Are Badges Useful for Professors Too?

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges are offering badges to incentivize professors to participate in (and complete) professional-development workshops: digital badges.

Jeffrey R. Young writes: “The idea of offering badges has become popular in education-technology circles in the past few years, in most cases as an alternative to a traditional college diploma, or even as a different way of giving grades in courses. The goal is to create an easy way for people to show employers they have attained a given skill. After all, who ever looks at a college transcript?”

At Edvance360, we agree. We began integrating with Open Badges by Credly, one of the leaders in badging, back in 2013. Edvance360 continues to record grades (which can be printed), integrate with the Student Information Systems (which contain the transcripts), and offer certificates (to be printed either by an administrator or by the learner), but we have seen a surge in badge usage in Higher Educational institutions, K-12 schools, and corporate training programs.

As Young says, “Who looks at a college transcript?” Not many. And we add: “Who looks at those certificates?” Not many. Most of us file them away in our filing cabinets.

But a digital badge is different. We can embed them on our LinkedIn profiles or on a personal web page or blog, store them to our ePortfolio, and even show them off in our learning management system. Some LMS vendors, like Edvance360, will release a leaderboard to even make “showing off” more rewarding. You can bet corporate training programs are going to be on board with that!

In corporate training programs, the main thrust behind using digital badges tends to be 1) motivation to get employees to take trainings and 2) “staying power” to get employees to complete the trainings. It also builds morale and in some corporate cultures, makes a real difference in the onboarding and retention of a new employee.

In K-12 schools, badges are used by teachers to motivate and reward students but are also used by administrators to do the same for teachers.

In Higher Ed, we have seen them used by students to motivate other students (social justice, blood drives, etc.) and by professors (rewarding students). In Bible colleges and seminaries, we find usage of badges in things like chapel attendance, mission trips accomplished, etc., in addition to the above.

Now some colleges are trying the badge approach in their in-house training and professional development, in part to expose more professors to the badge concept so they might try them in their own courses.

Kent State University, for instance, is offering badges to professors who complete workshops on how to improve their online teaching, which are offered by Kent State Online. The group started the experiment last November, and it has awarded about 500 badges during the 12 workshops it has given since [1]

“Our motivation is to provide faculty a convenient means to track and display their professional-development efforts,” said Valerie Kelly, executive director of Kent State Online. “There are a lot of people putting a lot of effort into creating really good online courses.”

Many professors don’t seem to be in it for the badge, though. In fact, only about 150 badges were “accepted,” meaning that a recipient registered to receive a badge so he or she could show it off.

Still, badges are probably more valuable to professors than are the paper certificates that Kent State traditionally gave to those who completed training workshops in the past. “It’s an easy way for a professor to show that I’m that type of faculty member that goes and does faculty development,” said Ms. Kelly.

Kent State even provides a great little video on this: https://youtu.be/vpprKqX6LrE.

The University of Central Florida has been experimenting with badges for its technology workshops as well. And in addition to offering its own badge for a blended-learning workshop, the university teamed up with Educause, a professional group for officials working in technology roles at colleges, to offer a joint badge — with hopes that it could become a standard. To earn the Educause-branded badge, participants have to both pass the workshop and submit a portfolio of homework for review, and pay an $89 fee.

Kelvin Thompson, associate director of the Center for Distributed Learning at Central Florida, said that whether the Educause badge has value for a professor depends on how well known Educause is in the circles a faculty member moves in. The badge, he said, “has value if you think it has value.”

Which we agree with, because quite frankly, all certifications, certificates, and other “proofs” of work completed or knowledge gained have value if the market thinks it does.

So, how should you use badges? Look for our next several posts on this topic to come.

[1] Jeffrey R. Young, “Can Digital Badges Help Encourage Professors to Take Teaching Workshops?, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired Campus, June 9, 2015.