OLC Effective Practice: Using Digital Badges as a Framework to Support and Scale an Online Teaching and Learning Community of Practice
The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) has formally recognized the diversity of roles and expertise among our thousands of online practitioners across the SUNY system with our Open SUNY Fellow Program. We have developed a comprehensive digital badging ecosystem made up of stacked constellations of badges using these roles as a framework to recognize, acknowledge, honor, validate, certify, and authorize, track, engage and professionally develop our community of online practitioners. We have innovated with badges to address various challenges in faculty attitudes about online teaching and learning, scaling online community engagement and our ability to support and serve our extensive numbers of online practitioners, systematic online competency development, and in cultivating a culture of continuous online quality improvement. We have successfully created this digital badging framework to promote and scale online community membership, engagement in our community of online practitioners, online competency development, and continuous online quality improvement.
Description of the Effective Practice:
Digital Badges are a mechanism that many organizations are exploring to recognize and support professional development. Digital Badges are being used in creative and innovative ways to recognize competency and reward effort. Digital badge credentials provide metadata that link back to evidence of contribution, achievement, skill development, performance, or behavior. Providing a more complete picture of an earner’s knowledge and skills, digital badges can make accomplishments more visible, can be shared, and like certificates and other credentials, are becoming a professionally valued currency. They can be shared on online profiles, professional portfolios, with prospective employers, professional groups, schools, collaborators, and other learners in online social community spaces. Digital badging has catalyzed creativity in the design of metaphors to define our online teaching and learning professional development paths and levels, and a framework with which to recognize accomplishments, experience, and competency, and encourage behaviors. We have anecdotal evidence that our online practitioners are using their badged honors and recognitions in promotion/tenure processes, résumés, bios, signatures, and online profiles, and at the institutional level in press releases for institutional recognition.
The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE) has developed a digital badging ecosystem that recognizes online community of practice membership, contributions, and the competency development of our online practitioners. This digital system of badges has enabled an effective, engaging, and visible way to recognize the development of online teaching and course design competencies, and support/incentivize key behaviors in our community of practice. Four overarching paths are tied to the roles online practitioners play in our community, and form constellations of types of badges that add levels and a journey metaphor to the environment that help to clarify and integrate the goals of the badges within a true community of practice where members can move from novice to masters, share/learn from each other, and demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvements in their online teaching and course designs. Badges are digital shareable recognitions that are being used by COTE to acknowledge, commemorate, endorse, award, validate, certify, and authorize various activities, behaviors, events, individuals, and accomplishments. Badges provide the earner and the viewer with a visual, digital, and sharable indication of their skills, progress, and status, enabling organic empowerment and recognition of our community of online practitioners.
The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence: A Case Study
Since 1994, the The Open SUNY Center for Online Teaching Excellence (COTE), formerly the SUNY Learning Network, has been developing online faculty and building a diverse community of online practitioners on a large scale with a great deal of positive and significant success, earned a number of awards and recognitions, trained more than 5000 faculty at all levels and disciplines to teach online, and developed and mentored more than 300 online instructional designers.
During the 2015/16 academic year 170,094 students took at least one online course. Today Open SUNY reports:
- 519 certificates and online degree programs from 42 campuses (76% fully online).
- 72 online programs from 20 SUNY institutions carry the Open SUNY+ designation.
- 21,543 online course sections in 2015/16.
In 2013 we began the design of Open SUNY to take online teaching and learning at SUNY to the next level, and targeted system-level initiatives to strategically leverage online education to address student access, completion, and success. Open SUNY COTE was designed to focus on system-level faculty supports and initiatives targeting online competency development, online course supports, online community of practice, and research and innovation. We were charged with expanding the scope of online practitioners beyond online faculty and instructional designers to include anyone that support aspects of online education such as technologists, librarians, concierges, administrators, developers, and with thinking of new ways to engage these newly formalized roles in aspects of community, engagement and contributions, and competency development.
- How can we recognize the diversity among online teaching and learning practitioners in our system?
