Develop a Digital Toolbox for University Students with Digital Badges


Welcome to my final reflection on the ISTE Standards for Students! This week I explore the sixth standard. As with my previous reflections, I use a four-step process to reflect broadly at first and then when the focus is narrowed I go deeper. First, I pose a triggering question; second, I explore various resources and research the topic in an effort to answer my triggering question; third, I integrate conversations from my DEL cohort; finally, I seek a resolution–at least an attempt. Throughout this quarter I reflected on six ISTE standards. If you are curious please read those blog posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4. These posts provide an idea of my context and focus. I invite your feedback! Feel free to leave comments or find me on Twitter.

ISTE Standards for Students 6: Technology Operations and Concepts

The sixth ISTE Standards for Students states, “Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations.” For this standard I paid attention to how universities are involved in teaching students technology skills. My triggering question focuses on current practices particularly around what technology skills should be taught in higher education.

Triggering Question

What are the key technology concepts college students need to understand to be successful in their career and life? In addition, what resources will support provide students with long term technological education?


College graduates need digital skills to adequately meet the needs of future employers. A recent report from Burning Glass Technologies (2015) suggests that 78% of middle-skill jobs require familiarity with apps to manipulate word documents and spreadsheets  (p. 1). They argue this is the minimum amount of technological skills required for the workforce. Their report explored three levels of digital skills. The first level is proficiency with productivity software such as Microsoft Office apps and Google Drive apps. As previously mentioned, this is the new baseline for future jobs (78% require these skills). The second level moves to “advanced digital skills” such as occupation-specific needs including customer relationship management (CRM) apps, computer and network support apps such as SQL databases and Cisco controllers, digital media and design apps such as Adobe Creative Cloud, and social media tools/search engine analysis tools such as Google Analytics and proficiency with social media platforms (p. 5). Finally, the third level explores “specific digital skills” such as medical billing and coding for health professionals and computer numerical control (CNC) for manufacturing (pg. 6). Our technological-driven future requires that college graduates are fluent with digital tools including overarching technological concepts so that they can perform efficiently by selecting the appropriate tools for the job. Burning Glass Technologies submits the following as one of the implications for the lack of technology fluency:

It has been clear for some time that technological illiteracy, much less technophobia, is no longer a sustainable option for the modern worker. But this research documents the extent to which entire sectors of the U.S. economy have no place for workers who do not at least have the basic digital skills to undertake tasks like word processing and maintaining spreadsheets. The fact that, in major cities, an even greater share of these occupations now require digital skills—and major cities have long been regarded as bellwethers for trends that ultimately manifest nationwide—suggests that in the future even more workers could be shut out of middle-skill opportunities. (pg. 9).

The future ahead is moving quickly and requires employees to have an expanding, robust grasp of digital tools. The questions remains, how will we help college graduates acquire the skills and knowledge they need? Additionally, how might we prepare them and provide them opportunities to build their digital toolbox while providing a post-graduation network to continue adapting their toolbox for the future ahead? Fluency with Information and communication technology (ICT) is key to providing answers for these questions. McLoughlin (2011) states, “students must learn not only how to use these tools but also how to apply them to real world contexts” (pg. 471). Unfortunately, however, higher education institutions continue to, “promote a linguistic view of literacy and a linear view of reading” (pg. 471). McLoughlin (2011) argues for a “broad and multifaceted definition of literacy” (pg. 474). One idea I have is is to incorporate core competencies and broad skills and adapt and integrate for digital literacy. For example, communication skills is a competency that remains in the digital world–face-to-face communication isn’t diminishing–however, the mode of transmission changes with digital technology and therefore, one must learn how to contextually adjust with new tools and media while remaining a competent communicator. While ICT literacy remains important and adjustment to what tools are and will be available, it is necessary to integrate digital literacy throughout.

Being digitally literate means communicating effectively in a global world where a great deal of communication is mediated by digital technology. A digitally literate person is one who is a critical and discerning user of digital communication tools with the knowledge, skills and understanding to be able to choose appropriate formats, tools and media to represent meaning (pg. 475).

Digital literacy is an integration and adaptation of various literacies and the ability to  make connections between navigating the analog and digital realm. Digital literacy requires information literacy and ICT literacy. Digital literacy does not simply refer to the ability to use a checklist of software, such as PowerPoint, rather it involves the knowledge and ability to locate, learn, use, and share the appropriate digital tool. O’Brien and Scharber (2008) define digital literacies as, “socially situated practices supported by skills, strategies, and stances that enable the representation and understanding of ideas using a range of modalities enabled by digital tools.” Furthermore, “digitally literate people not only represent an idea by selecting modes and tools but also plan how to spatially and temporally juxtapose multimodal texts to best represent ideas. Digital literacies enable the bridging and complementing of traditional print literacies with other media.” A robust digital literate person has the ability to navigate the digital and print culture while selecting appropriate media to locate, create, and publish content.

