Digital Badges for Library Research?

The world of higher education has been abuzz this past year with the idea of digital badges. Many see digital badges as an alternative to higher education’s system of transcripts and post-secondary degrees, which are constantly being critically scrutinized for their value and ability demonstrate that students are ready for a competitive workforce. There have been several articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing this educational trend. One such article is Kevin Carey’s “A Future Full of Badges,” published back in April. In it, Carey describes how UC Davis, a national leader in agriculture, is pioneering a digital open badge program.

UC Davis’s badge system was created specifically for undergraduate students majoring in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. Their innovative system was one of the winners of the Digital Media and Learning Competition (sponsored by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation). According to Carey,

Instead of being built around major requirements and grades in standard three-credit courses, the Davis badge system is based on the sustainable-agriculture program’s core competencies—”systems thinking,” for example. It is designed to organize evidence of both formal and informal learning, from within traditional higher education and without.

As opposed to a university transcript, digital badges could provide a well-rounded view of a student’s accomplishments because it could take into account things like conferences attended and specific skills learned. Clearly, we’re not talking about Girl Scout badges.

Carey seems confident that digital badges aren’t simply a higher education fad. He believes that that with time, these types of systems will grow and be recognized by employers. But I’m still a bit skeptical over whether this movement will gain enough momentum to last.

But just for a moment, let’s assume that this open badge system proves to be a fixture in the future of higher education. Does this mean someday a student could get a badge in various areas of library research, such as searching Lexis/Nexis, locating a book by its call number, or correctly citing a source within a paper? Many college and university librarians struggle with getting information competency skills inserted into the curriculum in terms of learning outcomes or core competencies. And even if they are in the curriculum, librarians often struggle when it comes to working with teaching faculty and students to ensure that these skills are effectively being taught and graded. Perhaps badges could be a way for librarians to play a significant role in the development and assessment student information competency skills.

Would potential employers or graduate school admissions departments be impressed with a set of library research badges on someone’s application? I have no idea. But I do know that as the amount of content available via the Internet continues to grow exponentially, the more important it is that students possess the critical thinking skills necessary to search, find, assess, and use information. If digital badges do indeed flourish within higher education, I hope that library research will be a vital part of the badge sash.

6 thoughts on “Digital Badges for Library Research?”

  1. I’ve been interested in badges for some of the exact possibilities you mention here since I first saw BadgeStack Some of our IT colleagues are interested. I think that academic support services – library included – could benefit from a badge system. It could certainly encourage students to increase their research skill level.

    I don’t know if you are a reader of From the Bell Tower. My latest post that takes up the growing degree of certification in higher education also suggests libraries could benefit from new systems of rewarding students and acknowledging subject mastery

    Of course, we could get carried away (see

  2. Hi Veronica, at Luther we’ve had a couple of preliminary conversations about implementing some sort of certification or badge system for library and information technology skills. I think that the possibility of badges being recognized by grad schools and employers may come with time, but I think there is also a rationale for this type of credentialing from the library that hits closer to home. If we can build a program that recognizes learning that is clearly evidenced, it could be used to augment work being done in the classroom. For example, for any class requiring a research paper, maybe a corequisite is to complete library badges in the research process, using the online catalog, and finding primary sources.

  3. I think both badges and standard tests are actually based on the same assumption: that learning is a behave. I believe that the learning process is an autonomus form of conduct that I’d rather call action than behaviour.

    I think people from all ages have a natural urge to learn, and we now live on an Era of abundance of information, so education should’t be about accumulating it and being rewarded for that, but about providing people with the tools for learning whatever they need by themselves, even if this requires hiring someone to help them doing so.

  4. I share your skepticism Veronica. A badge system is only valuable if other people understand what the badges represent in terms of the work required to earn one. Then they have to acknowledge them in order for the badges to have any “currency” in the marketplace. It seems to me that it’s too easy for educational institutions, employers, etc. to just rely on the degree system that we have now.

    That said, I’m not opposed to the concept of getting some kind of recognition for educational attainment other than a formal degree. I like to think of the apprentice system in this context. Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting.

  5. I am also skeptical about digital badges, but one small step we’ve discussed on our campus is using our e-portfolio to record which students have successfully completed online modules or dropin workshops on APA citation or plagiarism. Right now, many professors require their students to participate in such activities, and it’s really frustrating for students who have to do the same exact module for multiple courses. If we could capture their activity and professors could confirm through the e-portfolio that this has been done- that has possibilities.

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