Digital badging Part 4: Could earning digital badges help your child get into college?

Digital badging is a hot new topic, but could they help high-school students be admitted into college?

In our ongoing series about digital badging, we have discussed what digital badges are and how they acknowledge academic achievements outside of the classroom, reviewed survey data depicting what students who have received digital badges think about them, explored how employers could use them to find potential employees in the workplace and discussed how digital badges could be designed to represent different levels of learning.

What is a digital badge and how would it help my child get admitted into college? Good question. First, a digital badge is issued to a young person when something new has been learned or a skill developed. It is similar to how Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts earn badges, except these badges are digital and placed in a digital backpack so students can share them on social media, web sites, with teachers and even as a part of the college entrance application.

Digital badges are new but quickly growing in popularity as a way for students to be acknowledged for knowledge, experiences and skills that are often earned outside of school time. They help to accentuate skills or accomplishments that do not show up in grade point averages, ACT scores or even extracurricular involvements. Digital badges help paint a more complete picture of what a student has learned, developed and experienced, which can be helpful to teachers, future employers and college admissions as they comb over thousands of applications trying to identify the best students for their respective colleges.

More and more programs like Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development are investigating and issuing badges to young people that learn new knowledge or skills through participation in their programs. The idea is gaining momentum with more and more educational programs taking a look at digital badges and how they could help acknowledge the academic success of young people.

One of the first linkages has been with K-12 teachers and administrators. If a student can learn important concepts and become proficient around a specific learning standard outside of school time, should schools acknowledge that competency within the school system? That is a difficult question with many variables, but is an answer being sought by MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development, the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan After-school Partnership and others. We have a long way to go in this discussion, but the potential and interest is high.

So what about college admissions? Are digital badges something post-secondary institutions are looking at to help them determine the best students to admit to their colleges? Digital badges certainly provide another means for students to showcase what they know, the skills they have developed and the experiences they have that would help them be successful in college. Ultimately that is what college admissions are trying to do – identify students that can be successful in their college and departments. However this can be challenging when only looking at a few data points such as GPA and ACT scores, which now carry so much weight in those decisions. Offering another way to feature a student’s academic success and abilities would help students better highlight what they are capable of doing, allowing colleges to make more informed decisions.

At this time, digital badging isn’t as wide spread or as organized nationally as it needs to be to allow most colleges to add this as a formal part of admittance assessments. Depending on a college’s application, digital badges could be listed as academic accomplishments under existing fields and I suspect that smaller post-secondary institutions will prove to be the first to add them as formal criteria for assessment. Still, as digital badging increases, it offers an attractive means for students and colleges to help one another find the right fit. 

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