Digital Badges and Library Tech Education

I attended the Digital Badge Summit a few months back and was inspired to think about ways to start integrating digital badging into library education initiatives.

Here is a preliminary proposal I put together for Douglas County Libraries that I thought I’d throw out there as food for thought (and fodder for feedback) for other library and education folk out there.

Overview: Digital badges are becoming a recognized tool for learners to customize their learning paths, equipping themselves with the skills and credentials that they desire through both formal and informal learning experiences. From a teaching perspective, digital badges create the opportunity to diversify and distribute, moving from a traditional, class-centric format to a wide range of routes to help students find their best fit. DCL offers a number of tech learning opportunities, but we lack a distinct technology program for our patrons who seek to gain skills and refine their understanding of various technologies. A digital badge program has the potential to help DCL pool resources into a comprehensive and well-rounded program that helps us mentor our patrons (and staff) through meaningful learning paths.

What is a digital badge? Ideally, a digital badge is a small file, often represented with an icon, that is transferred to a learner after they have completed a verified learning experience. Digital badges may contain information about the requirements for earning the badge, the date a badge was earned, the owner of the badge, and other pertinent information. A well-made digital badge acts as a non-replicable certification that a person has completed whatever parameters were outlined by the issuing institution.

Here are a few examples of programs and studies to illustrate how digital badging can (and is) working:

Chicago City of Learning Program

Summary of Studies on Millennials and Digital Badging

Why a digital badging system for tech learning at DCL? DCL has a wide range of resources and connections to the community. As a community hub, it is well-placed to assist non-traditional learners in gaining skills that are valuable in today’s technology-rich landscape.

We already serve a large number of people who come into the library needing help figuring out their new device, using a computer for the first time, foraying into the internet, and creating amazing new media. However, our system works in a somewhat piecemeal fashion. While we are in the process of updating our one-on-one tech tutoring program, which is an important step, we are still neglecting to integrate our wider resources (databases, community connections, specialized materials available at

different locations, references to other resources outside of the district) into a package that offers patrons, and the staff assisting these patrons, guidance as to how they might accomplish their overall technology goals.

Theoretical example 1: A patron wants to learn how to send email to her grandchildren. She has only rarely used a computer, and doesn’t feel very comfortable with mousing, although she has done plenty of typing in the past. She doesn’t have an email address and has a vague idea that the internet is a place she can visit on her computer. Someone recommended that she fill out a tech tutoring form so that she can be shown what to do. She doesn’t know what to expect, other than she has asked to be shown how to email her grandkids and then told that filling out the form is the best answer.

What is the likelihood that this one session will fill her learning need? How likely is she to understand this, and how well will any staff person she approaches be able to help both understand and explain the skill sets she will need to acquire to reach her end goal? How can we unpack this “simple” task to make it clear and manageable?

Whether or not this particular patron would find a digital badge useful outside of her learning experience at DCL, a digital badge system would be a way to manage the process of assisting the patron toward her end goal in an ongoing fashion, and in a way that can be transferred more readily between resources. Her initial staff contact would help her pick out some badges that would help guide her toward her end goal. She might earn a mousing badge in a one-on-one with a PST at Parker, get another after completing a course about the internet, and another when she stops by for a spur-of-the-moment practice session with a Librarian at Lone Tree. Her collection of badges would show each person assisting her what she’s already accomplished, what else she might need in order to reach her end goal, and also help make clear the skill sets that go into getting her to the point of independence in sending email to her grandkids. And who knows, she might just find some other things she’s interested in knowing more about along the way!

Theoretical example 2: A high school student is trying to add some additional skills and experiences to his college application. He would love to be able to say that he knows how to create videos from scratch and that he has a proficiency in media production. He works with a staff member to start building his own digital badge learning path.

As he gains various skills, he is able to add the digital badges to his online portfolio. Because the badges are coded with information to illustrate what he has done to earn each badge, he is able to highlight both his skills and his commitment to learning.

While DCL doesn’t have all the resources on hand that he needs to produce each type of media, we are able to help him research how to access these things, or find alternate means of creating similar types of media. He pursues some of these additional resources and gives feedback on what he experienced. We learn more and are able to add to our library of digital badges as we break new ground and uncover more learning paths that might be useful to others as well.

As the high schooler moves into his next phase of learning away from the library, he is able to take all his badges with him and use them in ways that he finds most relevant to his own continuing path. The library becomes a tangible part of that path that is illustrated by his badge collection and other work that he accomplished as part of his library learning experience.

Interested? Here are some next steps:

  • Consider the feasibility of this type of program for our district
    • Does it solve an existing problem?
    • Does it fit into our vision and goals?
    • What costs are involved?
    • o What people resources need to be considered?
  • Create a team to build a full proposal and set of recommendations

Other thoughts and considerations: There are many potential uses for digital badging – technology is simply one idea among many that are out there. It is also an area in which we could present a more organized and more powerful user experience.

Another benefit of this plan is that staff would have a better structure for assisting patrons, making the experience less reliant upon each individual’s knowledge of a particular skill. Badges would help organize and maximize staff potential in this arena.

I believe that we could use the concept of digital badging to make a long-term positive impact on the lives of our patrons, make better use of our own resources and connects, and create a more cohesive workflow surrounding technology education for the public. Even if digital badging is not the answer, I would strongly encourage the exploration of similar types of management options; we could be doing more and doing it better with a “plan of attack,” so to speak.

If you are interested, I would be happy to discuss any of the ideas presented in this preliminary proposal at greater length.