of Education’s Teaching, Learning, and Technology Program where she led the institution’s graduate programs in instructional design and technology, taught graduate level courses, and mentored master’s and doctoral students. While at Lehigh, Dr. Bishop received several awards for her research and teaching including the 2013 Stabler Award for Excellence in Teaching for leading students to 'excellence in their chosen field' as well as 'excellence as human beings and as leaders of society.' MJ’s research interests include understanding the fundamental components and the psychology behind instructional media and delivery systems in order to discover their pedagogical capabilities and limitations and to devise more effective ways to design instructional technologies to enhance learning.
Dr. Sherri N. Braxton is the Senior Director of Instructional Technology at UMBC where she is responsible for leading the Division of Information Technology’s (DoIT) strategy for end-user support of instructional technologies including online, hybrid, and traditional, “face-to-face” technologies. With over 20 years of experience in traditional classroom instruction and adult education strategies grounded in instructional design models, she also possesses over 17 years of experience using learning technologies in higher education settings, including the design and facilitation of online and hybrid courses. Dr. Braxton is a dynamic presenter known for her ability to engage audiences and capture their attention, even for highly complex topics. She collaborates with her staff to devise learning opportunities delivered in multiple modes that meet the varied and shifting needs of both UMBC faculty and students. Dr. Braxton is also the DoIT representative on the University System of Maryland (USM) Academic Transformation Advisory Council, a group spearheaded by the William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation. Dr. Braxton has crafted a national presence through her participation in educational technology associations like EDUCAUSE, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), and the IMS Global Learning Consortium; in addition to presenting at national, regional, and local conferences, she serves as a proposal reviewer, constituent group leader, leadership institute faculty, and both task force leader and working group participant. Dr. Braxton earned a Doctor of Science in Computer Science with Minors in Educational Leadership and Management Science from the George Washington University. She also holds a Master of Science in Computer Science with a Math Minor from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science from Wake Forest University.

Extended Abstract

Traditional college transcripts communicate very little to prospective employers beyond the fact that a graduate has been taught a particular course and received a particular letter grade. As a more "granular" means for validating and representing what an individual knows and is able to do, digital badges promise to communicate to prospective employers what students have learned instead of just what students have been taught.

The University System of Maryland (USM) sees great potential in digital badges to help us validate and present the career-ready skills our graduates attain that are not particularly well illustrated by a university transcript, resume, and cover letter. The purpose of the USM Digital Badging initiative is, therefore, to collaboratively explore the feasibility of digital badges, both for our students (the badge earners) and for prospective employers (the badge consumers).

We recognize that not all students graduating from our institutions are sufficiently "career ready." Those who are often are unable to articulate and/or demonstrate the skills they possess. Our initiative goal is, therefore, to design, implement, and evaluate a constellation of complementary digital badges aimed at validating and communicating our graduates' career-ready skills. We are initiating this work because:
ï We want to motivate and incentivize students to obtain the requisite career-ready skills throughout their time with our institutions.
ï We want our students to be able to better communicate what they know and are able to do, translating their educational experiences to career-ready skills.
ï We want our institutions to be able to better communicate to employers what our students know and are able to do.
ï We want students to be able to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace.
ï We want to help employers make better hires by improving fit and match between our students and open positions.

Our diverse project team is made up of a variety of career-placement, student affairs, academic affairs, instructional technology and innovation professionals from each of the five system institutions that are actively participating in the design process (Towson University, University of Baltimore, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of Maryland University College, and the Universities at Shady Grove). We are beginning this year by collaboratively developing one badge for testing as a proof of concept in AY 2016-17 at each of the USM institutions, including those not participating in the design process, if they are interested.

We are operating under the following "guardrails" or assumptions, which will likely be modified as we move through the process:
ï We have agreed to share information, insights, resources across institutions throughout this initiative.
ï We will work to assure this badge and potential future badges are "as open as possible." The badge(s) created will be open to all USM to start. The degree of "openness" may change over the course of the initiative.
ï The badges we create will address career ready skills, defined as the "resume worthy" competencies needed to obtain employment after college.
ï Badges will be created in collaboration with employers.
ï Any skill selected for badging will be one that is valued by employers for use in the hiring process.
ï Badges may be scaffolded or include a progression of skill development.
ï Evidence for earning badges will largely come from co-curricular experiences, and may also come from curricular experiences.
ï Badges developed will include a validation process (whether external or internal).

By April 2016, we will have decided which badge we will pilot, determined the criteria for earning the badge, created an assessment process, chosen a platform delivery, and developed an implementation strategy and communications plan.

In this session, a panel of project team members will share insights into how we identified the appropriate badge to pilot and discuss the design processes that went into creating the badge criteria and assessments. Panelists will also address both the opportunities and the barriers we have encountered along the way. Our plan is for the panelists to present for no more than 30 minutes total, sharing their unique perspectives from their diverse institution types. We will leave at least 15 minutes for active discussion and question and answers with the audience.


MJ Bishop
Director, Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, University System of Maryland

Beth Mulherrin
Assistant Vice Provost for Student Success, Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success, University of Maryland University Center

Sherri Braxton-Lieber
Director of Instructional Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Paul Walsh
Assistant Vice President for Academic Innovation and Instructional Support, University of Baltimore

Jane Neapolitan
Assistant Provost for Academic Innovation, Towson University

Mary Lang
Chief Strategy Officer, Universities at Shady Grove