Digital badges: Credentials go online

Below is an example of my work, involving pitching, researching, interviewing, producing, writing, and editing more than twenty articles, as well as photographing more than 80 assignments for Washtenaw Community College’s official newsletter, On the Record, which has a print distribution of 140,000 across Washtenaw County, Michigan.


When you think of a badge, chances are you’ll imagine an embroidered symbol of achievement attached to a uniform or sewn to a sash. But this is 2017, and advancements in technology beg for a digital version of the traditional badge, combining the historic symbolism of achievement with the modern benefit of online representation.

So, when Washtenaw Community College instructor Mike Galea was charged with re-envisioning WCC’s online learning experience, he saw an opportunity to create a win-win scenario for students and the college.

WCC Instructor Mike Galea, left, shows off a student’s digital badge.

With an online education platform already in place through MyITLab (published by Pearson Education), WCC’s Computer Information Systems (CIS) students have accessed lectures, tutorials, homework and assessments for more than 10 years — instruction virtually and literally at their fingertips.

Online tutorials and homework give students the opportunity to practice, repeating exercises until they master a skill. Because of the nature of these platforms, instructors are able to monitor which areas are more challenging for students.

“We are not in the business of testing,” said Galea. “We’re in the business of teaching.”

“Digital badges allow WCC to show employers the kind of students that we produce at the college

Traditionally, students receive a course grade for their efforts, which resides only on their transcript. On resumes and online portfolios, skills are typed out in a way that employers cannot assess their actual skill in a particular subject.

“Digital badges allow WCC to show employers the kind of students that we produce at the college, that students are leaving with skills and come ready to enter the workforce,”

Dr. Kimberly Hurns, dean of Business and Computer Technologies at WCC

So why not authenticate the achievements that students were already showing? Digital badges tell future employers that students are job ready. They fill the gap between a static grade and proven experience.

When students add a digital badge to their LinkedIn profile, an employer can verify a candidate has achieved a level of competency.

“Digital badges allow WCC to show employers the kind of students that we produce at the college, that students are leaving with skills and come ready to enter the workforce,” said Dr. Kimberly Hurns, dean of Business and Computer Technologies at WCC. “It also shows prospective students the kind of skills they can learn.”

Currently, students can earn digital badges to show mastery in the office productivity applications of Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

When Galea piloted the digital badge offerings to one section of students in Spring of 2016, 60 were earned. Just one semester later, an additional 485 digital badges have been awarded to students in all sections of the course.

With online programs projected to grow, WCC students can trust their programs are reflecting current technologies, while their digital badges assure employers that a skilled workforce is ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.


Text and photography by Jessica Bibbee. View digital version of original print story here.

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