This year, the Lab is working with universities to prototype a suite of 21st century skill micro-credentials. Over the past few weeks, we have published a three-part series of blogs collecting what we’ve learned from students, administrators, and employers around our this work. Part 1 detailed our own findings from the challenge and Part 2 was a blog written by a student on his experience pursuing a badge. For Part 3, we’ve invited a pair of administrators from Georgetown University to discuss their experience with building the Catalyst Badge: Erika Cohen-Derr, Assistant Dean for Student Engagement; and J. Michael Schaub, Executive Director of the Cawley Career Education Center.

Digital Badging: Connecting the Future to Something Deeper

What would compel Georgetown students, pursuing a degree that is a weighty credential in itself, to earn another credential that comes without formal academic validation? Not just any credential, but a digital microcredential, to be specific. This was the question that drove our project team to spend the better part of a year asking questions, testing prototypes, researching best practices, and ultimately experimenting with the format and layers that would fit together to form the alpha version of the Catalyst badge. The answer, it turns out, is integration.

What would compel Georgetown students, pursuing a degree that is a weighty credential in itself, to earn another credential that comes without formal academic validation?

In an age when elite educational environments present opportunities for double majors, triple minors, certificates and transcript notations, these commendations serve as common motivators for students. The Georgetown digital badge project centered around the pursuit of an indicator that would signify a student’s achievement of certain dispositional competencies. Studies from wide ranging sources conclude that the competencies and skills that contribute to career and life success are a constellation of purpose, engagement, self-awareness and connectedness.  As it turns out, students are looking for ways to integrate and strengthen the connections between their interior observations, feedback from their peers and advisors, and the meaning that stems from participating actively and reflecting deeply on their college experiences. Our challenge was to determine how to motivate students to pursue a digital badge in order to accomplish this integration.

Starting the Process

At Georgetown University, our process started by assembling a group of educators from a variety of departments to tackle this problem collectively.  Our team included colleagues representing Research and Fellowships, Residential Living, Career Education, Student Engagement, Multicultural Equity and Access, New Media Technologies, Athletics and the Provost’s Office, and of course, students.  From our various vantage points, we brainstormed and refined our ideas to generate a prototype of a digital badge that encompassed the dispositions that point to student success. And so was born the Catalyst Badge, which reflects the capacity of students to “embrace challenges, demonstrate initiative, pursue positive social change, translate ideas into actions, and persist toward the completion of goals, all from a thoughtful and reflective place.” 

And so was born the Catalyst Badge, which reflects the capacity of students to “embrace challenges, demonstrate initiative, pursue positive social change, translate ideas into actions, and persist toward the completion of goals, all from a thoughtful and reflective place.” 

The Pilot Cohort

Students in the pilot group pursued the Catalyst badge by attending cohort meetings focused on different topical areas, reflecting actively both alone and with peers, completing a variety of recommended assignments between meetings, and providing iterative feedback to the project team  about the meaningfulness and value of each discussion, topic and assignment.  Group meetings focused on a variety of topics including goal setting, self-knowledge, presence and distraction, self-directed learning, feedback, and meaning-making through reflection.  Outside of the group meetings students kept journals, talked regularly with a mentor, sought feedback from peers using the Checkster Platform, and developed a final oral presentation to articulate the ways in which they represent the Catalyst disposition.  Of the initial fifteen students who started the Catalyst digital badge process in earnest, eight persisted across the six month project timeline to actually earn the badge.

In the end, the project team learned that the process of pursuing the Catalyst badge was as important as receiving the badge itself. Students reported that they received tremendous value from meeting face to face with their peers and the project team. When asked if the badging process should be offered virtually or as a mixed format, the majority of students supported in-person meetings. One student said “I think the face-to-face interaction was key. I definitely would not have gotten nearly as much from this experience if it had been done virtually.”

In the end, the project team learned that the process of pursuing the Catalyst badge was as important as receiving the badge itself.

An important component of the badging process was the reflection that took place during the meetings and as pre-meeting assignments. The project team intentionally drew the focus of the badging process away from being a resume building experience, and instead facilitated a meeting space that was conducive to reflection on building Catalyst characteristics and behaviors. In other words, the team emphasized growth as a Catalyst over the delivery of a final product.

Becoming a Catalyst beyond a Badge

Students reported that the session on “integrating and sustaining” Catalyst characteristics and behaviors was the most valuable component of the six-month badging process. During this session, we reviewed themes generated during previous gatherings and helped students to integrate insights and goals related to gaining self-knowledge (e.g., obtained through meetings with mentors and the DiSC leadership assessment), being “present” to self and others, and developing a new awareness of self and relationships through journaling. Students also revisited their vision statements created at the start of the badge and revised SMART goals. This session served as a launching point to becoming a Catalyst beyond the badging process.

In the end, each student created meaning individually from the badging process. For one student, the Catalyst process, if not the badging process, was very valuable.  This student affirmed that ultimately, the badge was unnecessary; it was the process that held value.  She stated: “I think I am definitely now a Catalyst. I am confident in my ability to make change and the worthwhile nature of my ideas, activities, and efforts. I am a more efficient communicator, a more in-tune listener, a more effective leader, a more dedicated friend and a more centered individual.”   The fact that she had the badge to reflect her efforts became, to her, unimportant when compared with the process itself; the project team remains curious about the varied motivations and ultimate outcomes that may drive the next iteration of the digital badging process at Georgetown.

 

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