Monday, April 27, 2015

Hollywood Airbrush Tanning Academy Issues Digital Badges

By Dan Hickey
My web crawler just picked up an intriguing new use of open badges as digital credentials for workplace competencies.  Hollywood Airbrush Tanning Academy partnered with Credly to offer digital badges for their graduates.  It was interested enough that I called Academy owner Simone Emmons to learn more. Sure enough, this example highlights some key points about alternative digital credentials.

Simone Emmons
One of the reasons why I was intrigued by this press release was because I suspect that some might initially find these badges trivial.  People always point to "attendance badges" as a  one of the reasons that many employers and universities have yet to take digital micro-credential serious. I  have been ranting about such "carpetbadging" for some time because it leads them to dismiss the value of other badges.
            But I was pretty sure that the folks at Credly would help Simone figure out how to get the necessary evidence into the Certified Airbrush Tanning Technician badge. That in turn might let me drive home the point that badges in and of themselves are largely meaningless.  Rather, it is the claims and evidence that the badges displaythe evidence that the badges link to, and the way this information takes on meaning as it gets stretched across issuers, earners, educators, and viewers.

It turns out that Simone (originally from Berlin) has previously led Human Resources departments in the manufacturing sector.  So she really “gets” credentials.  In 2011 she expanded her highly successful spray tanning studio in LA to establish one of the few places where you can learn spray tanning that focuses exclusively on education.  It turns out most of the other training opportunities are offered by distributors who also selling spray tanning products and equipment.  According to Simone—
 Training is actually really important in our industry.  There currently are no regulations and people can learn it on their own or from somebody whose real goal is selling equipment and projects. There are actually six different primary skin types, and people need to get expert instruction and practice matching solutions to skin type if they want to be certain they never turn anyone orange. Then the need to get hands-on instruction with the spray techniques themselves so they know they can do it correctly starting with their very first client.
That last part made me laugh.  It is one thing to get a haircut at a beauty salon.  I can imagine that nobody wants to be risk a botched spray tan from somebody who is ‘learning as they go.”
          Simone put up a blog post that explains how she worked with Credly to figure out how and how much evidence the could put in their badges.  If you click on the badge at that site or at the website of one of the earners, you can what the earner had to do to earn of the Certified Airbrush Technician badge:
The holder of this badge completed the hands-on Airbrush Tanning Course and is a certified Airbrush Tanning Technician with the Hollywood Airbrush Tanning Academy. The holder of this badge has learned the advanced Hollywood spray tanning technique and knows how to match spray tanning solution to different skin types, how to spray tan with an HVLP system/spray gun, and has spray tanned 3-4 models.
The badge includes links back to Tanning Academy website where you can learn more.  For example, you can learn that the the training can be completed in one day.  If you go the the Academy page at Credly you can see that as of today sixteen people have earned this badge. This information takes on different meaning for different audiences.  Consider for example:

  • If you were somebody trying to get a tanning business off the ground, this evidence might  be just what your first paying clients might need
  • If you were a potential customer, you might learn that solutions need to be matched to different skin types and that some potential tanners were trained by vendors--making for a more informed consumers.
  •  If you were a stylist for one of the celebrity clients like those who go to Simone's own studio, you might want evidence of more experience and expertise.
  • If you were a satisfied customer, you might you might follow the links to learn about the academy and take the class yourself and try to break into the business.
  • If you were looking for somebody in your town to offer this service or an somebody to freelance in your salon, you might find someone at the Credly site.
It is worth noting that the evidence link in each of the badges simply links to a picture of the earner smiling holding the traditional certificate that they earned.  Of course, in many badges this link goes back to addition evidence supporting those claims.  For example, the Credly badge that I earned for doing a virtual presentation at the EDUCAUSE annual meeting includes extensive details about the conference along with an evidence link back to a recording of the actual webinar that I presented and the slides from my talk.
        Certainly Simone might have include more information, such as the level expertise the training demonstrated at the end of their training. But that would have been overkill.  And that brings me to the point of this post. This example that some might initially find trivial actually nicely illustrates how digital badges allow issuers to adapt the rigor or their credentials to the context, and how this information can then circulate in social networks that allows web-enabled information about education and competencies to circulate in professional networks.  That allows this information to both take on new meaning and create new meaning.

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