- How can we target communications and information across our system to those interested in online teaching and learning?
- How can we promote networking and sharing across a large diverse system of institutions and online practitioners?
- How can we cultivate and reinforce a culture of iteration and continuous online quality improvement?
- How can we leverage the community itself to assist in addressing faculty resistance to and misperceptions about online learning?
- How can we acknowledge contributions of those in the community that share themselves, their expertise, and their resources with the community?
- How can the community assist the system to scale strategic innovations and initiatives?
- How can the community contribute to the development of online competency development content and facilitate professional development programs?
Digital badges emerged as a way for us address these challenges to recognize, honor, and track community membership, engagement, and contributions, as well as online teaching and course design competency development, and achievements. To innovate ways to engage the newly formalized roles of Open SUNY Fellows in aspects of community, engagement and contributions, and online competency development, we have created an environment where digital badges provide a framework in which our online practitioners feel accountable and recognized for participating, engaging, volunteering, mentoring, networking, and sharing their expertise, effective practices, challenges, and reflections with their colleagues across the system.
A core team with interest in badging was brought together from across the system in 2014 to define online teaching/course design competencies and to provide feedback on the design the Open SUNY COTE badging ecosystem, and the first badges were issued in February 2015 via Credly.
This badging ecosystem is unique in its scope and scale and in the innovative ways that it weaves together and stacks 3 distinct elements that define our online community of practice:
- Membership in a living breathing community of practice is declared by formally selecting the “role” in the community that they are willing to play and that most closely aligns with their qualifications, experience and expertise and being recognized as an Open SUNY Fellow. View the members of the Open SUNY Online Community of Practice.
- Participation in the online community of practice requires joining the virtual community of online practitioners and fulfilling the commitments to the community that vary based on selected “role.” There are a number of ways to engage in the community of practice. Community members can:
- Volunteer to mentor others in the community.
- Submit/share an Effective Online Practice.
- Be showcased individually for an online teaching/learning practice or innovation in our Fellow Chat monthly webinar series, or in our Exemplary Online Course program.
- Get certified as an Open SUNY COTE Professional Development Associate .
- Be nominated as an Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador.
- Volunteer for an Open SUNY COTE work group.
- Completion of Online Competency Development programs that move practitioners along the continuum in the community from novices in online teaching and learning to masters, and cultivate a culture of learning, reflecting, and continuous online quality improvement.
Individuals, who meet the established criteria for each badge, or set of badges, have an opportunity to earn badges to recognize that accomplishment or engagement in online education, in Open SUNY COTE, and with the community of online practitioners. Open SUNY Fellows can earn and share badges to demonstrate their role in, contribution to, and the value they place on our community of practice and professional development accomplishments.
Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness:
Badges are only awarded if the participant demonstrates evidence of their learning or effort, such as writing a reflection, creating a video tour of their online course, delivering a Fellow Chat to share an effective with their colleagues, or volunteering to mentor or peer review a colleague’s online course. The badging system is tied to the Open SUNY Fellow roles and supports networking, sharing, and mentoring across the entire community of online practitioners. The badging system supports and reinforces a culture of continuous improvement in online teaching practices and course design, provides recommended learning paths and levels, and promotes opportunities for various types of community engagement. Digital badges offer an alternative to traditional pedagogies and assessment methods. Our badges provide the earner, issuer, and the viewer, with a visual indication of skills, progress, and status, and inform, empower, and recognize roles and status in our community of online practitioners.
Individuals who meet the established criteria for each badge or set of badges, have an opportunity to earn badges to recognize their accomplishment or engagement in online education, Open SUNY COTE, and with the community of online practitioners. Open SUNY Fellows can earn and share badges to demonstrate their role in, contribution to, and the value they place on our community of practice and professional development accomplishments.
To date we have created 4 constellations comprised of 45 badges in the membership, professional development, and community of practice categories, with multiple stackable levels planned and envisioned. To date we have issued a total of 2,044 badges and of those badges accepted, 89% have been shared in LinkedIn, 10% in Facebook and 1% on Twitter. This strategy has been both successful and motivating. Participants report they feel more accountable to participate, and the digital badge rewards serve as a source of engagement and motivation.
