Can Digital Badges Help Encourage Professors to Take Teaching Workshops?

A few colleges are trying a new incentive to get professors to participate in professional-development workshops: digital badges.

The idea of offering badges has become popular in education-technology circles in the past few years, in most cases as an alternative to a traditional college diploma, or even as a different way of giving grades in courses. The goal is to create an easy way for people to show employers they have attained a given skill. After all, who ever looks at a college transcript?

Several badge formats have emerged that can be embedded on a LinkedIn profile or a personal web page, in a way that certifies the achievement was in fact earned and can be clicked on to reveal a detailed record of what the learner did to get the badge. Among the most popular badge platforms are Credly and the Mozilla Open Badges project.

Now some colleges are trying the badge approach in their in-house training, in part to expose more professors to the badge concept so they might try it in their own courses.

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Kent State University, for instance, is offering badges to professors who complete workshops on how to improve their online teaching, which are offered by Kent State Online. The group started the experiment last November, and it has awarded about 500 badges during the 12 workshops it has given since then.

“Our motivation is to provide faculty a convenient means to track and display their professional-development efforts,” said Valerie Kelly, executive director of Kent State Online. “There are a lot of people putting a lot of effort into creating really good online courses.”

Many professors don’t seem to be in it for the badge, though. In fact, only about 150 badges were “accepted,” meaning that a recipient registered to receive a badge so he or she could show it off.

Still, badges are probably more valuable to professors than are the paper certificates that Kent State traditionally gave to those who completed training workshops in the past. “It’s an easy way for a professor to show that I’m that type of faculty member that goes and does faculty development,” said Ms. Kelly.

The University of Central Florida has been experimenting with badges for its technology workshops as well. And in addition to offering its own badge for a blended-learning workshop, the university teamed up with Educause, a professional group for officials working in technology roles at colleges, to offer a joint badge — with hopes that it could become a standard. To earn the Educause-branded badge, participants have to both pass the workshop and submit a portfolio of homework for review, and pay an $89 fee.

Kelvin Thompson, associate director of the Center for Distributed Learning at Central Florida, said that whether the Educause badge has value for a professor depends on how well known Educause is in the circles a faculty member moves in. The badge, he said, “has value if you think it has value.”

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