Alternative Credentials     projects
March 28, 2017

USM Digital Badging Initiative

News outlets frequently report on the concerns employers have about the workplace readiness of recent college graduates. Some articles suggest that college graduates think more highly of their skills than employers do (“Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes”), while others pinpoint the “soft skills” as the area most in need of development (“The Real Reason New Grads Can’t Get Hired”; “Employers: New College Grads Aren’t Ready for the Workplace”).


While it is likely true that some recent graduates lack these skills, it may also be the case that students who actually do possess critical career-ready skills struggle to synthesize what they have learned and to articulate their curricular and co-curricular accomplishments in terms of the specific competencies employers seek. As a way to help bridge the gap between students’ accomplishments in college and their workplace readiness, The University System of Maryland’s William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation is working with institutions within the System to develop digital badges that will help students choose experiences aimed at developing career-ready skills and better communicate what they know and are able to do once they enter the world of work.

Awarded by institutions or organizations, digital badges signify accomplishments such as the completion of a project or mastery of a skill and “make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings”. Because they are digital, badges include access to viewable artifacts that provide evidence of learning to employers and other key audiences. Being digital and openly accessible means these badges can be shared through electronic portfolios, social and professional networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, or other online venues.

The USM Digital Badging Initiative consists of six badges focused on career readiness competencies that align with those developed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers:

The Problem-Solver: Resolves complex problems through exercising sound reasoning to analyze issues and make decisions.

The Problem Solver tackles challenges alone or in teams by effectively:

  • Articulating the problem.
  • Identifying the desired end result.
  • Brainstorming creative options for achieving the desired end result.
  • Analyzing and selecting the option that best achieves the desired end result.
  • Developing a plan of action that will achieve the desired end result.
  • Enacting the plan of action and adapting as needed.
  • Evaluating the outcomes in relationship to the desired goals.

The Collaborator: Advances the work of a team by being a successful and contributing member.

The Collaborator advances the work of a team by effectively:

  • Articulating one’s own role on the team and the roles of others.
  • Integrating team members’ diverse viewpoints.
  • Motivating and supporting others on the team.
  • Building upon or synthesizing the contributions of others.
  • Offering ideas, suggestions, alternative solutions, and feedback.
  • Accounting for one’s own assigned role and responsibilities on the team.
  • Negotiating, managing, and resolving conflicts when they arise.

The Communicator: Articulates thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and/or oral forms.

The Communicator expresses thoughts and ideas by effectively:

  • Using  syntax, grammar, and/or vocabulary appropriate to the context and modality.
  • Ensuring messages are organized, clear, and consistent with any supporting material.
  • Tailoring the message and delivery method to the topic, audience, purpose, and context.
  • Reflecting on one’s own messages and adjusting as appropriate.
  • Critically analyzing others’ messages.
  • Engaging diverse and competing perspectives and the ways they influence communication.    

The Leader: Leverages the strengths of others to achieve common goals and uses interpersonal skills to coach and develop colleagues.

The Leader leverages the strengths of others to achieve common goals by effectively:

  • Assessing individual and collective strengths, weaknesses, and capacities to achieve the desired goal.
  • Engaging diverse or competing perspectives.
  • Motivating others.
  • Articulating a vision and strategy.
  • Organizing, prioritizing, and delegating work, roles, and responsibilities.
  • Reflecting on how one’s leadership affects process and outcomes and adjusting as appropriate.
  • Reviewing outcomes and assessing implications for future plans.

The Critical Thinker: Analyzes evidence and perspectives in relation to a situation and evaluates one’s own reasoning over time.

The Critical Thinker excels in the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it by effectively:

  • Raising vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
  • Gathering and assessing relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively.
  • Coming to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards.
  • Thinking open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought.
  • Recognizing and assessing, as need be, one’s own assumptions, implications, and practical consequences.
  • Communicating effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

The Professional: Exhibits personal accountability, effective work habits,  integrity, and commitment.

The Professional strives for excellence by effectively:

  • Taking responsibility for one’s actions and outcomes.
  • Examining the implications of one’s own behavior and decisions.
  • Acknowledging mistakes and learning from them.
  • Following through on commitments.
  • Persevering in the face of challenges and changes.
  • Acting with the interest of the larger community in mind.
  • Evaluating one’s own performance over time and making adjustments.

Piloting Institutions and Badges
In 2016-17, six USM institutions are piloting the badges with small, targeted groups of students. Each institution has developed one or more pathways by which students can earn a badge, the criteria for earning a badge, and rubrics and other assessment tools to evaluate whether a student has met the criteria. Students who earn a badge will be able to claim them publicly via Credly, an online platform  for recognizing, storing, and sharing digital badges and associated artifacts.

2016-17 Pilots

  • Coppin State University: The Leader, The Critical Thinker, The Problem-Solver
  • Frostburg State University: The Problem-Solver
  • Towson University: The Collaborator
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County: The Collaborator
  • The Universities at Shady Grove: The Communicator
  • University of Maryland University College: The Critical Thinker

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