Micro-Credentialing for Teachers: Bite sized professional development opportunities!

August 10, 2015 Jonathan Martin

Never has there been so much for educators to learn—and never has there been such an enormous diversity of proficiency and wisdom in the ranks of educators.

Plus, even though we’re all learning all the time, it is still so hard to organize, track, and document what we’ve learned, for whatever professional purposes we might want to use that documentation.

Solutions are coming soon to a website near you.  Educators planning to make 2015-16 a year of extraordinary professional learning might want to consider whether a program of collecting micro-credentials, or digital badges, will serve to motivate, focus, organize, and document their professional growth.

We all know what a credential is, and what it takes to achieve one.   Although sometimes a credential does require some “seat time,” (such as a teaching credential which requires the completion of a certain number of course-hours), often credentials are earned mostly by the demonstration of proficiency, not completion.

Micro-credentials are exactly that, but smaller, bite size, awarded for the demonstration of very specific competencies.  And what comes with a micro-credential is not a certificate or a diploma, but a badge.  This is familiar to many readers, I realize, but for those it is not, think Boy Scout or Girl Scout Merit Badges.

In today’s digital environment, you can create an account to host your badges, such as Mozilla’s Open Badges platform (http://openbadges.org/),  Credly (https://credly.com/), or Achievery, (http://achievery.com/ )  and export them to LinkedIn, Twitter, or elsewhere.

As a recent Time magazine article explained, “The idea of micro-credentials grew out of the “digital badging” movement led primarily by the Mozilla and MacArthur Foundations. These organizations describe digital badges, or micro-credentials, as “an online record of achievements” that track both who issued the credentials as well as the work that was actually completed to get them. In other words, a micro-credential not only represents mastery of skill, but it is also linked to an online portfolio that shows colleagues, and potentially employers, how that particular person demonstrated his or her mastery.” (http://time.com/3818184/the-next-experiment-in-education/?p=3818184?xid=tcoshare)

A slew of organizations, both corporate and public/nonprofit (New Milford High School- http://www.worlds-of-learning-nmhs.com/) are getting into the game of designing and awarding badges. Digital Promise, the exciting nonprofit chartered by Congress and launched by President Obama in 2011 under the leadership of education technology guru Karen Cator, is taking a lead in promoting and developing the teacher micro-credential concept.

On its website they explain how they are “building a coalition of educators and partners to develop a micro-credential system that provides teachers with the opportunity to gain recognition for skills they master throughout their careers.  As an emerging professional development strategy, educator micro-credentials can enable our public education system to continuously identify, capture, recognize, and share the best practices of America’s educators so all teachers can hone their existing skills and learn new ones.”

The pilot is now open (http://www.digitalpromise.org/page/s/micro-credentials-summer-pilot-program) and enterprising educators can become part of the pioneers in this experience, earning micro-credentials in topics such as “Eliciting Thinking with Open-Ended Content Questions,” “Outdoor Classroom Management,” and “Community Mapping.”

A new set of Digital Promise micro-credentials I’m particularly impressed by and excited about is funded by the Hewlett Foundation, called “Supporting Deeper Learning in the Classroom.”  Deeper Learning, as many readers realize, is a movement built upon the excellent project-based learning happening in schools such as High Tech High and New Tech Network schools, and is fast becoming an alternate, and perhaps better, way of describing 21st century skills and learning.

Digital Promise has built a wide array of Deeper Learning competencies, and from them generated 40 new micro-credentials which educators can earn to demonstrate their proficiency as DL instructors.  They are described in a colorful and comprehensive 21 page guide, available at the site. (http://www.digitalpromise.org/page/-/dpdocuments/microcredentials/mc_deeperlearning.pdf?nocdn=1)

For the Deeper Learning competency “Learn How to Learn,” as an example,  several micro-credentials are available for teachers who wish to develop and demonstrate their master ability to teach this skill.  Three of them follow:

“Design Thinking and Doing: applying both design thinking and a proven, multistage design and development process to create an innovative and entrepreneurial solution to a problem.

Self-Reliance and Autonomy: —developing the ability to think, feel, and make decisions on one’s own and to guide one’s own learning through a variety of learning strategies that put students in the center of their learning and their lives.

Choosing Learning Strategies: – matching learning goals with appropriate learning strategies for powerful learning and personal empowerment

So for instance, if you wish to earn your micro-credential for “choosing learning strategies,” you’re asked to design and implement a lesson supporting students in becoming more skilled at practicing this skill, a lesson which will facilitate their knowledge about when to select from among various such approaches.  Various explanatory resources—articles, websites, videos— are provided to instruct you in this technique.    You’d then submit answers to questions about your lesson plan and how you know students did indeed strengthen their ability to “choose learning strategies,” along with artifacts of student work from the lesson and student self-reflections about their learning.  These materials would then be evaluated and approved in order for the credential to be awarded.

Educational leaders will have much to consider as micro-credentials become more widely available and explored.   How will schools motivate teachers to pursue them, and how will they be recognized and rewarded?    It’s easy to imagine a school deciding in a given year to prioritize for instance project-based learning, and to say to teachers that they’ll be stipended for every badge in PBL earned, or given release time from other obligations (including PBL in-services/PD).   But how this will work in detail will demand careful attention.

The other inevitable implication of educators adapting to and embracing micro-credentialing and badging for their professional learning is the migration of the concept to our student learning.   A teacher who has spent a year earning various badges for project-based learning might turn around and design a year-long course for their students in which they are required to earn a certain number of badges for algebra competencies or American History knowledge.  So-called “competency-based education” (CBE) is likely part of every student’s future, and our schools need to start now determining how to implement this approach.

Teachers can’t teach what they can’t know.  By diving into their own CBE experiences, and using micro-credentialing as a way to strengthen their appreciation and understanding of the process, they will be that much better prepared to provide the same for their students. Everyone wins.

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