Bringing Digital Literacies to Life using portfolios and digital badges for an authentic learning and an online presence

University of Southampton

The University of Southampton is a research-led institution, based on the south coast of England, about 1 hour and 20 minutes from London. It has 24,000 students and comprises of 8 Faculties, from Engineering and Computer Science to Nursing, Business and Art. With such a broad base of disciplines there is never going to be a 'one size fits all' tool to support the integration of technology to enhance learning. However, through working with our Innovation and Digital Literacies Champions (iChamps) we have gone some way to bringing a consistent approach to developing digital literacies skills for both staff and students and whatever projects they work on we have applied two tools - Open Badges and a Pathbrite portfolio to capture their work and enhance their skills.

Digital Literacies Skills Development

Digital Literacies skills development is fundamental for any effective use of technology to enhance learning. When we mention digital literacies we are referring to the skills to create content, be critical thinkers, citizenship, collaborate, communicate etc.

"Functional technical skills + critical thinking + social engagement = digital literacy" (Josie Fraser, TEDx Leicester, 2015)

Digital is everywhere

Developing digital literacies skills allow our students and staff to thrive in an modern society. Technology has infiltrated our lives through the consumerisation of devices, an almost ubiquitous use of smartphones (90% of students own a smartphone/cell) iPads, smart watches, wearables all contribute to our connected lives. Digital literacies skills ensure or allow us to have the opportunity to take advantage of the affordances of these tools and therefore engage effectively in a global world.

Blended Learning

Even more importantly, the development of digital literacies skills are an important part of blended learning activities and should be part of any strategy to increase the adoption of blended learning practices. Coupled with evidence based learning, they are a powerful tool for supporting staff and students to engage in the effective application of technology enhanced learning

Innovation and Digital Literacies Champions (iChamps)

12-16 student champions working with academics on projects relating to:

The development of digital literacies skills

Discipline areas are Medicine; History; Modern Languages; Music; Chemistry; Biological Sciences; Social Enterprise, Social Sciences and Geography

All the projects are aligned to the discipline areas of the students and the academic chooses the student to work with. They are then supported to develop their own skills and become part of a network of students. We communicate via Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and anything else that is appropriate for their work. The focus is on flexibility and enabling communication to suit their needs.

We looked at what they could be awarded as part of the co-curricular activities and our existing award was inappropriate, the Graduate Passport was paper-based and not suited to the types of media that the iChamps were using. In order to do this we looked at Open Badges which supported digital skills of the students and provided them with the recognition that was appropriate for the work that they were doing.

The projects that the students have been involved in are based around 'need' and not the technology. We always have a 'pedagogy first' approach. Their projects have included:

  • eBooks - for fieldwork
  • Blogging for assessment
  • Interactive video for revision sessions
  • Lab resources for Chemistry students
  • Working with apps such as RefMe and Nearpod
  • Developing Open badges

We created open badges for the students to provide a framework for their work. There are three 'milestone' badges: The Digital Citizen Badge; The Workshop Badge and the Education Enhancer badge. Once all three have been awarded, then the iChamp badge is given. These then form part of their online presence and are displayed within their LinkedIn profiles, webpages or wherever they would feel was appropriate.

The Badges have been designed to fit with the work or projects that the students are involved in and as such provide a scaffold for both staff and students, as the academic staff have a structure within which to work, and can suggest projects that fit the remit of developing digital skills.

We have been piloting the use of badge issuing systems. We need a tool that is easy to use, scalable and fits with existing systems.

This has been harder to find than we originally thought. The systems are all useful and have their own merits, however, we need to be able to issue at scale and this may need some support from our university IT systems department. The badge systems we have looked at are:

Open Badge Passport

Open Badge Academy


All of these systems provide effective systems for issuing badges. Both Credly and Open Badge Academy provide display functionality as part of their system. However, Open Badge Factory offers a separate free system called Open Badge Passport for displaying the Badge evidence

Portfolios for evidence based learning

In homage to Kate Coleman,  and inspired by her work bringing Portfolios and Badges together, we wanted the iChamps to provide evidence and think about the work that they were doing (we don't use the word evaluation, it puts them off!) The work that they were doing is extremely valuable and provided an authentic evidence base of their skills and who they were. The Badges support their work and provide defined sets of skills with the evidence for these activities held within their portfolios. Each badge links back to the portfolio. The portfolios belong to the students and supports all their work, personal lives and interests. The portfolio is more than a badge, it is a collection of their successes and thoughts and becomes part of their managed identity.

