ACUI Prepares to Launch Digital Badging

As part of its 2016–18 Strategic Plan, ACUI aspires to become the leader in education, training, and research for college unions and student activities professionals. ACUI’s digital badging initiative is part of bringing this vision into reality. Most Association members have completed at least one academic degree program, but how do members let employers and potential employers know about the continuing education and skills they acquire to fill in the gaps or supplement their academic degree programs? That’s where digital badging can help.  

Digital badging is a type of micro-credentialing that allows people to demonstrate their competence in a skill set. These can be informal, such as the badges gamers earn for reaching certain levels of a game or the badges earned on fitness tracking apps for achieving a certain number of steps in a day. Badges can also be formal, like the ones ACUI will offer. Members will participate in a course and earn a badge once they have demonstrated competence. That badge will be accessible to employers and potential employers to help advance the member’s career goals.  

Last year, ACUI hired William Kanyi Wamathai, an instructional systems technology doctoral student at Indiana University, to design, develop, implement, and evaluate a pilot program to test the viability of digital badging for the Association. He worked with project leader and ACUI CEO John Taylor, as well as Zack Wahlquist and Dave Teske on this project. The topic area for this pilot program was student employment. Subject matter experts developed a curriculum about student supervision and served as faculty members for the five-week pilot. The format included readings, assignments, synchronous and asynchronous online discussions, and a final presentation. Nineteen students participated in the course. Most supervised 20 or more students, were under 30, and possessed a master’s degree. 

When asked about their reactions to the course, 17 said credentialing was important to their professional growth (89%). They felt the course materials helped them understand the subject and that the training was relevant to their needs and/or the needs of their institutions. Students shared the many ways they were implementing what they learned in their work. One participant also remarked: “I really enjoyed the application assignments. … These provided useful tools to improve processes for my student employees.” Another said the content “is something that I will immediately be using within my office to get a handle on where folks are at and how we can use that knowledge to move forward.” 

Given the success of the pilot program, ACUI is moving forward with more digital badging courses. While 19 students participated in the initial program, more than 40 individuals applied to be part of the pilot. Due to this demand, the course on student supervision will be repeated. In addition, new courses are being developed on student organizations, fiscal management, and event planning. These will be introduced throughout the year and completed prior to March 2018.  

“Digital badging has the power to reach members who aren’t always able to afford an in-person educational experience but who are seeking a professional development experience,” said Missy Burgess, pilot faculty member and associate director for student involvement at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. “This pedagogy also meets the needs of members who prefer to learn in different ways than our traditional sessions or webinars.” 

During the next months, the Association will be identifying subject matter experts to design the curriculum, instructors to teach the courses, and a pricing structure to cover the expenses and value of the program. Plans are underway to market the benefits of this program (such as the demonstration of skill development and continuing education in functional and/or competency areas) to potential participants and to their supervisors. For additional information about digital badges at ACUI, please contact Scarlett Winters (swinters@acui.org) or Zack Wahlquist (zwahlquist@acui.org). 

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