The York University Online Digital Badging System has been an integral aspect of the forward momentum of the BEST Lab. The Digital Badging system motivates the engagement of students by gamifying the education process, but also by creating a digital road map for the educational expectations with smaller qualifying badges acting as guide posts that allow students to self-evaluate and adjust their teaming strategies. The digital badging activity embraces curricular and co-curricular activity.
The flexible nature of the badging concept allows the accredited integrity of the overarching degree system to be respected, while allowing small modifications to education requirements. It allows for the awarding of micro-credentials both with a course and through alternate experiential education activities.
Interestingly, it has allowed us to develop and create a dialogue with industry and workplace partners who can be given a voice in badge development, aligning specific learning outcomes with workplace requirements. This allows industry partners to highlight skills and abilities they desire, and universities to build new graduate capabilities to address current shortcomings. One of the benefits of this is it allows for rapid prototyping of specific badges (see below) without the need to overhaul the entire degree system. This speeds up the implementation of academic change, allowing the educational process to be changed pre-emptively and proactively.
For example, York has developed a strategic partnership with IBM (an industry partner with noted internal success employing digital badging) to deploy digital badges. Lassonde School of Engineering currently has 36 co-op students at IBM in Markham. This partnership has been enhanced by MTCU/MAESD funding of the Catalyst Skills Initiative (which includes IBM and many other academic and industry partners). The first two digital badges being developed in this partnership are for resilience and refection—determined to be critical skills in enhancing innovation and creativity (linked to another BEST eCampusOntario project).
We are optimistic that with the development of a formal badging process, the integration of badging into co-curricular student records, and rapid acceptance of industry partners, the Digital Badging initiative at York University will have the strength to change the future of education.
Badging System Structure
We present two contrasting new digital badges—one experiential (participation) and one skill-based—as examples of the new ways in which micro-credentials are transforming our approach to education and creating both experiential education and appropriate skills development.
The resilience badge developed in partnership with IBM is designed to recognize the education value derived from failure and the ability to continue and persevere by learning lessons from failure. Much of the innovation work we do demonstrates the inherent value in learning what does not work and being able to reflect on it in a way that improves the likelihood of future success. (It is interesting to note that, in the Canadian context, while these skills are often desired, they are not encouraged or developed. Rather, we seem to create a culture of fear of failure, which in turn reduces our capacity for innovation.)
Skills Badge—3D Printing
We’ve developed hands-on badges for 3D printing to highlight the skills involved in identifying components that can be constructed to be 3D printed together. This badge is offered in multi-level stages of competence (bronze, silver, and gold).
The badge requires students to display the technical design of computer modelling components from many sources: SolidWorks, SketchUp, AutoCad, and TinkerCad. It requires the technical design of understanding how each component in the project integrates into a larger system while also including a reference to design-for-manufacturing thinking to motive students to consider how their project can fit into a larger industrial method.
The silver badge tests more sophisticated 3D printing skills, such as optimization and materials selection, while the gold level badge recognizes mastery—that is, the ability to teach others.
The challenge within an academic environment is to encourage and motivate the students to push themselves to achieve more and to discover their inner strengths. Using badges such as reflection and resilience helps us focus on key attributes that are currently not shared with students (despite their importance).
Digital badging also gamifies the achievement of badges by allowing students to chart their accomplishments and express their interests and achievements in multiple activities. This promotes and rewards individual student initiative and connects each student to the larger student body, contributing to community building.
The early involvement and creation of guidelines, or a system of vetting badges through approved university channels, allows badges to be branded appropriately and have value in a real-world industry setting.
Working with industry partners to create these guidelines is also essential. Otherwise there will exist a disconnect between the criteria of recognized co-curricular skills at the university level and at the employer industrial level.
The creation of unique one-time badges can be connected with other awards such as a scholarships to motivate students and create unique value for their activities.
There are three major barriers to success at York:
- The first barrier is the duality of curricular badges and co-curricular badges. Co-curricular badges are the heart of what makes digital badging innovative by recognizing the nuanced educational requirements of the degree program and student initiatives, but the program requires curricular badges to provide stability and draw attention to the system. The challenge is finding the correct balance between the two (while maintaining the integrity of the badging system).
- The second issue is creating co-curricular badges in an academically accredited environment. Some believe that badges need to be formally approved because they are issued by the university, but this inhibits the adoption of new and innovative badges. There will be some effort required to find a middle ground between university administration and those trying to deploy the digital badging program.
- The third issue is a lack of dedicated resources. Moving from a few simple badges to a campus-wide initiative requires much more planning and resources than we have been able to dedicate. This issue is exacerbated by the ambiguous nature of the project, benefits, and limited resources that exist to support students across faculties. There is also a constraint imposed by inexperienced staff and unclear objectives.
In the midst of several competing priorities related to advancing teaching and learning strategies, advancing the goals related to development and implementation of a fulsome and robust badging system may be challenged by limited resources. The university remains interested in the opportunities for students related to digital badging and committed to the success of these initiatives, and our team continues to strategize on how to obtain resources to support the related projects and expand the project to include additional faculties and academic programs.
The creation of an Ontario-specific unique badge system provides a technological threat due to the in-house work requirement. There already exists a monopoly company providing superior service for setup and badge management in a purely non-academic sense. Creating an in-house system takes away from the academic potential by overwhelming the user base with additional concerns about the technology that draws resources away from the academic and innovative objectives.
We are delighted to be continuing with the digital badging program at York, although we still have to find a suitable model to support the issuing and awarding of badges, as well as to cover the costs of skills development or experiential learning opportunities.
We see some very simple badges being created at Lassonde in the short term (focusing on hands-on skills lathe projects, mill competency, and computer numeric control training), as well as the more difficult task of teaching soft skills desired by industry partners (design thinking and creative problem solving).
We are building interest on campus in digital badging (for example by engaging with university clubs or linking to specific experiential education opportunities such as international experience programs). Over time we are sure that digital badging at York will contribute as much to student success as the more traditional acquisition and application of knowledge).
We have discussed our go-forward plans with workplace partners and decided to use the Credly platform (which we were on previously) for a number of strategic reasons.
- We have learned much about the two challenges of badging: developing a system to award badges and creating a platform (that integrates with others) to track badges earned.