Understanding Digital Credentials
Building Value from An Ecosystem Of Open Standards
Today, hiring managers rarely bother to review applicants’ educational records; not because learning is irrelevant, but because traditional credentials fail to document relevant information. Digital credentials promise to make education more relevant by documenting learning in a way that empowers people to plan, track, and share their accomplishments in a secure and verifiable way. Innovative high schools, community colleges, universities, corporations, and professional development organizations are increasingly issuing digital credentials and educational technology companies are integrating these digital credentials into many processes, such as talent recruitment, transferring, and applying for jobs. Collectively, a digital credentials ecosystem has the potential to connect learners, educational providers, and employers in a more meaningful way.
The digital credentialing ecosystem metaphor implies that many organizations and individuals can easily interact with one another, yet today these interactions are controlled by a variety of technologies and it can be difficult to keep up with recent developments. That’s why we believe leaders need to understand how open standards support their digital credentialing practices in order to create long-term value for individuals and avoid expensive integration costs.
IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS/IMS Global), a non-profit member collaborative that works with higher education institutions, K-12 districts, employers, and technology suppliers to create the future edtech ecosystem. As part of this coalition, the IMS Digital Credentials and Badges Initiative is working to create a better digital credentials environment via:
- Verifiable and portable credentials (Open Badges)
- Transcript data that documents an individual’s specific achievements at an institution (Extended Transcript)
- Exchanges of competency information (Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange®)
Open Badges are a specific type of digital badge that conforms to the Open Badges standard developed initially by the Mozilla Foundation and now maintained by IMS Global. Designed based on learner-agency principles, Open Badges put students in control of their credentials by supporting the ability to claim and display the badge on any platform. Open Badges are also verifiable and portable rather than tied to one specific system (e.g., badging platform, learning management system, social media site). Open Badges contain rich metadata that provides information about the issuing organization, the recipient, and evidence that substantiates the earning of the badge. Optional extensions to the standard allow Open Badges to include detailed information about assessments and additional information about the issuer’s accreditations relating to the credential. These elements help validate the rigor of the badge to audiences who review the credential, which may include fellow students, instructors, the employer community, academic advisors, career center staff and others within the institution, and peer networks. In these ways, badge owners can claim, display, store, and share their Open Badges across an edtech ecosystem via an open standard.
Open Badges Scenario
University of Texas at Austin: Badging Competencies in a Paralegal Certificate Program
Description: The Center for Professional Education (CPE) at The University of Texas offers a six-month paralegal certificate program. Aspiring paralegals are provided with training in the essentials of paralegal practice, as well as in a range of specialization areas, such as torts, contracts, family law, administrative law, immigration law, etc. Throughout the program, participants learn to undertake defined activities, often requiring that they produce and manage documents in accordance with rigorous requirements and processes. Many of these activities have outcomes/deliverables for which clear and concise criteria can be defined, making them prime candidates for parallel efforts in competency development and badging.
Trigger: Many of the activities undertaken by paralegals are highly specific and constrained by rigorous legal definition. Documents such as petitions and motions have very clearly defined requirements and are often subject to specific timelines and processes concerning their submission to the court. During the certificate program, learners create all of these documents in alignment with detailed hypothetical scenarios (referred to as "fact patterns"). Such materials are well suited to a competency-based model, as success is generally binary—a document with any errors at all can be rejected by the court, causing the entire proceeding to be discontinued. Aspiring paralegals with a demonstrated ability to create legal documents accurately and reliably are going to be in high demand in the marketplace.
Outcome: The CPE is developing a set of competencies, with associated badges, around a selected set of deliverables from the paralegal certificate program. A competency titled "Pleadings" may include examples of a petition, an answer to the petition, and a motion to compel deposition. The requirements for each document will be outlined in a rubric with binary criteria, which are scored as either "criterion met" or "still progressing" (through a third criterion—something like "met with distinction"—is also under consideration for some criteria that can be defined in this manner).
Additional use cases can be found on the Badge Wiki under Badge Examples.
The IMS Extended Transcript (eT) standard provides an inclusive institutional record of a learner's achievements relative to their specific educational goal. It is not a replacement for the traditional transcript, but an extension that goes beyond credits and grades to include details on the learner's competencies, digital-age skills, and co-curricular achievements supported by evidence of their accomplishments. Extended Transcript can present the learner’s achievements and experiences from K-20 and into employment.
The eT is fundamentally a linked-data compendium of accomplishments that is a securable, online document. It enables each credential-granting organization to visually brand the display of the achievements while enabling learners to share these across the web as part of their digital, professional portfolio.
