We’ve talked before about how digital credentials like badges can be a wonderful alternative to a traditional college education, something that might not be an option for all people. The business world has already started to adopt digital badges to help upskill their workforces, with tech giants like IBM and Salesforce having their own internal badging strategies. Many colleges too, like Georgetown and Stanford have also begun using micro-credentials to help badge important skills students learn along the way to their degree.
But what if we could introduce students to them at an even earlier age? What if high school classes and extra-curricular programs introduced the concept of badges to students? What effect would it have on them as they graduated and began to determine their path in life? Let us explore.
I think the most important effect would be that students would be able to shed the “college or bust” mentality that the American education system puts on the shoulders of its students. With the cost of tuition rising every year, college is becoming a less practical option for more and more people. After all, if you can’t pay out of pocket, your choices are limited to seeking out a scholarship if you can or taking on a potentially predatory college loan. But with badges, that’s no longer the case!
Students would enter the post-high school landscape with a toolbelt of acquired skills that would give those who aren’t bound for college a more fair shot at competing with degree holders. All those hours in making sets for the school play or participating on the robotics team could potentially be credentialed and allow young people to get their foot in the door at somewhere other than retail or a factory.
Now, obviously, as with any new endeavor, there are risks or kinks that will need to be worked out beforehand in order to avoid misuse of digital badges. Here are some possible ways badges can be misused:
- High school badges lacking authentication. One of the things that make badges so easy is a lot of them are easily verifiable. Any high school badges would need to demonstrate their value and provide a rubric of the skill each badge holder has upon acquiring said badge.
- Badges being used as participation trophies. The value of a badge diminishes every time one is handed out arbitrarily and trivial badges don’t help students reflect on the progress they’re making in their learning journey.
- The badges need to correlate to real-world skills. If a badge does not equate to a concrete skill that an employer can identify, then its purpose in propelling the student towards success is not valuable.
Whoever goes on to create a digital badging system made uniquely for high schoolers is going to have to determine what skills get badges and which don’t. Do students get a badge when they successfully pass a class or should they be reserved for only the A students? Perhaps only extra-curricular skills like writing for the school paper or participating in the science fair. Things that typically do not show up on your transcript but show a resume-worthy activity. There is no clear-cut answer as of now, but these are the questions that will need to be solved if we’re going to offer a badging solution to young adults.
All told, though, an efficient badging system would be a win for both young people and the industries that will come to depend on them. We view the skills gap as an inevitability when, really, we have many opportunities to help solve it before it becomes a crisis.