OS COTE Badges Offered in 2016/17
- Membership badges recognize role in the community of online practitioners.
- Community engagement badges recognize efforts to lead engage and participate within our community of practice.
- competency development badges progress,
level of achievement, and acknowledge those who engaged in professional development programs and can provide evidence of their accomplishments and learning.
- social media acknowledge efforts to share knowledge or expertise via social media.
- Events badges commemorate participation in OS COTE events.
- Participation badges endorse attendance and contributions at community activities and events.
- Awards badges recognize community members honored through the OS COTE Effective Online Practices awards, Exemplary Online Courses, and Online Teaching Ambassadors programs.
- Certify and authorize individuals and campuses to train and award badges on our behalf.
How does this practice relate to OLC pillars?
Access: Open SUNY is a system-wide initiative of the State University of New York (SUNY) designed to expand access to online learning, support online student success, and completion to meet the increasing demands of the workforce throughout New York State and the world. Open SUNY launched in January 2014 with an initial wave of 6 SUNY campuses and 8 Open SUNY+ online degree programs. The second wave of Open SUNY+ programs launched in January 2015 with 17 campuses and 56 Open SUNY+ online degree programs. Central to Open SUNY are a set of signature elements based in quality assurance for online learning and a series of system-level supports for faculty teaching online, student access to NYS high needs online degree programs and student success, campus and system-wide infrastructure, and innovative instructional models.
This effective practice supports the Open SUNY Faculty Supports pillar. By creating a diverse, effective, and high quality online teaching and learning community in which online practitioners from across the system can thrive, scale and improve, we increase access to high quality online education opportunities and options for online students at SUNY.
Learning Effectiveness: Open SUNY Faculty Supports aims support online learning effectiveness in online courses and degree programs by ensuring that online faculty and practitioners are well-prepared to teach online with well-designed online courses informed by research-based effective practices.
- Overall, in the period from 2010-2016, 30,000 students filled out the surveys (23,000 complete entries).
- Overall, on average 26,000 students expressed that they were satisfied with their online experience (average of 2.06 on a 5-point scale) and stated that they agreed that they learned a lot from the online course (average of 2.02 on a 5-point scale). Among them, 40% were strongly satisfied, 30% satisfied with the online experience, and 42% strongly believed they learned a lot, and 28% believed they learned a lot.
- In terms of satisfaction about online classes and students’ perception regarding their learning, only 7% and 6% said they were not satisfied, and did not learn a lot. 10% and 12% were neutral, and overall 70% were completely satisfied with the online classes. 13% chose not to answer the question. If you eliminate those that chose not to answer the question, 46%, 33% strongly agree and agree about satisfaction, and 47% and 34% strongly agree and agree about believing that they learned a lot.
In addition, the Open SUNY Course Quality Rubric (OSCQR) and process were developed to establish online course quality and accessibility standards, and a process to systematically and consistently scale continuous online course quality improvement efforts across the SUNY system. Adopted by OLC as their online course quality scorecard, OSCQR is designed to support online learning effectiveness in online courses and degree programs with a flexible and comprehensive online course quality review and refresh process that is now required of all online courses in Open SUNY+ online degree programs, used by 56 SUNY institutions, and now dozens of institutions around the country and the world. Both students and faculty report high levels of engagement and learning in our annual surveys (see attached student report below).
Faculty and Instructional designers are trained and certified in the use of OSCQR, for example:
- OSCQR 1st Adopters
- Certified OSCQR Reviewer
- Introductory training in the use of OSCQR
- OLC and Open SUNY Instructional Designer Certificate Program
Faculty Satisfaction: When online faculty are well prepared to teach online in well-designed online learning environments, and have opportunities to continuously improve their online teaching practices, as well as their online course designs, they have positive satisfying experiences teaching online. Open SUNY COTE (formerly the SUNY Learning Network) is well known for success in large-scale online faculty development, and high levels of online faculty satisfaction (Fredericksen, et al, 2000). Our annual faculty surveys continue to show positive online faculty attitudes and high levels of online faculty satisfaction. Today we continue to inform and influence positive online faculty attitudes and online faculty effectiveness and satisfaction by:
- Inducting and recognizing online practitioners from across the system in their variety of roles and levels of expertise that exist to a true online community of practice.