In 2016, twelve universities, including University of Maryland University College (UMUC)—an IMS Global Contributing Member—were granted funding by the Lumina foundation through the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) to develop and pilot new models for capturing and presenting a comprehensive student record of achievements beyond the academic record. Through a collaborative effort led by UMUC, the IMS Extended Transcript open standard was developed to define a common data model that enables institutions to manage and exchange competence and achievement data between systems and make these available to an employer, student, or other educational organization in a secure and cohesive manner.
To learn more about the eT framework and the results of UMUC’s groundbreaking work see A New Learning Model Paired with a New Kind of Transcript—Digital Style.
The IMS Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange (CASE) standard provides a consistent way to exchange information about specific learning intentions. Academic standards and competencies are defined by a wide range of actors including state agencies, accreditation bodies, institutions, districts, programs, and course instructors. This specification enables educational organizations to connect specific academic standards or competencies (or any other learning outcome statement, such as objectives, proficiencies, skills, etc.) to programs, courses, units, assessments, rubrics, digital content, and other frameworks. The CASE standard supports:
- CASE items that describe what a learner knows or is able to do
- Documents that contain collections of items
- Multiple associations among items and documents
- Rubrics and criteria that may or may not align with an item
Digital credentials are more valuable to learners if they contain a CASE item because it communicates the learning that has been demonstrated, which helps to sequence instruction, award academic credit for applicable work experience, and evaluate job qualifications.
In higher education, the potential that CASE offers to streamline the mapping of competencies across systems solves key challenges faced by institutions in a number of situations, many of which today can only be done through a time consuming, custom, and often manual cross-walking effort. With the increased attention being given to adaptive learning, CASE would play a key role in solving the challenge institutions face when using multiple adaptive learning systems or migrating to a new platform.
Combining Competency-Based Education, Open Badges, and Extended Transcript: One Scenario
Each of these open standards can stand alone as an alternative to the traditional degree path and educational record keeping. Increasingly, higher education institutions are incorporating Open Badges, eT or CASE into a traditional program as a way to:
- Help students matriculate on-time
- Incorporate skills-based curricula needed for student success but that fall outside of the prescribed course of study
- Provide students and employers with a more comprehensive account of learning—within and outside of the classroom
Allia is working towards her bachelor's degree in Biology and will finish in two years. She is taking traditional biology classes, but the courses that require a lab are leveraging Open Badges as a way to ensure she knows the correct lab procedures. She must demonstrate her ability to execute these procedures and earn the badges before she can begin her lab assignments. She has also opted to take a first-aid course offered on campus through the biology department and the biology club. She passed the course with flying colors and received a digital badge documenting her skills and knowledge.
She hopes one day to lead a research lab and knowing that she will be managing people, she has decided to earn an Associate's Degree in Organizational Leadership. Because of her biology degree requirements, completing this additional degree would ordinarily add a year of study and delay her graduation. Luckily, another nearby institution offers many of the Organizational Leadership classes that meet the requirements for an Associate's degree at her home institution. Provided as a series of self-directed learning modules, the competencies easily map to her home institution's OLS degree program requirements via CASE. Because of CASE, Allia can complete the required coursework selecting classes from both universities without the hassle of petitioning for credit transfers and earns her Associates degree by the time she finishes her biology degree.
Finally, Allia is president of the Biology Club and leads the Debate Team. She also works side-by-side with one of her professors on a research project funded by the National Science Foundation; these activities taking place outside of a credit-bearing frame can be documented in her eT. As Allia prepares for graduate school and is applying for an internship, supported by the combination of CASE, Open Badges, and Extended Transcript, she is able to quickly illustrate to her prospects her accomplishments and competencies which make her a solid candidate with details that otherwise would have gone undocumented.
Institutional Stories and Articles
Digital badges show students' skills along with degree. Purdue University. September 2012.
Busch, Jason. Badges? We don’t need no … Or do we? InBusiness. August 2017. (Madison College).
Hickey, Dan and Nate Otto. Endorsement 2.0: Taking Open Badges and E-Credentials to the Next Level EDUCAUSE. February 13, 2017.
Casilli, Carla and Erin Knight. 7 Things You Should Know About Badges. EDUCAUSE. June 11, 2012.
A New Learning Model Paired with a New Kind of Transcript—Digital Style - A framework for extended transcripts: pilot implementation and results (April 2017). Joellen Evernham Shendy, Associate Vice Provost & Registrar, University of Maryland University College, and Insiya Bream, Assistant Vice Provost, Registrar Strategic Operations, University of Maryland University College.
Grann, Jeff. Demand interoperability to dramatically improve the educational ecosystem. NILOA Viewpoint. October 2017. Grann, Jeff