In this episode, we discuss the growing role of microcredentials in higher education with Jill Pippin (Dean of Extended Learning at SUNY-Oswego), Nan Travers (Director of the Center for Leadership in Credentialling Learning at Empire State College), and Ken Lindblom (Dean of the School of Professional Development at the State University of New York at Stony Brook). Jill, Nan, and Ken are members of a State University of New York task force on microcredentials.
- Connecting Credentials Project
- Lumina Foundation on Connecting Credentials Project
- Family Residences and Essential Enterprises (FREE)
- IMS Global Learning Consortium
- SUNY Micro-credentialing Task Force Report and Recommendations – January 2018
Rebecca: Our guests today are: Jill Pippin, the Dean of Extended Learning at SUNY-Oswego; Nan Travers, the Director of the Center for Leadership and Credentialing Learning at Empire State College; and Ken Lindblom, the Dean of the School of Professional Development at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
John: Welcome, everyone!
Nan: Thank you. Hello.
Jill: Thank you.
Ken: It’s good to be here.
John: Our teas today are:
Rebecca: Jasmine green tea.
Jill: I actually don’t drink tea.
John: Oh… here we go again…. Okay, Nan?
Nan: I’m drinking Celestial Seasons Bengal Spice.
John: …and, Ken?
Ken: My tea today is coffee.
John: …we get a lot of that…. Ok.
…and I have black raspberry green tea from Tea Republic.
So, today we’re going to be talking about microcredentials. Would someone like to tell us a little bit about what microcredentials are?
Ken: Sure, I’d be happy to tell you a bit about what microcredentials are. So there are traditional microcredentials that most people know all about, such as certificates, minors, or just either credit or non-credit certificates. So they’re pieces of larger degrees, but there are now new digital microcredentials that are having a bigger impact on the field, and that internet technology has allowed us to take more advantage of. So there are internet certificates and there are also digital badges, which are icons that can be put on a LinkedIn resume or shared through somebody’s website or on a Twitter feed… and they indicate that the earner of the microcredential has developed particular skills or abilities that will be useful in the workplace.
Nan: …and just to add to what Ken has said, with the open digital badges that are out there, they actually hold on to all of the information around the assessed learning…. the different competencies that an individual has, and the ways in which they’ve assessed it. So if they’re used, let’s say, in the workplace, an employer could actually click into the badge and be able to see exactly how the person has been assessed… which gives a lot of information that a traditional transcript does not give, because it does have that background information in there.
John: Who can issue microcredentials? or who does issue microcredentials?
Jill: …really industry, colleges, various and sundry types of organizations.
Ken: Yeah, in fact, Jill’s right. There’s no real regulation of microcredentials right now. So they can be given by any group that simply creates a microcredential and awards it to someone… and then they say what it is. So the microcredential’s value is really based on the reputation of the issuer.
Honestly, universities and colleges are pretty slow to get to this kind of technology, as we often are. So it’s new for us, but there are private companies that have been issuing them, and there been individual instructors at the college, and especially at the k-12 level, who have been using badge technology to motivate and to assess student work for quite a few years… but for the university level, this is exciting new territory that we’re really jumping into now.
Jill: Yeah, microcredentials are shorter… they’re more flexible…. and they’re very skill based… and so they’re new for colleges, I think in a lot of ways….. maybe not so much for our non-credit side of the house… those that have been doing training programs and things are very practical… skill-based pieces… but in terms of having ladders to credit and having credit courses seen through the lens of a smaller chunk of time, and of topic area, and focus… I think that’s the real change or the real difference in micro-credentialing than from a traditional environment…
Nan: …and what’s really important here is that the demand for these really, in many ways, is coming from industry where they really need better signals as to what people know and what they can do, and as Jill just mentioned, that they’re very skills based. This enables somebody to be able to get a good idea about what a potential employee is able to do. So the demand for microcredentials is really increasing, as industry are using them more and more and there’s many different groups that are really focused on using either the microcredentials, or specifically the badges (which is really a type of microcredential). There are some projects right now where there are whole cities that have come together and have been developing microcredentials and badging systems to make sure that all people in the community have the ability to show those skills as they go for employment. There are also some companies that are starting to come out. For example, there’s a company called “Degreed,” which is degreed.com. It’s a company that enables people to get their skills assessed and microcredentialed, and at the same time working with companies… there’s some big companies such as Bank of America… there’s many other ones that are on their website listed… and they work with the companies and identify the different skills that people need… and then credential the people who are trying to apply with those…. so that there’s a real matching. It becomes a competency-based employment matching system in many ways.
