Digital credentials and digital pathways that will revolutionize higher education


According to a Welsh professor who was once honored by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen never listens to what people say to her while giving annual honors such as knighthoods. When it was his turn and the Queen asked what he had done to deserve the honor, he replied, “I murdered my mother-in-law over Rice Krispies at breakfast, ma’am.” According to the professor, the queen’s response was “What a good idea.”

That crazy story sounded true to me. On my first visit to the University of Cambridge almost 20 years ago, I met the Vice Chancellor, who delighted his American (and Canadian) visitors with a story about the Queen he had met several times, the last time he was knighted. When you meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace, the Vice Chancellor, said the Vice Chancellor, cares a lot about how you got there – especially your mode of transport and especially if you took the London Underground. She wants to know which station you started at and where you got off (British name). And the reason she’s so interested is because she never took the subway herself.

Everyone is interested in how to get from A to B – not just monastery queens. It should be of particular interest to colleges and universities; While the goal is usually a degree, the path to it often says more about your education and skills than the degree itself. It goes without saying that two different paths through the same institution or degree program can lead to very different educational outcomes. But colleges and universities have so far had little opportunity to pursue this. As subway cards go, transcripts are pretty lousy.

Digital ID cards or badges have been a major innovation here for a number of years. Digital certificates prove specific, tangible skills: cognitive, soft and technical. And when accredited (and especially branded) colleges and universities issue digital certificates, it solves the central problem of digital certificates. As the Wall Street Journal listed in to items At new vendors like Udemy, Lynda and Coursera, digital credentials “are not yet of great importance when hiring … because managers do not trust or recognize many of the companies and organizations behind the badges and courses.”

Digital ID cards are picking up speed. Earlier this year Credible acquired Pearson’s Acclaim platform and cemented its leadership in digital credentials. (Full Disclosure: My company, University Ventures, is an investor in Credly.) To date, Credly has issued tens of millions of digital credentials and demand is growing rapidly, particularly from employers, industry associations, and scale-to-scale providers such as large IT company vendors. Issuers who want to recognize certain competencies are either on the Credly platform or join the Credly platform. Credly is already home to most of the most requested credentials in job postings and more than 80% of the top IT certifications found on LinkedIn. But in addition to the identification of specific competencies, colleges and universities recognize the power of digital certificates – not just as road markings, but as opportunities to create new roads. We are starting to see digital credentials as building blocks for digital pathways that will shape the future of higher education.

This summer is the University of Maryland system a partnership with Portfolio in which students at eight locations are given the opportunity to go digital alongside their studies. (Full Disclosure: My company, University Ventures, is an investor in the portfolio.) Maryland has defined eight different digital pathways, including:

1) Professional: personal responsibility and effective work habits.

2) Leader: Using the strengths of others to achieve common goals and using interpersonal skills to coach and develop colleagues.

3) Globalist: demonstrate ethical, social and ecological awareness of the global system and take action with personal and civic responsibility.

4) Intercultural: Overcoming cultural boundaries through appreciation, respect and learning from different people and perspectives.

To complete these digital pathways, students need to create and rework a product that demonstrates the skills required. Portfolio paths enable teachers to rate the work product using pre-filled rubrics. The assessments lead to the automatic issuance of badges or road markings along with proof of performance. And when you complete them all, you will receive a meta badge indicating the completion of the path. Three more University of Maryland campuses are launching Digital Paths next month for a total of nine.

If the majors add depth or verticality to higher education, the portfolio’s competency-based digital pathways are horizontal, overarching up-to-date academic offerings. It’s a meta-layer that creates a much-needed grid. Tennessee has bought into the concept of the digital path. the Tennessee Department of Education will use Portfolio in its K-20 system. This year the TNPortfolio platform will use the ePortfolio functionality, but it is intended to enable 20 digital paths across the whole system from 2019 onwards.

Digital educational pathways are a response to the university employability crisis. underemployment torments new college graduates in terms of frequency, sharpness, and persistence. Many students try to hedge their employment bets by double-studying. A Vanderbilt study on dual study programs found that dual study programs have increased significantly at almost all colleges and universities, with some schools reporting that up to 40% of students complete more than one degree. But double majoring can be the equivalent of two one-dimensional bets when a second dimension is needed. Why not combine a degree in computer science with a globalist degree or a degree in sociology with a career path? At a time when employers are increasingly looking for weird and wondrous new combinations of skills to hybrid Digital workplaces are a logical solution.

As the paths evolve, students will be able to pursue their own paths through the vast intellectual and academic resources of their universities. Just as the best way to map trails on college quads is to see where students are walking first, enlightened schools will record student contributions when they create their digital trail map. And since more and more students who are motivated by an obligation to work, many of these paths lead directly to good first jobs.

But digital channels will not only be of use to employers. Digital paths address the very human need for narration. They tell the story of your educational journey better than a flat transcript – a story you want to tell not only to potential employers, but to friends, significant other, your children, and probably yourself as well. What did your education mean for you?

When you visit the Queen, she will be interested in your trip because she has never done it herself. Likewise, each student’s journey is unique – like a snowflake, but in a good way (not the Meaning of Fox News). The narrative of each student’s educational journey is a story that needs to be told, and digital pathways can help tell that story. This improves employability and quality of life. If we can get students to their destination and tell the story of their journey, we will give them the royal education they deserve.


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