Digital Badging at the University of Maine

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Hello all, Michael here!

As we make our way into August, and everyone begins to think about school again, we here at Maine State of Learning thought it’d be interesting to catch up with some founding partners of MSOL, and some learning providers in Maine who are currently issuing badges (both during the school year, and during the summer), and see what they’ve been up to.

In the past few days, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Edward Cervone (the Executive Director of Education Maine), Kelly Steinhagen (the AfterCare and Enrichment Director at the Breakwater School in Portland), and Claire Sullivan (the Associate Dean for Community Engagement at the University of Maine) about their experiences working with and around badges since MSOL launched in 2015.

While this specific post will focus on Clair Sullivan and UMaine, future posts will feature other people, and different perspectives, — including Ed Cervone and Kelly Steinhagen — so stay tuned!

 

Creating Engaged Black Bears

As some of you may know, the mascot of the University of Maine is a black bear, so it’s only right that the program, inspired in part by UMaine’s vision of “[aspiring] to be the most distinctively student-centered and community engaged of all the American Research Universities” would be called “Engaged Black Bears.”

As Claire told me at the beginning of our conversation, the idea for the project — student-centered, learning pathways that utilize digital badges — came out of discussions with other faculty and community members who are engaged in co-curricular activities.

“A lot of learning happens outside of the classroom,” she said, recounting to me some of her meetings. “[And] there’s no way to document that [learning].”

In order to begin tapping into the wealth of skillsets that were being learned outside of the classroom, UMaine, in partnership with Maine State of Learning, created 16 digital badges, ranging from a “global perspectives badge”: which students can earn if they become a conversation-culture partner with a non-native English speaker in the Intensive English Institute, to a “service to the community” badge: awarded to students who volunteer 100 hours or more for projects organized by the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism. (A full list of the available badges can be found here.)

In the first “test” year of the program running, without any sort of advertising or marketing push to get more students interested and educated about digital badges, UMaine issued 113 badges to 90 different undergraduate students: a promising statistic, when you begin to think about the potential rise in interest as students are informed about the opportunities of digital badging at the University this upcoming year.

And with the opportunity to be identified as an “Engaged Black Bear” at graduation with a specific cord to wear after having earned at least three different digital badges, the digital badging at UMaine will, Claire hopes, provide an expanded framework for employers, graduate admissions officers, and other stakeholders, to see the deep and layered learning that students have engaged in.

Of course, as with any nascent idea trying to grow, the future of digital badging for higher education in Maine doesn’t begin and end at one institution.

As the Maine State of Learning expands, and more Maine residents and K-12 students earn digital badges in their community, there are plans for the University, and by extension the University of Maine system, to develop a way to connect the badges a college applicant has earned with the college admission process itself.

“It is our hope that these badges can be verified by UMaine staff and accepted on the Black Bear application (and possibly the Common application) as a definitive record of achievement, community engagement and interest,” UMaine writes in their action plan for the badging initiative.

So while, for now, badges are slowly being developed and rolled out to the students, the foundation for future plans involving badges — both in the University of Maine system, and around the state — is strong and getting stronger. 

“We are hoping”, UMaine writes, to get “beyond the traditional resume” when evaluating achievement, skills, knowledge and preparedness.

In the next few years, as digital badging grows and becomes more widely recognized, moving beyond the resume could be a very real possibility: for students and professionals alike.

Was this article informative for you? Do you have any questions about the future of digital badging at institutions of higher education in Maine? Email us! We’d love to hear from you. 🙂