4 steps toward making best badging decisions at your college

Maintaining the value of alternative digital creds requires knowing how to decide what to badge

Alternative badging credentials may be the wave of the future in higher education, but a new report from the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) shines a light on the urgent need for universities to make thoughtful (and sometimes difficult) decisions about how to handle badges.

“Anything can be badged and anyone can issue a badge, which can dilute their value,” says Gary W. Matkin, dean of continuing education at the University of California, Irvine and chair of the ICDE working group. “Institutions have to decide what criteria to use to issue a badge; their reputations depend on having oversight and control.”

The report, titled “The Present and Future of Alternative Digital Credentials (ADCs),” suggests several actions to consider when making decisions about what to badge:

1. Avoid duplicating existing credentials

Deciding what to badge should involve considering items not covered on an official transcript.

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“Some schools issue badges when students complete a class, but students are getting a grade on their transcript, so there is no need for an [ADC], too,” says Daniel Hickey, who studies badges at Indiana University as a professor and program coordinator with the Learning Sciences Program. “Schools shouldn’t issue redundant badges,” adds Hickey, also a research scientist with the Center for Research on Learning and Technology.

2. Focus on competencies

Universities must resist the pressure to award badges for learning achievements, according to Matkin. Transcripts reflect learning achievements; ADCs should reflect competencies.

3. Eliminate attendance badging

When deciding what to badge, Hickey is adamant: Badges should not be issued to students just for attending seminars or events. “You cannot conflate attendance at an event with participation in learning,” he says. These so-called “seat time” badges also dilute the value of ADCs.

4. Work with local partners

ADCs by the Numbers

27: Number of institutions currently experimenting with badges

94%: Americans who held some form of alternative credential in 2016 (up from 30% two years ago)

25%: Four-year institutions offering digital badges

Source: “The Present and Future of Alternative Digital Credentials (ADCs),” International Council for Open and Distance Education, January 2019

Badges are meant to recognize workplace-relevant competencies. Matkin believes involving local companies in decisions about what skills ADCs should represent helps make them more relevant, explaining, “If badges are meant to fill a skills gap, tying in to what the local labor market needs will make badges more relevant.”

Matkin believes that while most schools have made solid decisions about issuing ADCs, mistakes are common. Too often, universities fail to centralize badging under a single provider; record keeping becomes more complicated when multiple badges must be verified through multiple providers. The biggest error, according to Matkin, is failing to offer badges.

“Badging is a higher education imperative,” he says. “Institutions that don’t get into it very soon are going to fall behind.”

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