Higher ed could lose grip on credentials

Colleges and universities could lose their grip on the credential business and be forced to innovate, writes Jeffrey Selingo in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

One possibility could be  “digital badges” certifying skills and knowledge to prospective employers.  The MacArthur Foundation is sponsoring a $2-million competition to create and develop a badge system.

Badges could recognize, for example, informal learning that happens outside the classroom; “soft skills,” such as critical thinking and communication; and new literacies, such as aggregating information from various sources and judging its quality. And in a digital age, the badge could include links back to documents and other artifacts demonstrating the work that led to earning the stamp of approval.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called badges a “game-changing strategy.” Education and Veterans Affairs will to award $25,000 for the best badge prototype that serves veterans looking for well-paying jobs.

While badges could be awarded by traditional colleges, they could also be given out by professional organizations, online and open-courseware providers, companies, or community groups.

Of course, each of those groups would need to earn the trust of employers who would be asked to hire prospective employees with the badges and perhaps not a college degree. But we’re already hearing complaints from employers about the quality of graduates being turned out by some colleges. So it’s not a stretch to imagine some employers taking a chance on people with a different kind of credential.

If employers come to believe that badges guarantee needed skills — and a college degree may not — it will be hard for traditional colleges to attract career-minded students, Selingo writes. They’ll be forced to innovate or die.

However, creating credible badges will be costly and difficult, writes Sherman Dorn. The idea is based on the virtual badges awarded to videogamers, as well as merit badges given to Scouts. But it will take more to impress employers.

The most well-known vocational credential is MCSE certification, he writes.

I do not know how much Microsoft has invested in the creation, propagation, and maintenance of the MCSE system, but it has to run in the millions of dollars from the creation (and updating) of exams to curriculum design to the effort to persuade (and continue to persuade) employers that “MCSE” is meaningful.

Groups could invest lots of money in badges and then discover they’re not real-world credentials,  Dorn writes.

Anyone hoping to invent an ecosystem of badges to replace existing credentials needs to think very long and hard about the resistance of labor markets to newly-invented credentials. . . .  Among all other considerations, I would want to talk with administrators at community colleges to get a gut-check on all this; community college folks have to make choices all the time not only between resources devoted to a standard associates degree and credential (i.e., vocational) programs but also how to select which credential programs to offer.

Badges? We need some (non-stinking) badges, writes Kevin Carey on The Quick and the Ed.  With many new ways to learn knowledge and skills, independent learners need ways to prove their competence.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON September 30, 2011

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Badges? Do we need badges? — Joanne Jacobs

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