Michael Seery explains how digital badges can enrich students’ CVs


© Shutterstock

Students are beginning to plan what they might do for their summer break, and the annual cycle of reference requests has begun. As part of the process, I ask to review CVs, and apart from being more professionally produced, CVs have remained unchanged in format since I first prepared my own over two decades ago. Technological advances in that time have changed the world around us, but the process of applying for a job has remained the same: we summarise our achievements and skills on a two-page document, hope there are no typos, and post it away to prospective employers.

Need for change?

You could argue the CV has weathered technological challenges because it is good at what it does. I don’t believe this is the case. At best, the CV offers a proxy for what employers are really interested in.

Suppose you are an employer who wants to recruit a graduate level analyst. You want someone who will pay careful attention to detail, take care with their experimental protocols and report findings accurately. In reviewing CVs, you might use grades in laboratory chemistry modules, or you might look at their performance in an analytical chemistry unit. But the lab mark rewards performance in the report, not the student’s practice, and the exam mark rewards the student’s understanding of theory, rather than how they treat real experimental data. However, you have no choice but to use these as a substitute for what you are looking for.

Digital identity

While those looking for jobs play by the rules and produce a traditional CV, employers are under no such restrictions and can find out a lot more beyond the CV in a couple of clicks on an internet search. Tales of employers finding photos on social media taken after a class night out abound. But there is a missed opportunity here. Students could use their online identity to showcase their academic skills and capabilities, supplementing their CV with real examples of their writing and practical activity. This is commonplace in art and design disciplines, where showcasing your work is a core component of the recruitment process.

Awarding mini-certificates

So how can this come about? One approach is to use digital badges. The Guides and Scouts among you will remember the joy of gaining a new badge certifying your proficiency in a particular skill, rewarding the work you put in to achieving it. This concept has evolved in the digital world. If you have ever reviewed for TripAdvisor or hosted on Airbnb, you will see how these websites use badges to reward and encourage further contributions. But digital badges can be awarded by anybody and the potential in education is enormous.

Employers can see the variety of skills students have and examples of them in action

Think of the times when a student under your tuition has demonstrated expertise in a core skill. I have students who are wizards with instrumentation. Others are natural presenters, understanding how to engage their audience while explaining a difficult topic. These activities are part of their ongoing education, but may never be formally recorded anywhere, or may only be considered in sum total under a professional skills grade.

As an educator, you could use the Open Badges platform to create a digital badge for presentation skills. It would have a set of criteria that when achieved mean you award the badge. The student receives the badge in a personal portfolio, which they can link to directly, perhaps including a video of their presentation as evidence. This process enables the awarding of a series of mini-certificates for activities students have completed during their course.

Badging lab skills

There has been much discussion recently about laboratory work in schools. Badges offer enormous potential to accredit students’ work and create a portfolio of evidence showing laboratory competence. A joint project between the schools of chemistry at the universities of Edinburgh and Manchester includes building a platform for anyone to use to document students’ laboratory skills.

The idea is simple: students watch a video of how to carry out a technique (such as titration). They then record a video of themselves demonstrating the same technique. This video is uploaded to the platform and reviewed by a peer using a set of defined criteria. Once a student has uploaded their video, been reviewed and reviewed a peer’s video, they receive their titration lab badge. A teacher approval step can be incorporated if required.

Once they have their badge, students can link from their CVs and online profiles to their Backpack on the Open Badges site, hosting all of their badges. Employers can see the variety of skills students have and examples of them in action. This will provide a much richer picture of a student’s laboratory skills than a traditional CV ever could.

Be involved

Our project will encourage students to develop their lab skills by reviewing and assessing their performance as part of the process to receive a badge. We are interested in working with teachers who would like to use this method to document students’ laboratory skills. You can submit your interest in this project by contacting michael.seery@ed.ac.uk.

Michael Seery is a reader in chemistry education at the University of Edinburgh, UK