Badges? Do we need badges?

“Digital badges” certifying skills and knowledge to prospective employers could loosen colleges and universities’ grip on credentials and force innovation.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Then we’d have digital badge mills.
    What skills would be certified? Auto repair? Salesmanship? Expository writing?
    Would the process of imparting the skill be different from college? Would there be kind of post k12 education where the student studies one, single thing? Like, say, pre-nursing with no electives or required broadening courses? Would there be an institution certifying the certificate issuers?

  2. I see those types of badges being most helpful to career changers who already have a bachelor’s degree from a respected school. They don’t need the “signaling” provided by a degree since they already have that, but they do need some sort of outside verification that they have skills in a particular area unrelated to their college coursework.

  3. “Then we’d have digital badge mills.”

    Yes, we would. And we probably would also have badges issued by institutions know to *NOT* be badge mills. We have this already today in the computer/technology/network field. People can go off and become a “Certified Microsoft Program Developer.” Or a “Certified Java Developer.” These work a lot like badges. And most of them have very little value in the industry. But a *few* of these certifications do (I’m thinking of the Cisco one(a) for networking). I would expect that badges would work the same way. Lots of junk. Some that are meaningful.

    My expectation is that eventually, the ones that meant something non-trivial would be treated differently than the junk. This is how it works for the CMPD vs. CJD vs. the Cisco thing.

    “What skills would be certified? Auto repair? Salesmanship? Expository writing?”

    Probably lots of things. With lots of granularity. Auto repair would probably be a “base” badge, but you’d also see “certified Saab mechanic”. That’s how the automotive industry works now.

    “Would the process of imparting the skill be different from college?”
    The key differentiation is that the badges separate learning from validation that the learning happened. They could be bundled, but they don’t need to be.

    “Would there be kind of post k12 education where the student studies one, single thing? Like, say, pre-nursing with no electives or required broadening courses?”

    My guess is that the badges would be at a much finer granularity than a current college major. This actually makes a lot of sense from a hiring manager perspective: Computer Science, for example, is so broad that I can’t really know what a CS degree means without asking a candidate what classes were taken and what projects worked on. A CS degree that was broken out into badges would make life much simpler.

    “Would there be an institution certifying the certificate issuers?”

    Maybe. Or maybe not. Would you trust an MIT or Stanford badge less if it wasn’t signed off by someone else?

    One of the nice things about the badges approach is that there should be a lot more visibility about what each badge *means*.

    I think the best way to think about badges is to think of the boy scouts. You have “rank” or “level” in the boy scouts (tenderfoot through eagle), but two different kids with the same level may have very different skills. The merit badges signal this. In the same way, two people with the same degree (especially if granted from different places) might have very different skill sets. Badges help label things more clearly.

    • What makes diploma mills feasible is the overwhelming number of colleges out there… most using a formulaic pattern of terms – state university, technical, polytech, etc. Once the focus moved to badges, the market would swell with legitimate and illegitimate badge providers, making it just as hard to judge their validity.

      Also, most science/tech/classical liberal arts schools do offer relatively consistent academic programs…so employers should be able to judge the skills of a prospective employee. Again, its the multitude of recently-established semi- or non-rigorous schools that call these degrees into question. Whats needed is not a new program that would fall victim to the same problems, but effective ways to certify the diploma programs.

      • “Also, most science/tech/classical liberal arts schools do offer relatively consistent academic programs…so employers should be able to judge the skills of a prospective employee.”

        In Computer Science this is most assuredly *not* the case. *Maybe* this is the case for a 4-year degree, but totally not the case for a masters and I don’t think so for even most 4-year degrees.

        The problem (which, I think is especially acute for CS, but should be a problem for other engineering disciplines, too) is that CS is so broad.

        A CS degree *can* mean that the person spent four years doing what is essentially a sub-discipline of math (lots of proofs) and, oh, yes, also learned how to program.

        Or a CS degree can mean that the person has done lots of practical work in things like compilers and databases and operating systems (some theory, too, but not serious math) and taken a minimal number of theory classes.

        Then there are lots of specializations, too. Machine learning and operating systems and compilers and numerical methods and databases and, well, lots of other stuff. It is easy to graduate without having experienced all of these and it is also easy to graduate having focused in one or two of these.

        All of this lives under the Computer Science degree. One label, many meanings.

        I’d expect that this could be the same for, say, a 4-year literature degree, too. Are there *any* universally required authors? I’ve read articles bemoaning that kids can graduate without reading Shakespeare.

        How common is the coverage in history degrees, both within a campus and across the US? I’d expect a very wide variation.

        Badges could help to label more accurately.

        [NOTE: I actually expect badges to fail. I'd like them to take off, but I don't think they will.]

  4. OK, so I’ll rise to the chum:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqomZQMZQCQ

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mark. When I was in school, the college of biz had maybe three degrees. I think they were biz, accounting and marketing.
    When my son was in, they’d microsliced the thing pretty thoroughly. My son’s degree was in supply chain management which nobody had heard of forty years earlier.
    Presumably, CS will be doing the same thing eventually.