The aforementioned concepts and ideas of digital literacy lead to a broad understanding of what is means to be digitally literate; however, often the basic methods and tools are neglected. What specific tools do college graduates need and how can they, post-graduation, increase their skills to perform better in the 21st-century job market?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find research or resources from educational technologists suggesting what college graduates need in terms of specific technology skills. Most resources, focused on general or overarching digital literacy skills. I wanted to find more specific information to understand what is needed today. I found a Medium post by Dan Friedman (2013) that succinctly argues for the top six technology skills for college graduates. Friedman, while not an academic or educational technologist, is, in his own words, “an entrepreneur focused on web/mobile products, metrics and user growth” with experience at various mobile/tech-focused companies. Friedman lists six main technical competencies needed by college graduates including specific tools and information about how to learn the skills:

  1. Basic Photo Editing
  2. Basic Video Editing
  3. Google Drive and Microsoft Office
  4. HTML and Basic Coding
  5. Setting Up a Website and Domain
  6. Know Thy Virtual Self (Friedman, 2013).

Friedman’s list of skills are important additions for one’s digital toolbox and correlate with the Burning Glass Technologies (2015) report. He covers the basic productivity tools such as Office and Drive–which can easily translate to others such as Apple’s offerings. Media editing with the use of Gimp for photos and FInal Cut Pro are examples of literacies for a image-based internet. Friedman includes basic coding as one of the necessary tools–which can help somone dig a little deeper than just the WYSIWYG platform and increases one’s ability to manage a WordPress blog, for example, effortlessly with the ability to tweak a theme. Finally, the final two touch on digital citizenship and, in particular, understanding digital reputation and the footprint you leave as you interact online. Friedman states, “Google your name and see what pops up on the page. If you see anything incriminating or problematic, learn how to fix it.”

What I found most helpful about Friedman’s recommendations are the links to reputable online training modules and examples of how to building your own website, for example. Trying to understanding how to move forward with learning digital literacies skills can be difficult because of the overwhelming number resources and tools available. For example, Friedman recommends Strikingly as tool to build a website and start to build your online presence. What is important to remember is that while learning these tools and focusing on these six technical competencies for digital literacies is helpful and necessary, it isn’t the end of the story. Our digital toolbox will need to adjust to our needs–or the needs of our employer–as the future unravels. However, once we get a robust toolbox of digital literacies , we can begin thinking about how those tools are also relevant for related tools. For example, once one learns how to edit photos they can translate those skills into a wide variety of apps online or on mobile device.


During my research for the sixth standard I compiled a list of resources that provide training from technical skills, software skills, and more. Some of these I knew about prior and others I discovered in the different material I read–including Friedman’s Medium post. I haven’t researched each tool extensively, except, but they may prove useful for others and worth a look! I included a short commentary on each one.

    • A video library covering most software applications and more. Including Adobe Creative Cloud. Videos are made by professionals and are short and accessible (transcription!).
    • There is a cost, but some libraries and universities may provide free access for patrons and students, respectively.
  • Treehouse
    • Instructional video library
    • Learn web/app development
    • Not free
  • Udemy
    • Some free some cost money
    • Take courses on a wide variety of topics
    • Signup to be an instructor if you are an expert on a topic
  • Skillshare
    • MOOC like courses with instructors and assignments
    • Ability to become an instructor
    • Community sharing work they created and how they did it (project gallery)
    • Free (paid plans let you take courses–pays instructors–and includes over 1k courses)
  • Codecademy
    • Learn how to code


During my exploration phase I uncovered three main concerns/questions to ponder moving forward.

  • It would be interesting to see how a university might develop a digital toolbox course for graduating students. Something to launch students life-long learning, but also to make sure they graduate with not only broad digital literacy skills, but individual capabilities and knowledge of specific tools that should included in their digital toolbox, as Friedman discusses.
  • I wasn’t successful locating academic research discussing or advocating for specific skills needed. I understand this granularity of skill focus may quickly changes, but it would be helpful have a report every year of the top specific skills needed and how we can learn those skills. This is in addition to the more stable digital literacy skills.
  • Some of the resources cost money, but I recently learned both main library systems in the greater Seattle area (SPL and KCLS) offer Lynda membership for free. There is an opportunity for university libraries to learn about how they can provide these subscriptions or partner with their local library system. As students graduate there could be a web repository online for them to refer to when they leave. For example, showcasing online and local resources and digital technology trends. This past quarter the university librarian, Michael Paulus, and I taught an undergraduate course on digital wisdom for work and shared local resources including libraries and other online resources for the students to refer to, learn from, and connect with.


