02 June 2014

Recognizing innovation literacy with badges

Since the launch of our innovation literacy digital badges I've received numerous inquiries regarding the program, particularly since the story about our badging program appeared in Academica. I thought it would be useful to provide an overview the the program, and why we have launched it and what we hope it means to our students and graduates.

The premise of the program is that it is important to acknowledge the acquisition of skills students gain as a result of working on applied research projects conducted with industry and community partners.  These innovation literacy skills are ancillary to the technical and other skills students gain in our academic programs.

The foundational premise is that these innovation literacy skills are acquired through this applied research work. The second premise is that it is important to render these skills visible to students. That is, we must ensure that students can see and acknowledge that they have gained skills pertinent to innovation. We can tell students they have gained these skills, and most can articulate that they have gained these skills, but it is important to render explicit the tacit assumptions of skills acquisition in order to complete the learning and reinforce the value of innovation literacy. Third, it is important to make this skill acquisition visible. Enter the digital badge.

Badges are an increasingly popular way for students to show to potential employers how they have gained skills and experiences that do not normally appear on an official transcript. They can be displayed on an e-portfolio or co-curricular record, or on a social media profile such as LinkedIn or Facebook. The important thing is that badges are explicit recognition of skills that are gained through experiential learning.

For the past few years the team at George Brown College has been working to foster innovation literacy skills in our graduates that work on applied research. We have developed ways to measure this longitudinally, and this work is in progress. In the meantime we felt it important to take steps to ensure graduates understand what innovation means, and how their applied research experience enables them to take a proactive role in fostering innovation within the broader world of work they enter upon graduation.  It is important to demystify innovation, as in so doing we derisk it for the economy broadly. By ensuring that all graduates can achieve some understanding of innovation and how they can participate in it, we foster a better chance of future productivity. Key here is recognition of informal learning and its relationship to formal learning.

I've written earlier about the need for a more national approach to outcomes based learning that can account for both formal and informal learning. Such a "learning passport" system would enhance the linkages between learning and life (work), something colleges and polytechnics assume as part of our mandate. This explicit connection need not solely be focused on the transactional acquisition of skills of immediate use. For when we teach skills we also teach how to learn, and learning how to learn is a skill that fosters resilience and the transformational effects of education.

George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge
George Brown College Excellence in Research and Innovation digital badge

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