Ken: Some of the ways that badges have been useful are exactly what Nan and Jill are saying, that it’s come from the employers who are asking for specific information about what students will come to them with. We are also able to develop badges in concert with specific employers, if there’s particular training or education or sets of skills or abilities that they’d like their applicants to have… but there’s also another great advantage to microcredentials, particularly badges, that allow us to show the in-depth learning that goes on in classes. My other hat, other than Dean, is that I’m a Professor of English, and so in a lot of humanities courses the direct connection to skills isn’t as obvious to people as it is in an area say like teacher education. So what we can do with a badge is we can point out the specific skills that students are developing in a class on rhetorical theory, or on Shakespearean plays, or whatever. We can point out the analytical learning that they’re doing, the kind of critical thinking, the kind of communicative writing, so that those courses translate into the kind of skills that people are looking for… and of course, our students are picking those things up, but now we can make it more visible as a result of the technology of digital badges.
Jill: It’s an exciting time in higher education. I mean it really is, in terms of microcredentials, because higher ed has the opportunity to validate those credentials. A lot of them, as we said before, have been out there… non-credit skill-based smaller chunks of learning… but the idea of having them all kind of on the same playing field… and almost apples-to-apples in terms of validating learning outcomes… and making sure they’re part of a longer pathway toward higher education. It’s really exciting.
John: When someone sees a transcript and sees English 101 or English 373 or Eco 101, it doesn’t really tell the employer that much about what the students actually learned, but the microcredentials provide information about specific skills that would be relevant. Is there much evidence of the impact this has on employability or in terms of career placement?
Nan: There has been some work that is being done on that, and as I mentioned there are some companies that are even starting to get in the field because there is such a high demand for companies to be able to do competency-based hiring. There’s an initiative that the Lumina Foundation has been funding called Connecting Credentials and, in that initiative, they’ve been looking at microcredentials as a piece of that. That initiative has brought together many different businesses, organizations, and higher education together at the table to really discuss ways in which credentials can better serve all of those different sectors… and so some of the work that they have been working on and that can be viewed at connectingcredentials.org has really been looking at some of the impact of microcredentials on employability.
John: Based on that, I would think, that when colleges are coming up with microcredential programs, it might be useful to work with businesses and to get feedback from businesses on what types of skills they’re looking for… for guidance or some help in designing microcredential programs?
Ken: Yeah. I can talk a little bit about some experience we’ve had at Stony Brook on that. We’ve been working with an organization called FREE which is Family Residences and Essential Enterprises. They’re a large agency that supports students, children, and adults with disabilities… and we worked with them to create several badges that align directly with their national standards and the certification needs of their employees. So now we’ve got a system where one of the things that their employees need is food literacy. If they’re running a house for people with disabilities, people who need assistance, they have to be able to demonstrate that they’re able to produce healthy nutritious meals… and so once they’ve gone through this training, which is specifically aligned with their curriculum, having earned the badge will demonstrate that the employee has developed that set of skills. We’ve also got one for them on leadership among their managers and we’re developing more… and the fact that we’ve developed that with the employer… and now the employer is actually contracting with us to deliver that instruction to their employees. We’ve done really well and we’ve issued well over a hundred badges to that agency in just about a year.
Nan: There’s also, as we think about it from an employability perspective… there is also another important area that’s happening with the microcredentials and the badges in higher education…is to really be looking at some of those more liberal arts kinds of skills: being able to be a good communicator… to have good resiliency… these are also very important pieces that go into being a good worker… and so there are many institutions as we look across the United States that are really looking at some of these broader skills. There’s also some work that’s being done on the student services side which is really looking at how students have been engaging and being involved within the institution. So, there are these other pieces that also help to build that whole person… how somebody really is involved in higher education… what they know… what they can do… and the kinds of different volunteer pieces… as well as the different kinds of things that they have engaged while they are they are there: working in teams, doing different projects. So, there’s lots of different ways of using those badges. There are also some institutions who are using these badges as a beginning point for students. For some people, it’s scary to start at higher ed again, and to be able to take a little bit of a program that’s a smaller program that actually has a credential at the end of it, is a really motivating thing. Students come away saying: “Well I did that. I can do more…” and so it becomes a really good recruitment tool… but it also is a real good student support tool in order to help people start the path of education as well.