The integration phase consists of discussing the process with my cohort and professors. The exploration phase left me thinking there is a need to create a flexible and comprehensive education program for specific technical skills. My original idea was to integrate short courses partnering students with experts for short 1-2 day immersion courses on specific topics. For example, maybe during the 2016-2017 academic year one of the core concepts graduates need to know is how to use a new spreadsheet application launched as a competitor to Microsoft Excel. The 2-day course would be taught by a local business woman who works for a company that has implemented the application and requires their employees to use it. The course would focus on the similarities and differences with other competitors (i.e., Excel, Numbers, and Sheets), and provide scenarios about how the application would be used. Students would sign up for the course and learn the skills the university recommended for that year. The courses would be flexible enough to change yearly based on software development and trends in technological advancement. I also think there could be an option for different tracks for different disciplines. For example, one track might be for an accountant and another would be for a high school teacher. The short classes would adapt as necessary.

One part of this idea that I neglected was understanding how a university manages the program and how students share what they learned. My professor recommend integrating digital badges as a way for students to showcase exactly what they learned. This system allows for a granular approach that would meet the needs of quickly changing technical competencies while providing a lightweight system to manage for educators, such as a university.

Penn State is currently implementing digital badges. Below is a process graphic showcasing how it will work at their university.

L3_System_OverviewPurdue University created Passport to offer a fully inclusive system for educators to create digital badges and award them. They currently offer a trial for a limited number as a way to try it out. Educators use to manage their digital badges and award them. Purdue’s implementation include iOS, Android, and web apps. Their statement on why digital badges offers a helpful perspective on their importance, “More detailed than an academic transcript, Passport allows users to visually display their work as concrete evidence of their knowledge.”


I am excited to investigate Mozilla Backpack and their OpenBadges project. The benefit of using this system is the transferability across universities, business, and other companies or educational programs. Furthermore, it provides an extracurricular opportunity for a university, for example, to implement a robust and flexible educational technology training system that is lightweight and applicable for students. This program could partner with professors to create connections into the regular curriculum, but wouldn’t have to. A student could showcase their undergraduate degree and their 5 digital badges covering a wide range of topics on technological competencies. Prospective employers could dig into each badge to learn specifically what the student learned. Furthermore, the digital badge program doesn’t end after graduation. Students could return to the university for short educational opportunities to earn more badges on new topics or reup their technical competencies. For example, every year the new technical competencies digital badge is released with new and relevant skills for that year. The university could offer the classes to everyone as a way to spark an easy life long learning opportunity.

There is much more to work through on this topic, but there is a need for universities to create such a program for technical competencies that is more granular that overarching ideas and concepts. Tools such as are helpful and might be enough for most people, but digital badges could be a broadly accepted way to showcase a student’s certified knowledge without needing to impact the undergraduate curriculum. Digital badges offer a flexible and lightweight approach.

As always I invite your comments!. Furthermore, I am curious if you know about research on specific technical skills graduates need. For example, and annual report would be nice!

Process Graphic

Below is a graphic that outlines my thought process during the formation of this post. I am a huge fan of Evernote’s Scannable app and used that to capture it.


Bates, A. W. (n.d.). Building an effective learning environment. Teaching in a digital age (5). Retrieved from

Burning Glass Technologies (2015). Crunched by the numbers: the digital skills gap in the workforce. Retrieved from

Friedman, F.. (2013, October 14). Top 6 technical skills needed for new college grad. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

McLoughlin, C. (2011). What ICT-related skills and capabilities should be considered central to the definition of digital literacy? World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, 2011(1), 471-475.

O’Brien, D. & Scharber, C. (2008). Digital literacies go to school: Potholes and possibilities. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(1), 66-68. Retrieved from

Our Space: Being a Responsible Citizen of the Digital World (2011). The GoodPlay Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project New Media Literacies, University of Southern California. Retrieved from

Søby, M. (2003). Digital competence: from ICT skills to digital “bildung”. University of Oslo, Oslo. Retrieved from

  3 comments for “Develop a Digital Toolbox for University Students with Digital Badges

  1. Marsha Scott
    March 17, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Ryan, great job on the last ISTE standard! Your resolution of using digital badges is a great idea for students to showcase their technical competencies. Adding the flowchart helped to demonstrate the process of how students would obtain a badge. I can envision universities creating programs for digital badges and maybe even encourage businesses to provide input on the badge requirements. Great post!

  2. March 17, 2015 at 6:09 pm

    Great job, Ryan. After facilitating a badge-learning course, I am a big fan of the model and I would be grateful if more organizations went that direction. I think the more people get onboard, the more potential employers will look at badges for data on their candidates. Looking forward to you getting badges put in place at SPU!

  3. Janiess Sallee
    March 22, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Your posts are always incredibly thoughtful and insightful. I like the idea of digital badges and think this way of showing “competency” or “certification” may catch on over time. In particular, I like how you have considered integrating badging into the curriculum but also acknowledge that the process could exist outside the curriculum, too. Giving students options is a good way to go. Perhaps you could host a conversation at SPU about the value and implementation of digital badges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *