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Partner: University of North Texas

Category: Higher Education

First-of-Its-Kind Learner Record Helps UNT Students Build, Track, and Share Marketable Skills

Since 2016, the University of North Texas has helped students develop the marketable skills that can give them an edge in the job market. But over time, UNT discovered that enabling students to build skills wasn’t enough. Without a way to visualize those skills, many students didn’t fully understand them — and struggled to communicate them to potential employers.

A groundbreaking new partnership between UNT’s Career Connect program and Badgr is tackling that problem. In spring 2020, UNT rolled out a Badgr-based Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR), a verifiable digital record that collects marketable skills in the form of badges and credentials. Capturing what’s missing from the traditional academic transcript, the Learner Record helps students visualize and better understand the skills they’ve developed and makes it easy for students to share them with the outside world.

“By prompting, suggesting structure, and providing opportunity for students to collect and connect their experiences, we have a better chance of supporting their success,” explained Mike Simmons, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at UNT. “Students have a random collection of experiences that can be represented by digital badges, but the organizing and articulation of experiences in which badges add up to a credential seems to us to be the trick. The sooner in their academic experience that they do that, the better!”

The first of its kind, UNT’s Learner Record was developed in collaboration with students to fit seamlessly into the Badgr Pro badging platform, and it is now available to any organization that needs to support its learners with easy-to-understand visualizations of achievement and skills development.

Simmons said, “We selected the Badgr platform because of its use and promotion of open standards such as Open Badges,” which are embedded with secure data that verifies badge origin, authenticity, and the specific learning and skills represented. “Badgr’s seamless integration with the Canvas learning management system is also very helpful.”

The Badgr Pro Learner Record is designed for interoperability and incorporates all eight characteristics identified by IMS Global, one of the organizations working to define open standards for CLRs.

Transition to Badging

Marketable skills — also called 21st century skills or soft skills — refer to real-world competencies such as communication, critical thinking, teamwork, and leadership. Employers value these in prospective employees but often can’t identify them in recent college graduates.

Career Connect bridges this skills gap and helps students become more career ready as they move into the workforce. Like many universities and higher education institutions, UNT offers High-Impact Practices (HIPs) to support student learning and retention. In coursework and in experiences outside the classroom, HIPs such as internships, service learning, and capstones help students build and demonstrate key marketable skills.

Rather than treating digital badges simply as something to be earned going forward, UNT decided to issue badges to thousands of students for learning that happened in prior semesters. This program is working as designed: Early evidence points to positive impacts on student persistence and outcomes. But UNT realized it could do more to help graduates land jobs.

Simmons explained that because UNT structured the Career Connect assessment process similarly to the concept of badging — that is, students submit evidence to earn awards that articulate their learning achievements — transitioning the program to digital badge–based learning pathways was relatively straightforward.

Now, students begin the journey toward each full credential by earning digital badges for experiences. For example, completing a special assignment in a French Debate course or a community advocacy project in a Communications Studies class can earn a badge that represents demonstrated critical thinking. Students accumulate, or stack, badges in different ways to earn an Essential Knowledge Micro-credential and a Demonstrated Proficiency Micro-credential, with work assessed individually at each stage. Once a student earns both micro-credentials, UNT awards the full credential for that skill.

Image: To earn a UNT-awarded credential, students must acquire and demonstrate knowledge through a variety of experiences.
How to Earn a UNT-Awarded Skill Credential

In addition to the credentials that demonstrate intercurricular competencies gained from a variety of experiences, UNT students can pursue credentials that demonstrate marketable skills in the context of their major — a novel offering in higher education. For example, a student pursuing the French B.A. Marketable Skills credential might demonstrate critical thinking and empirical analysis by engaging in a course-based debate experience. That has obvious value in the job market, but it has value to the students as well, who can better understand how their curriculum-based work is developing real-world skills. It helps them make connections to a broader skill set they might otherwise overlook when reading a syllabus and course requirements.

Meena Naik, Program Director of Career Connect, explained, “These credential stacks are not mutually inclusive and they are designed to play off one another. Badges can serve multiple purposes, and they count in multiple sets of credentials, or pathways, as we organize competency stacks in different ways. For example, when a student in a French course does a project activity that demonstrates teamwork or critical thinking that is specific to that course in curriculum, it also applies to the broader accumulation of their teamwork and critical thinking skills in the university-wide, interdisciplinary marketable skills credential.”

Visualizing Success

When UNT students log in, a unique Badgr Pro dashboard feature visualizes for them, in real time, the UNT badges, micro-credentials, and credentials that are completed and in progress. This unique representation of their work helps them understand their learning journey in a meaningful context, identify opportunities, and make decisions about what to pursue next.

Image: From the dashboard in Badgr Pro, UNT students can customize their Learner Record and share it with others.
Badgr Pro Learner Record

Students determine which progress to include in the Learner Record, how to organize it, and whether to make it public or private. Consumers of the records, such as potential employers, not only get an overview of the work, but can click on any badge or credential to see details about the work it represents, how the skill was assessed, and which pathway the learner took to earn it.

Image: When a student shares the Learner Record, the person viewing it can click on any credential to verify its origin and see what it represents and how the skill was assessed.
Badgr Pro public view of a badge

Badgr Pathways, another feature of Badgr Pro, displays the learning journey required to earn a credential, including different options for fulfilling requirements. Badgr’s powerful analytics allow university administrators to monitor how students are progressing through their Career Connect work, track how they’re sharing their work on social media, and measure program outcomes.

Image: Pathways guide UNT students in their progress toward full marketable skills credentials.
Pathway in Badgr Pro

What’s Ahead

The Comprehensive Learner Record initiative between UNT and Concentric Sky is a tremendous step forward for the university and its students — but it also aligns with the broader national effort to address gaps in matching graduates to job opportunities. For example, UNT and Concentric Sky are both active participants in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s T3 Innovation Network that is addressing such challenges in the talent marketplace.

By recognizing marketable skills, allowing learners to share their data seamlessly, and independently verifying and validating students’ skills, UNT has demonstrated its commitment to this vision for the future of learning and recognition. And as part of T3, UNT’s CLR will serve as an example to institutions nationwide.

Simmons concluded, “The lifespan of learning means that universities are only one potential anchor point for capturing learning achievements. Our Learner Record starts that process — how does a student understand and articulate their skills? They will need to carry that forward, and we hope a CLR-type record system will help facilitate the process throughout their life.”

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