David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Badges? We Don't Need No Stinking Badges!

January 12, 2012:  Badges?  We Don't Need No Stinking Badges!

In case you hadn't seen it, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a long piece this week on a new kind of credential--the online badge.  A certifiably insane idea?  Maybe.  But, it is certainly a new way to consider what might qualify as a certification in a world that may be moving too fast for traditional institutions of higher education to keep up.

It is unfortunate that the first three paragraphs in this article present the topic with some flippancy and too much of a stress on the flimsiness of online experiences.  The fourth paragraph gets to the heart of the matter:  MIT is considering these kinds of "alternative credentials."   And with 2 million dollars available through the MacArthur Foundation, supported by the University of California and Duke University, with collaboration from the American Library Association, Intel, Microsoft, NASA, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, to name a few, this movement has legs.  Learn more about the grant here.

In essence, if badges became an accepted form of credential for many employers, a "transcript" would become much more valuable than a "degree."  In fact, over the last several decades we could argue that the traditional "transcript" has become more important than the "degree."  It used to be that a degree in Computer Science from Michigan Tech could be generally comparable to a degree in Computer Science from Indiana University.  Now, a savvy employer wants to see the specifics of that degree program to discern the focus and level of study in a vast academic realm such as Computer Science. 

 Even those of us with "English" master's degrees, a standard credentrial to teach an undergraduate English course, can have vastly different courses making up those degrees.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  In the case of literature, that means breaking free from a fairly rigid canon.  (Maybe I should ask Indiana University to issue me my "Naturalism Badge."  An image of McTeague's gold tooth can suffice, thank you very much--an allusion only a few people might get, a true badge of honor!).

If it's becoming increasingly clearer that detailed information that comes from a transcript is most valuable to many employers, then it is not a far cry to expect a "transcript" to some day represent a variety of institutions and credit-granting agencies.  For several years now, I have believed this to be a distinct possibility.

As The Chronicle  points out, we are witnessing the tug-of-war between the "tyranny of a degree" and the cheapness of "a commodity."  Both of those statements are accurate, by the way.  Traditional higher education institutions need to start re-imagining what the degree means and how it conveys a deeper, more connected experience than a certification, such as a Microsoft certification, which as many schools who offer Microsoft courses know, is the credential that most students take and then walk away without completing perhaps an entire degree program build around it. 

In this article, one accrediting body does comment on the infusion of "badges."  Belle S. Wheelan (Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) acknowledges the proliferation of badges as something not to ignore.   Wheelan says that "the whole idea of learning beyond high school has changed," but that statement neglects to point out that the whole idea of learning within high school has changed.  While she laments the loss of the appreciation for the "well-rounded" college experience, she (as do all accrediting bodies) needs to start acknowledging that higher education can no longer exist in its vacuum, pooh-poohing the educational quality of its straight-out-of-high-school students and diminishing the needs of a vast employer base for hiring college graduates.

Besides, I think some institutes of higher learning are losing some major marketing opportunities:

  • The University of Wisconsin Badger Badge
  • The Harvard Law School Badgering Badge
  • The Wharton Business School Budget Badge
  • The Culinary Institute of America Baguette Badge
  • The Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine Budgie Badge
  • The Massachusetts Maritime Academy Barge Badge
  • The Kaplan School of Nursing Band-aid Badge
  • The United States Military Academy Barrage Badge
  • The International Academy of Design & Technology Bag Badge
  • The Regency Beauty Institute Bangs Badge
  • The Stratford Career Institute Bad G.E. Badge

[Note:  This blog is a duplication of a blog left at my SMC work blog.  It's the first time I've resorted to this.  It's not often one can--and even wants to--plagiarize himself.  I hope I don't go blind.]