Guest post by Michael Braithwaite
Communications skills, team work, design, chess champ, social media mastery, and competitive bocce ball: It might sound like a strange list of job qualifications, but as companies increasingly seek out employees who can accomplish a wide range of tasks across a growing number of technologies, all the while being a team player, they’re looking for skills and experiences that paint a more holistic picture of an applicant. Gone are the days of employees working solo on repetitive, finite tasks. Today’s workplace is constantly changing, built on rapidly evolving technology and often spanning multiple countries. It requires good communicators, fast and creative thinkers, and flexibility.
That’s where digital badges come in. A bit like supercharged merit badges, digital badges are emerging as a new angle on credentialing, redefining how learning is recognized in a digital age that requires a broad range of skills, passion, and diversity of experience.
Or at least, that’s what the White House thinks. Last Thursday, the Office of Science Technology Policy hosted a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout that was broadcast nationally and discussed the current use of digital badges and their potential to redefine not only the professional landscape, but the educational one as well.
Bryan Norato, University of Rhode Island freshman and alumni of the Hub—a credit-bearing after-school system for high school youth in Providence—helped shed some light on the subject of digital badges in a conversation with Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning & Badges at the Mozilla Foundation; Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation; and Richard Culatta, Acting Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.
While participating in the Hub’s Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) initiative, which was developed by the Providence After School Alliance (PASA), Bryan earned digital badges—and course credits—in photography, art, video game design, and debate. He displayed those badges in an online portfolio that college admissions officers and potential employers could review.
Unlike a traditional resume or college application, in which experience and/or extracurricular activities can be difficult to verify, Bryan’s badges and the requirements for meeting each one are accessible on his web page. Bryan was accepted to multiple colleges, but chose to attend the University of Rhode Island, which, along with Harvard and MIT, has adopted digital badges to recognize students for a variety of accomplishments, such as making the dean’s list and passing online courses.
During the Hangout, Bryan noted that, while he initially saw PASA’s badges more as virtual trophies, he quickly came to realize their potential as a means of publicly bridging his academic requirements, personal passions, and career possibilities. They provided a way to showcase valuable skills he was gaining that normally would have no place on a resume or transcript.
Mozilla’s Erin Knight reinforced Bryan’s point of view. “Instead of building siloed systems where learners are stuck within each one of those systems, we really need to focus at an ecosystem level,” she said. “The idea here is that people can earn badges across a lot of different experiences. So as you start to build a portfolio of badges…it gives employers a clearer picture of a candidate.”
The “We The Geeks” Hangout came on the heels of former president Bill Clinton’s announcement of the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action to massively expand access to Mozilla’s Open Badges as a new method of academic and technical skills assessment. Speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago earlier this month, Clinton promised outreach and technical assistance to help employers, colleges, and universities across the country incorporate Mozilla’s Open Badges in hiring decisions, promotions, admissions, and school credit over the next three years.
The Clinton Global Initiative, along with the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla, believe that Open Badges will create new pathways for students and workers while at the same time help employers identify candidates with the right skills for today’s constantly changing workplace.
So while online French courses or an undefeated volleyball streak might seem of no consequence, they say a lot about perseverance, teamwork, and initiative! And now there might be a digital badge for that.
Michael Braithwaite is Manager of Communications and Development at the Providence After School Alliance in Rhode Island.