- Rewarding and incentivizing community behaviors such as leadership, engagement, networking, volunteering, collaboration, mentoring, and sharing enthusiasm, expertise, and online teaching and learning best practices.
- Providing professional development paths and recognitions aimed at developing and improving competency, skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
- Nurturing a culture of continuous quality improvement.
Student Satisfaction: Open SUNY COTE (formerly the SUNY Learning Network) is well known for high levels of online student satisfaction and reported learning (Fredericksen, et al, 2000). Today, we have continued to see high levels of student satisfaction and reported learning in our annual surveys (see attached student report below). We affect online student satisfaction by ensuring online faculty have well-designed courses and are well prepared to teach online. We do this by:
- Cultivating a community of practice for our online practitioners in which they can network and share information.
- Providing a comprehensive research-based standards-driven competency based professional development curriculum of online faculty development for those interested in online teaching, new online faculty, as well as for experienced online faculty.
- Supporting online course quality and commitment to continuous online quality improvement in both online teaching and course design practices.
- Conducting research and contributing to scholarly work on how people teach and learn well online to inform our approaches and supports.
Scale (institutional commitment to achieve capacity enrollment via cost effectiveness): Now fully operationalized, Open SUNY has scaled and institutionalized the Open SUNY+ signature elements and supports and designed an online course review/refresh process that is open to all SUNY campuses, online programs, courses, and faculty to ensure that all SUNY online students have access to high quality accessible online courses. To date, Open SUNY COTE has recognized 1911 Open SUNY Fellows across the 6 formal roles.
Open SUNY COTE was purposefully designed to leverage expertise and vast numbers of individuals in our online teaching and learning community of practice. By asking online practitioners to self-select roles that carry an understanding that as part of the community one has to both give and get, we are able to identify groups of people whom we can leverage to scale system-wide activities and initiatives, which greatly enhances our abilities to scale our supports and services.
- Our COTE Professional Development Associates Program trains and certifies expert community members to develop and deliver training on our behalf. This allows us to
- Publicly recognize community members for their expertise and accomplishments.
- Leverage their physical regional locations across the state to provide more efficient planning and cost-effective training delivery.
- Extend our ability to provide resources, supports, and services without having to hire additional staff.
- Our Online Course Reviewer Network identifies experienced online faculty and instructional designers willing to volunteer to conduct online course reviews. Volunteers provide:
- Their primary discipline.
- The types of courses they rare prepared to review.
- Their Availability and Contact information.
- Their training, experience, and certifications.
- Our Online Mentoring Program recognizes experienced online practitioners who are willing to volunteer to coach and mentor others in the community. Volunteers provide contact information, and a list of there online teaching and learning strengths.
- Our Exemplary Online Courses for Observation Program and our Online Teaching Ambassadors Program, showcase and honor experienced online faculty and their courses, and provide us with the opportunity to leverage these exemplary resources for the benefit of the entire community.
Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice:
To implement a digital badging system you need a computer, access to the internet, a way to document and track your badges (we use excel or google sheets).
We use the badge issuing platform, Credly. There are a number of alternatives for badge issuing platforms – some offering paid and free options, hosting, consulting, open badges, and both open sourced and proprietary platforms.
Photoshop and Illustrator are generally used to design the actual badges, though there are some badge generators avialiable.
Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice:
- Credly Premier Annual Subscription was $4,500 in 2015.
- We also opted for instructional design support for $1,500, and a training on designing badges for $1,500.
- Developing and articulating the conceptual framework for this complex badging ecosystem continues to be an significant investment in time, should not be underestimated, and is an ongoing effort and investment.
- A talented and trained graphic designer is essential.
References, supporting documents: