Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Badges... We Don't Need No Stinking Badges"

The classic clip from Treasure of the Sierra Madre has been rehashed many times including one in Blazing Saddles. you can check out the YouTube movie clip here for a laugh:

Well - I have news for you... In the future, you might need some stinking badges in order to get the job or credentials you want. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education sheds some light on the controversy of job force skills and the acquisition of credentials to get those future jobs.
The article entitled "A Future Full of Badges" by Kevin Carey discusses a UC Davis initiative to give credentials to students in a sustainable agriculture and food systems major. Not that anything here sounds new except everything is new, including the major. The program focuses on giving the students more than just the content of the major, it focuses on giving the students much needed experience within the subject matter. Experiential learning is something that students have always defined as meaningful learning. The problem has always been that most schools struggle with the experiential piece and the assessment of that experience. Carey ascertains that digital badges may be the wave of the future to accredit students with respect to skills learned in a field of study.

The current higher education track places our youth in a direction to acquire the almighty degree. Employers have always been focused on the degree as well as if to say that if you don't have a degree then you cannot possibly accomplish the tasks that the job requires. Degrees have become the currency of success for some. Some degrees are worth more than others. Some jobs require higher degrees. Some employers are just looking for people with a degree period.

Online learning modules are responsible for flipping the classroom and now those same models are looking to flip the degree philosophy as well. If a student now can acquire the needed knowledge and skills from various sources and not just one singular institution, how will the degree program continue to work? And... even though a student has a degree in a body of knowledge, do they necessarily have the skill base or experience to effectively do the job? Who is going to vouch for the competency level of these new hybrid employees since the institution can no longer hand out degrees?

Carey's solution is the digital badge. A digital badge is a representation of mastery of either a skill or body of knowledge that is bestowed to a student upon exhibition of that mastery. They tend to be more granular and could be how we merit the abilities of all within a profession. Badges can be given by institutions upon completion of courses or by individuals upon example of mastery of a certain skill.

I can't help but relate it to a popular reality TV show called Hell's Kitchen. Although one winner gets to work for Gordon Ramsey in a brand new restaurant, what happens to all the other participants after the show? If you owned a restaurant and needed a chef, would you think twice about hiring the 45-year-old breakfast line cook who comes in second on the show? After all the impossible situations that show puts those contestants in, you can't help but think they are gaining valuable experience every day at a rapid pace. Ginny Fredrickson of Brockton, Mass shows up in your restaurant with a Hell's Kitchen badge and says "I was the runner up and Gordon Ramsey gave me this badge indicating that I was the second best cook there." I think I would probably hire her on the spot, having no idea what her background was. She didn't need a degree - she proved it in experience and someone who is respected in the field gave her the badge of approval.

This concept is a new one but it does shed light on what we as human beings choose to put weight on. The badge gives all of us a way to prove that our life experiences say something about us and will also give our future employers the chance to see what we have accomplished. Credibility is gained in the court of public approval similar to the way in which most of us shop online. We look for an item and then read the reviews of what other people think before we buy. If a potential employee came in with digital badges signifying expertise in all skill sets of a job and was able to identify who awarded the badges to him / her, would it help in determining whether the candidate is suitable for the position? Instead, we look to where they attended school, ask for a copy of their degree and decide whether or not they should be hired. What does a B+ in MAT101 mean anyway?

The higher education world will look drastically different in a few years for the majority of the population getting ready to enter it. Digital badges offer a way to identify qualified and motivated individuals who wish to see the educational process as a learning process instead of a ticket for admission to a good job. What does it say to us when transcripts from one accredited school are not accepted for transfer at another accredited school? It says that there is great ambiguity and vagueness in terms of real skills associated with degree programs. The reality is: it's not what you say you know that is important, it's what you can do that will propel you to success. To have a system that both accurately reflects your accomplishments and provides credible sources of reference, look out Harvard, here comes the hybrid employee. One who has had experience in a multitude of educational environments and can prove that they can handle the job requirements.

Although I never was a Boy Scout, maybe someday I can get my Eagle Scout badge for blogging.....