In 2012, Kate Radionoff, then Dean of Continuing Education at Madison College, became aware of digital badges. Kate saw the potential to apply badges to non-credit courses. We discuss the impact on the earners, the quality of courses and the surrounding community.
Listen to the full interview here:
Susan Manning: Welcome to the Credly podcast, where we touch base with our issuers, earners and partners, and explore themes of interest in digital credentialing. I'm Susan Manning.
I'm talking with Kate Radionoff today. Kate is the executive director of the Digital Credentials Institute. And Kate was instrumental in standing up a very robust badging system at Madison College.
Kate Radionoff: Thank you Susan.
Susan Manning: I invited you to talk about your program because you have applied digital badging to academic and non-academic settings. Can you tell us a little bit about the badging program at Madison College?
Kate Radionoff: I'd be happy to. In 2012, I first became aware of the concept of digital badges and they really resonated with me because at that time, I was the Dean of Continuing Education. We served thousands of adult students who were taking courses to either upgrade their existing skills or to learn new technical skills. And the nature of non-credit courses is that the student received either a grade of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory and those grades were primarily based on seat time.
Unfortunately, that grading system really did not communicate to an employer what skill set that student may have learned and applied in those courses. Badges became a mechanism for us to assess student learning outcomes and then based on the assessment, if the student demonstrated competency at a fairly high level, they were then awarded a digital badge which showed very specifically what the student learned, how the student was assessed, who issued the badge in this case being Madison College School of Continuing Education, and when the student earned the badge.
Students were then able to upload their badges into social media platforms or embed their badges in an email or resume and send that off to employers. So it became a much more useful credential for our adult students rather than a transcript of Satisfactory.
Susan Manning: How did you know that the employers were going to welcome this?
Kate Radionoff: I did not know if they were going to welcome it or even know what badges were because six years ago, not a lot of institutions were dealing with badges. Over the six year period, employers have become increasingly interested in badges once they understood what badges were and how they could be used by an employer to screen job candidates or to evaluate current employees and potential promotions or recommendations for different jobs within the employer.
We've also seen that the student acceptance rate of badges has increased. Initially students also did not know what badges were or understood the value of them.
Susan Manning: What did you do to bring this change about in terms of students accepting more or employers understanding better?
Kate Radionoff: From the student's side, we first had to educate our faculty who are teaching badge courses about what badges were, how they could be used to improve learning outcomes and how badges could be valuable for their students. And then from there, we asked our instructors to train their students who present on the first night of class, that they would have the opportunity to earn a badge, what the badge was, how the students could claim it. And then we also asked our instructors to remind the students during the last class, about the badges and then definitely we saw an increase in student badge acceptance rates when we did that versus instructors who did not educate or inform their students about the opportunity to earn a badge.
With employers, it's really very simple. You need to involve the employer in developing the badges. I do not recommend developing badges on your own and then expecting employers to value them or have any interest in looking at the badges. It really needs to be an employer led initiative.
Susan Manning: And you just said something really interesting about badges improving student outcomes. Talk to me about that a little bit.
Kate Radionoff: Well non-credit course work didn't necessarily have clear learning objectives and clear assessments and once we got into this, we realized that we needed to review curriculum for every single class that we were badging and work with the instructors to clearly define what those learning outcomes were and how the instructors were going to assess student learning. And that definitely improved the course.
Susan Manning: Actually I have often described badge design as instructional design thin sliced because we deal with the exact same components of objectives and outcomes and assessments.
Kate Radionoff: I completely agree with you on that and it really made us a lot more thorough and thoughtful about our courses and the instructional design.
Susan Manning: Earlier before we hit the record button, we were talking about standing up badge programs because you have the non-credit and now you have the for credit. And you made a comment that it needs to be faculty driven. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Kate Radionoff: Yes. Faculty really, they own the curriculum. Obviously they're instructing students and faculty need to want to issue badges. And we're seeing a lot of innovators with our faculty that understand badges, understand how they can improve the student's learning outcomes, how they can be valuable to the students in terms of gaining employment and in those cases, badges can be deployed very successfully.
I do not believe that badges would be successful from a top down directive from administration that you're gonna start badging. Faculty really needs to embrace this concept.
Susan Manning: So if you had advice for those who are just getting in on the ground floor, what would that be?
Kate Radionoff: Find your badge advocates among your faculties. Start small perhaps with one program or one course. Build your initial badging initiative and then once you've got it down, then scale out to other courses or other programs. The faculty who are doing the badging will become your best advocates.
Susan Manning: And you've scaled out to healthcare, right? And where else?
Kate Radionoff: For the moment, just healthcare, although we're seeing a lot of faculty in the next academic year on the credit side who've expressed an interest in developing badges for their program. In 2016, we had an opportunity to apply for a grant through the American Association of Community Colleges. They were working with Lumina Foundation who has a significant interest in badges and micro credentials and so I approached our Dean of Health Education and together we wrote the grant application for our medical assisting program which is a one year, technical diploma.
In the grant, we indicated that we would develop 14 technical skills badges and 4 workplace skills badges and it would be led by the faculty but also with employer input into this grant. It proved to be a very successful grant. The healthcare employers had to be initially convinced about the value of badges, but then they saw it as a way of putting students who had earned badges on a leadership track within their company.
Susan Manning: Excellent. Well Kate, you've certainly given us a lot to think about, and I find the work that's being done at Madison really inspiring. So thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.
Kate Radionoff: Thank you Susan.
Susan Manning: Thank you listeners for joining us. If you'd like to suggest upcoming topics, feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.