The Portfolio Project

University wide portfolio project

Working on the model of the iChamps the university funded a two year project to extend the concepts identified within the iChamps activities to scale up across the university

Led by Dr Eleanor Quince with Fiona Harvey, Charlotte Medland, Stephan Caspar, Dr Sally Hayward and Alistair McDonald we were successful in securing about £30,000 (around $43, 389) to bring the portfolio into the curriculum in and also to introduce open digital badges where appropriate. The project is still live and will be completed next year (July 2017).

The mini-projects within the overarching Univeristy Portfolio Projects cover:

  • a predicted 600 students across the Humanities Faculty. The focus was on The HumsEmployable project where groups of students are invited to attend lectures and seminars where employability skills are the focus. These would then be included in their portfolios.
  • Professional Skills for Geographers
  • Competences for Audiology
  • Engineering Design project
  • Evaluation of the Student Champions
Case Study - GEOG1010

GEOG1010 - Geographical, Quantitative and Field Skills (Professional Skills for Geographers) was adapted to address the need for students to benefit from developmental work to enhance their employability. The module was for 250 students, all very reluctant to engage in a module that they felt was irrelevant. Previous to the project it was based on exams and coursework. The module has been adapted to demonstrate value to the students so that they capture evidence of their professional skills which can then be displayed as part of their online presence.

Three badges of 'Creativity', 'Communication', 'Curiosity' each offering the opportunity to gather evidence to demonstrate their personal interpretation of these topics. The criteria for the evidence is held within their portfolio which can be publicly viewed. The best portfolio will be judged by an external organisation who will award a prize. This has now been extended to the same students as they go into their second year and to the new UG cohort.

Level 2 Professional Skills Badge

Students in GEOG1010 go into their second year and are working towards their Level 2 Professional Skills badge. They continue to use their portfolios and add their evidence that they started to develop in their first year. By the time they graduate, they should have an authentic record of their own development and will be able to demonstrate that they are able to a variety of skills including be able to reflect on their learning, communicate effectively, critical thinking etc.

Successes so far have been that the students are more engaged, providing feedback to staff on their submissions and getting feedback through rubrics within Pathbrite. Attendance is up from 20% to 80% and staff on the course feel that they can offer more support to the students.

Level 1 - Professional Geographer

Continual Evaluation

There has been a positive response across the projects from both staff and students. Students are really pleased with their portfolios and staff can also benefit as they feel that the feedback they provide has more value. There are more opportunities to provide comments and support progress, something that they could not do through end of semester exams and coursework. The students are adding to their portfolios, including personal activities as well as co-curricular.


Within any large institution there will always be challenges and not everything will fit each discipline area.

  • How do we scale this up for all students? It is not a seamless process and some tools fit better than others (issuing systems for example)
  • One size does not fit all - needs of portfolios can differ between professional standards and general use
  • Risk-adversity environment. How do we support staff to experiment with a new form of assessment and feedback in an age of NSS and TEF?
Positive Benefits

Students can see that they have 'managed' their online presence.

When the students started their portfolios they were unware of how 'random' their postings were. By bringing together badges and portfolios they have been able to manage their online presence with a sense of purpose. Students have also reported that they feel more confident and are able to articulate more clearly what skills they have and where they applied them.

Staff feel more motivated, more satisfied and feel that they have been able to engage effectively with their students. Their own skills have been developed and some academic staff are interested in developing their own portfolios for their own CPD.

Project end: July 2017.


Created By
Fiona Harvey


Created with images by empeiria - "Open Badges - Freie Abzeichen" • BenGrantham - "University of Southampton - Highfield Campus" • kaboompics - "man reading touchscreen" • Unsplash - "phone cell cell phone" • geralt - "thinking thinking work man" • skeeze - "independence day fourth of july fireworks" • magnetbox - "Thank you, thank you" plus various photos owned by Fiona Harvey of the University of Southampton iChamps

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