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Nursing faculty and students implement Passport badges to measure learning, achievement

When Pam Karagory hired nurses in the health care industry, she often wished for better ways to assess new graduates’ knowledge, skills and attitudes, which weren’t fully illustrated by their resumes or transcripts.

Today, Karagory and Kristen Kirby, both clinical assistant professors in Purdue’s School of Nursing, are partnering with ITaP on a system that enables nursing students to detail their learning and accomplishments for potential employers.

Relying on research and with input from three high-performing undergraduates in the College of Health and Human Sciences, the team developed a set of mandatory and optional health care-related digital badges—icons that represent academic achievements or skills in finer detail than a college degree—and housed them within ITaP’s Passport application.

nursing faculty and students
Representatives from Purdue's School of Nursing (from left) Kelly Dyer (student), Pam Karagory (clinical assistant professor), Elizabeth Oldenburg (student), Kristen Kirby (clinical assistant professor), and Megan Nowaczyk (student) have implemented Passport badges to measure academic learning and achievement.

One of the first badges created, for example, allows students to demonstrate the ability to improve the safety and quality of patient care and to lead health care teams effectively. Challenges in this badge are associated with real-world safety and quality improvement scenarios developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Challenges associated with another badge are achieved through real-world community safety and quality improvement projects that were added to sophomore nursing classes after a substantial revision to the School of Nursing curriculum.

“The rich, granular, contextual learning that resulted from these projects blew us away, but we had no mechanism to recognize students’ experiences other than a grade,” Karagory says. “This was senior-level work at the sophomore level. We wanted to provide our students the opportunity at a very early part of their educational trajectory to start making connections between what they were learning clinically and what was happening in the real world of health care.”

With Passport, such connections become visible in a digital portfolio. Each badge icon includes metadata such as who issued the badge, how it was earned and when it was earned. Individuals also can attach deliverables including essays, certificates, presentations and more to provide context that shows what they actually accomplished.

This is valuable because many health care organizations now only hire nurses from bachelor’s programs like Purdue’s and expect the graduates to have more than just necessary clinical skills, Karagory says. Badges are a way of showing that Purdue graduates possess leadership skill and other desired qualities, while also setting them apart from other programs’ graduates.

“I know that our Purdue nursing students are going to be the best hires, but an employer is not going to distinguish between an A from other schools and an A from Purdue,” Karagory says.

Moreover, Karagory says the health care industry also now views what used to be considered soft skills—leadership, communication, interpersonal and professional interactions—as essential for nurses to be successful.

leadership badge
Optional leadership badge

“Badges can illuminate students’ talent in innovation and research and their commitment to safety and patient-centered care, which is absolutely what the health care system needs,” Karagory says. “Additionally, data that show what these students did and the impact they’ve had on the community will help employers visualize the ways in which these young men and women can identify tough problems and develop solutions.”

Kirby says having student buy-in was a critical aspect of implementing the nursing badge program, which is why the instructors asked students Kelly Dyer, Megan Nowaczyk and Elizabeth Oldenburg to participate from the outset.

Nowaczyk, a junior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, says her proudest academic moment occurred a week after her team presented its final project to a community school board, when she learned the school would implement her recommended health care solutions. Her badge contains evidence of the hard work she put forth on the project.  

“Having more opportunities to show employers all the different skills we’ve acquired is a huge benefit,” Nowaczyk says. “Badges are something new and innovative that not a lot of other universities are implementing, so anything that helps us stand out from the crowd will motivate my classmates and me in the future.”

The nursing students and instructors are expanding their set of badges and exploring the possibility of developing a framework within the School of Nursing that will allow more students to participate.

Both faculty members encourage other instructors to reach out to ITaP’s Jason Fish, director of Informatics, if they’d like to learn more about using badges and Passport in their course or department.

“We saw this as an opportunity to embrace a new world of learning that’s about thinking bigger and setting the goal high,” Karagory says. “The folks from Informatics came in as partners because they want our students to be successful, too; working side by side as a collective group of faculty, staff and students really is what propels our students to make the world better.”

Writer: Andrea Thomas, ITaP technology writer, 765-496-8204, thomas78@purdue.edu

Sources: Kelly Dyer, senior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, dyerk@purdue.edu

Jason Fish, ITaP’s director of Informatics, 765-496-1088, jfish@purdue.edu

Pamela Karagory, director of continuing education and clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, 765-496-6397, pkaragor@purdue.edu

Kristen Kirby, clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing, kfkirby@purdue.edu

Megan Nowaczyk, junior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, mnowaczy@purdue.edu

Elizabeth Oldenburg, senior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, eoldenbu@purdue.edu

Last updated: April 17, 2014