University-Verified Badges Present Students More Professionally

Students and university staff say the badges are tailor-made for job searches.

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When Zoë Ruderman, an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, blogged about a recent study that found that about 92 percent of Billboard magazine's highest ranked songs contained "reproductive messages," she referred to the author as "Psychology professor Dawn R. Hobbs." The Evolutionary Psychology study cited Hobbs's institutional affiliation at the University at Albany—SUNY's psychology department, which could be why Ruderman's colleagues at the Atlantic, TIME, Syracuse Post-Standard, and the blog Jezebel also identified Hobbs as a professor.

But the blogger from All Over Albany, who took the time to search for Hobbs online, learned from her readabout.me profile that she wasn't a professor. In fact, she'd just earned her bachelor's degree from Albany five months earlier. That's exactly the kind of fact checking that readMedia is hoping for, according to Colin Mathews, CEO of the Albany, N.Y.-based company. ReadMedia sells its software to about 400 colleges and universities, which use it to vouch for students' educational status and achievements.

According to Mathews, students' online presences are mostly dominated by Facebook posts, which employers are increasingly checking and that don't necessarily represent students in the best light. Readabout.me improves students' online reputations by digitizing real-world "artifacts"—such as a diploma or dean's list certificate—that don't tend to surface online, and giving students university-verified and easily shareable webpages that employers can trust, he says.

Each student is issued a free profile, which collates that student's badges and makes it easy for the school to notify the student's hometown newspaper about the achievements. ReadMedia's software, which ranges in cost from "mid four figures to the low five figures" depending on school size, according to Mathews, lets colleges and universities issue digital badges to students who have graduated, made dean's list, or achieved other milestones.

"Readabout.me isn't intended to be an alternative to Facebook," says Mathews, "but it is intended to give [students] a professional presence within those Google search results that is more appropriate than Facebook might be."

[Learn how digital badges could significantly impact higher education.]

"It's a stronger validation of what that student has accomplished than a student simply asserting those things in a résumé, or saying them in an interview, or just putting a sticker on their car saying they attended a particular university," Mathews says.

More than 670,000 students have readabout.me profiles, and Clemson University in South Carolina is one of the larger schools in the network. Although ReadMedia lets students add photos to their profiles, it purposely curbs the kind of "self expression" that's rampant on Facebook, Mathews says.

Eastern Connecticut State University, which issues 11 readabout.me badges for distinctions such as studying abroad and making dean's list or honor society, is one of the schools that has purchased a customized landing page.

ECSU senior Kate Harner, who has earned two badges for drama performances and one for community service, believes her readabout.me page could help in her future job search. "I think this is a great way to organize all the information that I personally would like my future employers to know about me," she says.

[Learn to craft your message before job hunting on social media.]

Tito Valdes, a sophomore at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., whose readabout.me page helped him get mentioned in his hometown paper, Lebanon Daily News, agrees that the announcement could help his career. "You never know who's looking at the newspaper," he says.

Valdes says it felt good to learn from a friend that he'd been mentioned in the paper. "College is a time where you are working so hard, and it just feels nice to be recognized," he says.

Sometimes there can be a fine line between recognition and being too accessible, though. Valdes, who has uploaded his photo to his readabout.me page, isn't concerned about his hometown showing up in a map under his name, but he'd understand if others were nervous about their privacy . "It doesn't scare me, he says, "[but] that could be a concern."