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University of Dayton students are learning skills employers want. Here’s how the Lab helped.

Six University of Dayton students discussing around a conference table.
Photo courtesy of University of Dayton
The University of Dayton – a private, Catholic University located in Dayton, Ohio – has awarded more than 500 digital badges in 21st century skills as part of the Lab’s BadgedToHire project. 

 

Brian LaDuca is on a mission. 

The founding Executive Director of the Institute of Applied Creativity for Transformation (IACT) at the University of Dayton (UD) is working with his university to drive the awareness, understanding, and application of digital badges across all departments and curriculums. 

Digital badges, according to EDUCAUSE, are “validated indicators of skills or competencies,” typically representative of completing a micro-credential that is usually not recorded on a student’s official academic transcript.  

From an Applied Creativity Certificate to a set of digital badges

IACT’s digital badges are offered through a partnership with the Education Design Lab (the Lab) and its Lumina Foundation-funded BadgedToHire project, “a study to evaluate the value of mobility skills micro-credentials as a hiring signal for career readiness, particularly for underserved learners.” The UD badges also include elements first developed by LaDuca in 2014 for an innovative, one-of-a-kind Certificate in Applied Creativity for Transformation.

UD students can earn up to seven, tuition-free digital badges in “human skills” that are authorized by the Lab through the Credly platform and added to students’ resumes and LinkedIn profiles. The University of Dayton badges are being piloted in creative problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, resilience, initiative, empathy, and oral communication. Each digital badge is non-credit bearing on its own and is similar in length to a one-credit course or is already embedded in existing courses. As noted on the IACT site, the goal is for students to demonstrate to prospective employers “their ability to navigate applied creativity skills within their organization and setting them apart from other job/internship/co-op candidates.” 

The digital badges “set my resume apart from other candidates in my field,” agreed mechanical engineering student Kathleen Gawelek, who earned micro-credentials in creative problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking.

To date, 321 UD students have earned a total of 535 badges in this pilot. “We are trying to influence educators and students to think differently about using creative skill-building within any major,” LaDuca said, adding that adoption and implementation of these digital badges entails using experiential and project-based learning techniques.  

Lab project launch

The BadgedToHire project officially launched in 2019 with three higher education partners: Central New Mexico Community College, San Jose State University, and the University of Maine system. Prior to the launch, the Lab spent four years developing a freely accessible T-Profile tool released in 2018, with resources supportive of the deployment of 21st century skills. The T-Profile — partially brought to fruition through a one-year study of micro-credentialing with institutions, learners, and employers called Tee Up the Skills — is “a visual construct that represents the optimal combination of 21st century skills and technical skills for a specified job.” 

Don Fraser, the Lab’s Chief Program Officer, explained that within 12 months of launching the T-Profile tool “with no marketing whatsoever, we had more than 1,000 people sign up for access that was located via a Google search. They were from 30 countries and 800 institutions. And now there’s more than 2,000 individuals signed up.” 

As noted on the BadgedToHire site, “the goal is to shape the opportunity for new credentials to serve as an equity tool, driving design principles of rigor, affordability and relevance to meaningful career advancement.” 

The arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020 caused the BadgedToHire project to extend into its third year in 2022. The University of Dayton, along with Cape Cod Community College, were added as new partner institutions during the Fall semester 2021. “We stumbled across the Lab,” LaDuca said. “We started pulling things off the Lab’s website. They have industry-standard language that we adopted into our work.”  

In essence, the digital micro-credentials align with rubrics, definitions, curricula, and assessments for evaluating the digital badges created by the Lab. UD faculty in collaboration with IACT and other users have designed their own content around these elements with assistance from the Lab. The platform links to numerous resources, including videos of class activities and workplace-contextualized, performance-based assessments. “These assessments are what we call ‘Proving Grounds,’ which are assessments with scenarios that include rubrics for assessing the mastery of specific skills,” said Naomi Boyer, the Lab’s Executive Director of Digital Transformation.

Reaching out to employers

Boyer and Fraser visited with the IACT staff during the early days of the new partnership. “We facilitated a T-Profile session with employers who serve in an advisory capacity for the University of Dayton,” Boyer said. Additionally, in December of 2021, IACT conducted an employer mock interview session with 12 local company hiring managers and CEOs, “because the main driving research question behind BadgedToHire is how we can help employers use micro-credentials, and specifically 21st century skills,” Boyer added. “The University of Dayton has been a phenomenal partner.”

The employer mock interviews with UD digital-badge learners were conducted to discern how employers perceive digital badges and how they can be utilized for hiring purposes. The learners were schooled in IACT courses to understand the value-add of being able to communicate and explain how these emerging competencies can be transferred and what skills they had gained from their digital badge experiences. “What was fascinating about the whole situation was that every one of the employer interviewers said they would hire this person [the digital-badge learner] in a minute, right now,” LaDuca said.  

“The expression of badges on resumes and during interviews can lend itself for employers, like myself, to distinguish between students who are ready for hire and prepared for our positions,” said Grace Schmitmeyer, Talent Acquisition Partner for Emerson, a global technology solutions company. 

Faculty testimonial

Jana Bennett, UD Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, recently incorporated the creative problem-solving badge into her three-credit, face-to-face Foundation of Disability Studies course offered during the Fall 2021 semester. “The great thing about the digital badges program is that it suggests a number of possible class activities,” she said. “There was a mutual relationship in which IACT helped me figure out what to do in class. I was able to use my already existing content and help students make that connection between what they were learning in my class to help them in their future jobs and put inside their resumes.” Meanwhile, Bennett explained her students have given her positive feedback on their digital badge experiences, and she has started suggesting to her department faculty colleagues that they start thinking about adding digital badges to their courses. 

Heralding a bright badges future

UD was founded in 1850 and currently enrolls almost 12,000 students. The university has “a strong social justice, community-building, and servant-leadership development mission” and is one of three private, Roman Catholic, Marianist universities in the U.S. — the other two being Chaminade University in Honolulu and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. 

The positive responses from employers, students, and faculty continue to keep LaDuca excited about leading IACT’s work to “transform people, not products” [their tagline]. LaDuca’s passion, vision and drive to work collaboratively with faculty to scale digital badges across UD reveals how “it does not take a village, it does not take a department,” Fraser explained. “It takes a will and a way. He has the will, and the Lab has the way.”

Interested in using the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials? Learn more: https://eddesignlab.org/microcredentialing/microcredentials/

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