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For the better part of the last year I’ve been working (with several others) to develop the Innovative Communication Design program at UMaine (yes, that’s a temporary site).  The classes will start in January, but when it’s fully approved it will be an online, asynchronous graduate certificate program that focuses on creative problem solving and applications of technology.  I’m the tech, more or less, but other faculty members have backgrounds in advertising, graphic arts, video production, and web development.

One of the base assumptions of the program is that ongoing changes in technology require constantly reevaluating how ideas are communicated, and we’re taking that to heart by finding new ways to communicate within the program.  That’s reflected in a few ways: we’re creating custom course delivery software that supports discussion, peer eduction, and collaboration; we’re recording many of our classes as group discussions rather than individual instructors; and we’re recognizing student accomplishments by giving them badges that can be tied to online resumes, social networks, or personal web pages.

The badge idea has been one we’ve discussed since the beginning, but our launch timing happens to coincide with the DML4 competition Badges for Lifelong Learning.  DML4 is an initiative of the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) and the Mozilla Foundation with support from the MacArthur Foundation that is looking at ways to represent both traditional and non-traditional education with digital badges.  I submitted a proposal for our courses and plan to integrate badges into our software and recognition/grading system and we’ve now been selected to move forward as a stage one winner!

The goal here is to extend ICD’s already unique structure of offering multiple short, hands-on classes to include a granular recognition of students’ accomplishments as well. In addition to the normal rewards a student in an ICD class would get they also receive digital badges that can be displayed on an online resume, web site, or Facebook page. The badges are meant to convey more specific information about what students have done than would be shown by just granting them a certificate or degree at the end of their program, which is particularly useful for potential employers who might now know the range of skills embedded within a monolithic degree. Changing the recognition metrics in higher education also exposes aptitudes that are often hidden, including soft skills like teamwork or creative insight, and allows students to take control of how and where their accomplishments are shared with the digital world.

ICD’s badges will be built using the new Open Badges platform from Mozilla and integrated into a new online course delivery system that is currently under development.  The Open Badges platform allows students to be able to display the badges they’ve been awarded on their own web sites, but not just as static graphics – the APIs used to share badges also embed metadata that adds the ability to securely validate the authenticity of the badge with the organization that granted it, creating a distributed but trusted infrastructure for recognition.

I’m really looking forward to moving ahead with this project, and I think that – combined with the course delivery software we’re developing and the general methodology of the ICD program – there is a lot of potential in not just the material we’re teaching but also the processes we’re using to teach it.