Ken: …and you know, Nan, that’s an important point too… and it works the other way for people who are in, let’s say a master’s degree program…. they don’t not learn anything new until the very end when they’re issued the degree… they’re actually building skills and developing abilities all along the way. So, what the digital badge or a microcredential can do is make visible the learning that they’re doing along the way. So after three or four courses, they’ve earned a credential that demonstrates that value. So they don’t have to wait until they finish 10 or 11 courses.
John: So, it lets them have small goals along the way, and they’re able to achieve success, and perhaps help build a growth mindset for those students who might not have done that otherwise.
Ken: Well put, John.
John: How does this integrate with traditional courses? Are there badges that are offered… or a given badge might be offered by multiple courses? or do individual courses offer multiple badges or microcredentials?
Ken: It can go in lots of different ways. There are instructors who build badging into their own classes. Those aren’t really microcredentials the way we’re talking about them. We’re talking about microcredentials that are somewhere between a course and a degree. So, at Stony Brook, for example, we have what we call a university badge program, and in order for a University badge to exist, it must require between 2 and 4 4-credit courses. So a total of 6 to 12 credits, that’s the point at which students can earn a university badge at Stony Brook University. Those courses work together. So, for example, we have a badge in design thinking, and in order to earn that badge students must get at least a “B” on two courses that we have on design thinking. We also have a badge in employer-employee relations within our Human Resources program… and in order to earn that badge, there are three specific classes that students have to take and earn at least a B on each of those classes.
Nan: So, there is also another approach in terms of thinking about how the microcredentials can intersect and kind of interface with the traditional credentials, the traditional degrees, and that’s through different forms of prior learning assessment. So, what we also see is that students come with licenses, certifications, different kinds of these smaller credentials that represent verifiable college-level learning… and through either an individualized portfolio assessment process or, at our institution at SUNY Empire State College, we also have a process called professional learning evaluations… where we go in and evaluate training, licenses, certifications, and those are evaluated for college credit . Those are then also integrated within the curriculum, and treated as… really transfer credit… they’re advanced standing credit. So, students also have the ability to bring knowledge with them through the microcredentials… they’ve been verified by another organization, and then we re-verify that learning at a college level to make sure that it is valid learning for a degree… and then integrate it within the curriculum.
John: In Ken’s case, it sounds like the microcredential is more than a course, in other cases it might be roughly equivalent to a course… or might it sometimes be less than a course? Where a course might provide individuals with specific skills, some which they might have in other courses? or is that less common?
Jill: You’re right, there’s a spectrum. So, for instance if you look at it from a traditional standpoint, a technology course might already have an embedded microcredential in the form of OSHA training, for example. That’s a microcredential, in that particular example, and so we have the opportunity to look at the skill based smaller chunks that may be very specific to an occupation or employers need for someone to have those skills and be able to put some framework around it so that it can be understood and communicated to an employer.
Ken: One of the exciting things about badging and microcredentials right now which Jill alluded to earlier is that there really isn’t any regulation regarding them yet. So when you say a college degree, that has a standardized meaning but when you say a microcredential or a digital badge, there’s no standardized meaning whatsoever, so what we’re doing is we’re creating different versions of microcredentials and the meaning of them is dependent on that specific situation. So one of the things that’s exciting about being a University in a College is we can really bring academic rigor to these no matter how many skills and what level of learning of the digital badge represents… you know because it comes from a university particularly a SUNY it’s going to be a high quality badge. But it’s incumbent upon the one who’s reading the badge to understand what that badge actually means, and depending where it comes from, depending on the size of the badge, and what the number of skills and abilities aligned to it are, the badge means different things and that’s why it’s so important that the badge includes the metadata – all that in depth and formation that you get when you click on the digital badge icon and all of that information pops up.
