To state the obvious: the COVID-19 crisis has led to rapid digitalisation of processes across all industries. According to the new McKinsey Global Survey of executives, within a few months companies were able to accelerate the digitisation of their internal processes by three to four years, and the share of digital products in their portfolios by a shocking seven years.
Similar acceleration has been seen in higher education: teaching, learning, awards, and more, have now been made digital at most universities across the UK; the use of virtual classrooms increased by over 9000%; roles such as “Head of Digital Education” and “Director of Digital Learning Technologies'' have proliferated to ensure smooth transition to a digital education environment. This transformation has led to the numerous improvements to the student offering:
- The functional improvement (in some cases creation) of the digital learning environment
- Fuller access to learning analytics to identify at-risk students and supports they need for learning success
- Improved capacities for assessment (including proctoring and plagiarism detection);
- Enhanced accessibility to (online) continuing professional development opportunities 
These are just a few examples of the utility of digitalisation in the educational sector. The question should then be asked: why should we wait for such dramatic circumstances to implement new technology that improves our student offering?
This week, Tom Lowe, the Director of Employability at the University of Winchester, discusses the importance of technological progress in the educational sector.
As Tom explained, one area that has high potential for technological advancement, to better surface student skills, is found in student awards. Universities are now digitally recording and issuing student achievements through three main methods:
- Through their Learning Management System
- The HEAR
- Digital credentialing platforms
Let's take a look at how they work.
Through the Learning Management System
The first step to digitisation of transcripts was, naturally, offering them through the university’s portal. This was an effective “quick fix” to resolve the logistical issues of physical transcript distribution. However, as they solely function as digital representations of physical certificates - i.e. PDFs - they serve little more than as closure to students that they have completed their studies, and do not effectively communicate their developed skills to employers.
- Picture of pdf certificate
The HEAR was adopted by many, and is certainly a step in the right direction. By allowing the notation of skills and wider student achievements, students could now demonstrate to employers the meaning of their degree completion that was closer to reality, including all of their wider experiences and opportunities that previously only the student was aware of.
- - Picture of HEAR
However, many have expressed their concerns of its utilisation, with university staff often overlooking it, and employers not being able to understand it.
Digital credentialing platforms
Subsequently, specialised ‘digital credentialing software’ have started to gain in popularity. Offered by businesses that specialise in digital awarding processes, these platforms provide universities access to a toolkit that integrates with their systems so that they gain instant access to a digital credential value chain, i.e. designing, issuing, managing, and verifying credentials. Additional features - such as student profiles - further improve value for students, providing them an effective way to store and manage all of their achievements, while surfacing the meaning and the skills they have developed through advanced digital certificates.
- Image of digital certificate
How does your team surface the skills of your students? What challenges have you faced in awarding certificates during the pandemic? Share your thoughts and experiences below.