COVID-19 updates: While the University of Wisconsin-Madison is taking steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we still plan to hold the August 4-6 2020 DT&L conference in Madison, WI as planned. There is also a contingency plan in place, just in case. For the latest, view Continuing Studies COVID-19 updates.

Summer in higher education – starter tips for offering digital credentials

I can tell it is summer in higher education because it takes a bit longer to get email replies, and there are frequent out-of-office returns. That’s OK; you have worked at a break-neck pace all year and deserve some downtime. That said, summer is sometimes the catchall for those “someday” projects and can be just as hectic with planning efforts.

If you or your institution has been thinking of offering digital credentials someday, what follows are a set of starter tips, infused with best practices.

Take inventory
If you are considering a badge system, take inventory of what you’ve already got working to your favor. Is there a curriculum that has a better than average connection to industry and employers?  Are there places where industry credentials are built-in (think of the technology sector in particular)?  I’m not suggesting that you reach for low hanging fruit, but itemizing what you have on hand is a good starting point.

Backward design
The inventory process should have revealed a gap or two.  Are there areas where you know a special endorsement is missing or skill sets you’ve heard requested? For example, if you receive feedback that your architecture students are lacking LEED knowledge, that could be a place where you backward design the curriculum to meet the industry standards and create a new credential that showcases your students in one fell swoop.  Or perhaps you’ve heard that your business students do not write clearly and succinctly. What could you do to enhance their skills and promote their achievements?

Know your assessments
If we are talking about backward design, we must dive into the assessment. Yes, you can build a test for nearly anything, but your assessment of these skills and competencies could take another form. Projects, portfolios, and a host of work products can be evaluated along with observations of skills. As long as you can articulate what it means to have a particular skill set or capability, you can construct an assessment (you’re experts in this!).

Vet, test, and iterate
The value of a credential rests in is usefulness outside of the institution.  Industry experts and local councils can help vet your badge ideas.  In fact, they can help shape your work by providing key insights about gaps, language to use, and acceptable “proof of work.”  You only know what you don’t know when you ask.  Ask for input and review; not only will you create buy-in and investment, but your end product will be all the stronger.

Say it in 100 words or less
Without getting into the details of any badge-issuing platform, can you describe your digital credential in 100 words or less? What does the badge represent and what should earners be able to do as a result of having had the experience earning the badge?  If you cannot state this emphatically, you might need to refine your ideas.

Plan ahead to educate
If you are able to start issuing badges, at the least you will need to educate the earners of what’s coming and what to do with the credential.  For most, you will enter the fall still planning, but you can use that time to craft a deliberate agenda for educating faculty, students and employers about the value of digital badges.

If you’ve followed my line of thinking, this is the time to identify where gaps exist and create curriculum and assessments that fill – and prove the fulfillment of – needed skills and competencies. With proper vetting and buy-in by industry experts, you could be on the cusp of designing experiences and credentials that put your students on the path to success after their time with you.

If you’d like to talk more about the design process, look for Credly at the Distance Teaching and Learning conference in August.