CORVALLIS, Ore. - The Professional and Continuing Education, or PACE program at Oregon State University has begun an educational "badge" initiative, becoming part of an innovative national movement to expand the way learning accomplishments can be recognized.
These digital badges offer an additional method to recognize skills, education and abilities. As an "open credential," they are detailed and personalized - and via computers can offer a more current and exact description of just what a person knows how to do.
The movement is conceptually similar to the "merit badges" that scouts have used for decades. But instead of a canoeing badge sewn onto a sash that verifies a person knows how to paddle a canoe, digital badges are computer icons that both recognize and can link to a full description of a person's knowledge in a particular field - anything from robotics to welding to financial management.
At OSU, the first 300 badges have been issued to graduates of the popular "master gardener" online program. About 700 more badges are going to be presented to graduates of four other PACE programs in coming months.
"With employers relying more heavily on social media platforms like LinkedIn to make salary and career advancement decisions, we wanted to provide our students with a form of web-based credentialing that is secure, portable and meets contemporary workforce-related needs," said Chris LaBelle, director of Professional and Continuing Education.
At OSU, LaBelle said, badges may be used to signify completion of a certificate program, an intensive workshop or the acquisition of a certain set of skills. They will be offered as a supplement to traditional degrees and certifications.
The badge movement is still in its infancy, but is already being embraced by a variety of institutions, from universities to private industry, government agencies and trade organizations. Open source computer software companies are among its advocates, and the system being used at OSU will work on multiple digital platforms.
In this initiative, OSU is working with the Oregon Badge Alliance, a non-profit organization working to set up a system of badges and micro-certifications in the state. Badges can provide detail on skills and achievements that aren't available on traditional academic records and may include a range of work and studies far beyond a person's academic degree. Creators of a badge clearly spell out the criteria for earning them, and they can recognize a specific accomplishment or sometimes continued growth in a general area of study.
"Because open badges can be collected from multiple sources, the possibilities are really endless," said Wayne Skipper, founder of the Oregon Badge Alliance Wayne Skipper said. "In a rapidly evolving education landscape, the ability for students to quantify their own learning achievements is paramount. That requires more granular data than what we normally see on a transcript."
PACE's digital badge program has attracted the attention of other OSU colleges and departments as well, LaBelle said.
"Digital badges have the potential to become a university-wide program," LaBelle said. "While non-degree students will receive the first wave of digital badges issued by our unit, I fully expect a demand for this form of micro-credentialing to spill over to OSU's student services and degree-based programs."
Digital badges are already a national movement.
One university, for instance, provides different badges for various milestones in robotics, and another provides badges for reaching benchmarks of learning in regular, credit-bearing college courses.
Once awarded, badges can also be linked to a wide range of information that would never be found on an academic transcript, such as workshops attended, awards won, projects completed, essays written or work samples.
Colleges like OSU, the University of California and Carnegie Mellon are being joined by many other institutions in the badge movement. The Smithsonian Institution is awarding badges, as are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Association of Manufacturers, Intel and Disney-Pixar.
Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.