Shifting Southern Connecticut State University to Open Badges

Last week faculty asked me to present some ideas I had on using portfolios in our Liberal Education Program (commonly referred to as general education classes at other institutions). I went into the meeting and discussed that badges and not portfolios made more sense.  I believe when we want a competency based program, such as ours,  we need to think more in terms of online presence rather than online portfolios.

So instead I discussed why Open Badges makes more sense for our University rather than a proprietary portfolio system.

Our Liberal Education Program

Calling our LEP classes, general ed, does a disservice to our students and those committed faculty who designed the program. Yes they are classes every student must take but the LEP builds on a foundational belief in the importance of liberal studies. The program contains 24 separate goals over three tiers of classes (click here for more information).  These goals are broken into competencies, knowledge and values.

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As a rough summary tier one classes include competencies, tier two include focus on knowledge and values,  and tier three integrates all three elements into a final outcome.

Our tier one competencies briefly introduce the Areas of Knowledge and  Experience and Discussions of Values while maintaining a focus on the development of intellectual skills, or competencies.

I volunteer on the technology fluency committee which is a core competency. In this tier students have to:

1. Common Tasks – Solving problems, accessing information, and  communicating information and ideas using appropriate technologies

A. Students will be able to engage in electronic collaboration.

B. Students will be able to use and create structured electronic documents.

C. Students will be able to do technology-enhanced presentations.

D. Students will be able to use databases to manage information.

E. Students will be able to use spreadsheets to manage information.

F. Students will be able to use graphical and multimedia technologies. 

2. Focus – Using emergent or recently developed technologies (hardware orsoftware) to address specialized tasks

A. Students will have the ability to perform basic operations in at least on ecurrent technology platform, or

B. Students will acquire advanced level skills in three out of six of the Common Tasks listed in (1).

3. Future Technological Change – Navigating and adapting to futuretechnological developments

A. Students will be able to use electronic tools to navigate, to compare orcontrast, to research and to know enough to evaluate the technology as a tool.

4. Broader Implications – Being cognizant of ethical and social implications of revolutionary technologies, including but not limited to their impact on security, privacy, censorship, intellectual property, and the reliability of information

A. Students will be familiar with major legal, ethical, privacy and security issues in information technology.

The purpose of tier one classes is to introduce and teach these competencies. They are then reinforced in tier two and tier three classes. This spiral of complexity in the curriculum design makes badging a better assessment system than portfolios.

Why Badges

The tech fluency and the embedded competency of information fluency represent a broad goal. To establish and display competency students need more than a GPA. Having a B in a class tells me nothing. Yet if I can look at a meta-level badge and know student earned badges in the three areas of tech fluency I can build off of that learning in my tier two classes.

So the badging system would involve different levels of badges. Students would have to earn the common task badge (I know need a better name) would have to point to urls that document each of the common tasks.

They could then submit requisite materials for the other three badges. Once those are all submitted the students could apply for the meta level tech fluency badge.

I believe the badges will then support the tier two classes. Teachers trying to put a larger focus on general knowledge, can look back at the badges students collected in tier one and cater projects to individual students.

Why Open Badges over Portfolios

Portfolios do not seem to work at our University. We make students buy into a program called TK20, but this is not in the support of learning. Its just a way to generate pretty tables for NCATE. At the end of the semester students upload the prerequisite documents, educators grade them, and there they sit collecting digital dust until we need the artifacts for NCATE.

Portfolios are often proprietary. We could use the system embedded into our overpriced LMS but why not ensure assessments  are owned by students and our 100% portable.

Presence matters more than portfolios. Learning is a social event. I do not want to silo off engagement into a system. I would rather students be able to document their education where ever they learn.

Open badges would allow students to document learning in lieu of class. We have many students, especially in tech fluency, that believe they meet the requirements all ready. If we had an open badge system students could then submit documents, without being in a proprietary system, that demonstrate their competencies. If they could earn the meta level technology fluency badge they would not have to complete the course.

Next Steps

First I have to convince a slew of committees open badges makes sense and explain how it could be implemented into our liberal education program.

Then we would have create the road map of competencies for each badge.

We would hten design the layout of the badges.

Finally for this to work open badges require the help from our great IT team on building the back end support so we can use the open API.


The competency based liberal education program and badges make sense. We want to document students abilities for life long learning. Why not create a system that reflects these values in both practice and theory?

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