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Workforce Skills As Digital Badges

By: Robin Nickel, Ph.D. – Robin is the Director of Assessment at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin.

I’m often asked about integrating badges into existing grading plans for credit courses. At Madison College, students are assessed in eight soft skills, called Core Workforce Skills, and in 2020 instructors began issuing digital badges to students earning them across a variety of credit courses.

Prior to this, students were assessed in these skills, but the recognition was not consistently implemented, nor was it easily shareable. Now, with a college-branded badge for each skill, students walk away with a portable, verified credential that is based on instructor observation at a given point in time. The performance criteria—what it takes to earn the badge—are visible by employers or anyone on social media platforms connected to the student.

Our college’s assessment philosophy is that performance expectations are clearly set and made public in advance of instruction; this is evidenced by clearly designed badge rubrics that are used as the basis for issuing (or not issuing) a badge.

While digital badges may be a great tool to incentivize students, it is important that all badges awarded are tied to competencies employers are actually searching for to really give the student lifelong value from their education such as critical thinking, leadership, problem-solving and teamwork.



Below are common questions from instructors as they incorporate badge credentials into credit courses.

Q: Which badges should I choose for my course? 

A: Choose those that students will actually have the opportunity to demonstrate. Badges are most effective when you intentionally keep them before your learners by designing activities that build them in. Ideally, the badges should support activities that are already aligned to course competencies. If, as part of a competency, students are working in groups with defined tasks, choose the badge Teamwork. With this badge, students respond to feedback, respect diversity, and work effectively in a team.


Q: Do I create a new assignment to use for a badge?

A: Not necessarily. You can choose to use an existing assignment or create a new one. You have flexibility in determining what assignment is used by the student to demonstrate the badged skill. As mentioned above, the badge can be part of a class activity (group work), just as long as the student is informed up front and the assignment is aligned to an intended course outcome (competency).


Q: How do I modify an existing assignment to include a badge?

A: Add the criteria from the badge rubric (at Madison College we use a universal rubric) to your own rubric. For example you might add the indicators for Communication-Reading to a rubric for a research paper. With this badge, students read, research, interpret and comprehend.


Q: What is an appropriate threshold for earning a badge?

A: After testing our universal rubric and vetting definitions with employers, we decided to use a Met/Not Met rating scale for Core Workforce Skill badges. However, instructors determine whether the student has met, or not met, the criteria.  This could be by assigning points added (or not) to the existing point total and grade calculation. “Met” is defined on our universal rubric as “present and adequately provides evidence.” We do this because of feedback from rubric testing, plus the description needs to work for many different courses at the college. Instructors use professional judgment to determine what is present and adequate.


Q: What if my student demonstrates this skill in multiple classes?

A: A badge i​s earned only once. Our badge platform detects if a student has already earned the same badge, preventing duplicates from being awarded. For Core Workforce Skills, one​ badge per skill is earned for a total of eight skills.​ Master ability badges are awarded for exemplary performance in communication and professionalism.


Q: What about equity in badge assessment?

A: Badge assessment should address the same equity-minded principles as identified in:


The Future

Data analysis of the scope and use of badges in credit courses is just beginning. Behind the scenes, our college is already able to quantify badge acceptance and sharing through reporting tools integrated into the platform. Our support to faculty will remain, as we offer training sessions in all delivery modes to encourage the use of the badges. Students are informed as well as part of career and employment services.

The expertise of our own Digital Credentials Institute provides robust support across our college and provides external clients assistance in the creation, design, distribution, advancement and ultimately acceptance of digital badge credentials.

It’s a win-win!


Montenegro, E., & Jankowski, N. A. (2020, January). A new decade for assessment: Embedding equity into assessment praxis (Occasional Paper No. 42. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).





College-wide workforce skills as digital badges – Faculty Q&A

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