Nan: In addition, nationally the IMS global learning community has been developing standards and hopefully there’ll be national standards around the data, how that’s reported, and being able to allow people to really understand and compare the attributes of the criteria of how it’s been assessed, and so there’s a great deal of work that’s being done at a national level to really be thinking about how we can have some good standardization and guidelines around what we mean by certain things in the digital badging. So I think that’s something to pay attention to in terms of what’s coming about.
Ken: Yes it’s exciting space before the standardization has been done, because there’s a lot of innovative potential there, but as we standardize there’ll be more comparability and that’ll be easier to do. So, we may lose some of that innovation later but we’ll just have to see. It’s very interesting to be at the beginning of this process like this because degrees were really kind of finalized at the end of the 19th century, and now at the beginning of the 21st century we’re reinventing that kind of work.
John: Now earlier, it was suggested that other groups have been creating micro-credentials in industry and private firms. One of the advantages, I would think, perhaps that colleges and universities would have is a reputation for certifying skills. Does a reputation of colleges perhaps in universities give us a bit of an edge in creating microcredentials compared to industry?
JILL : One would hope, however there are examples of all sorts of industry entities out there that are offering microcredentials – think of the coding academies that are prolific and they’re very skill based, very specific to an industry, in the industries needs the employers understand what that outcome is from that training and they’re able to therefore value it, and the employee is able to communicate it very effectively. But where I think the colleges have an opportunity and universities have an opportunity to really shine here is that this is where we have the experts, we have people who are very well-versed and researched in their area of scholarship, and they’re able to really look at curriculum and validate it, and make sure that it is expressed in terms of college-level learning outcomes.
Nan: In addition, I think that higher ed has the opportunity to really integrate the industry certifications with curriculum and the stacking process bringing in those microcredentials from industry or having them right within the higher ed curriculum and then being able to roll that in and build it into the curriculum, so that a degree, I can imagine, as we evolve higher education over the next decade or so, that people as they graduate… they’re graduating with a college degree, they’re graduating also with microcredentials, and together they’re able to really indicate what a student knows and what a student can do which really can help the student a great deal more than when it’s just a degree that doesn’t really spell out what some of the details about what somebody knows.
Rebecca: I’m curious whether or not there’s any conversations happening with accreditation organizations about micro credentialing and how they might be involved in the conversation.
Nan: So at this point there are conversations that are happening at the accreditation level and for example, every regional accreditation agency has policy around the assessment of learning. Sometimes specifically around prior learning assessment, sometimes around transfer credit, which within those policies they’re really starting to look at how those learning pieces can come in. When it’s on the for-credit side, then there really needs to be a demonstration by the institution that those microcredentials are meeting the same academic standards as the courses are also. So using the accreditation standards and making sure that all policies and procedures are of the same quality and integrity ensures that it all fits together.
Ken: I think it’s not only an opportunity for universities that we’re developing micro-credentials, but I think it’s our responsibility to do so, because the idea of digital badges for example was popularized in the corporate sector before universities got on board and they ran the gamut in terms of quality and value and frankly there are some predatory institutions that award badges that may not have much value at all to students, and yet they can be quite costly. So I think it was very incumbent upon the university to create valuable microcredentials that would have real academic rigor and support behind them. In addition to that, some of these institutions were also using their badge programs to undercut the value of the degree and say “Well, you don’t actually need a college degree with all that fluff, you just need to get the skills training that you’ll get from a badge.” And we know that a college degree delivers far more than just a set of discrete skills, it gives better ways of seeing the fuller world, of understanding the integration of knowledge, of being able to employ social skills along with technical ability, and digital badges at the university level allow us to make those connections more visible. But it also can help us prevent attacks against the university, which are done purely from profiteering perspective sometimes.
Jill: We can provide some validity and some academic integrity to the smaller microcredential world, then I think higher ed as Ken says has a responsibility to do so.
Nan: It also shows a shift in some of the role of higher education where it becomes even more important that we take the lead in helping to integrate people’s skills and their knowledge and then how that relates to work and life. In many ways, the older higher ed… we had a much more of a role of just delivering information and making sure people had information. Now I think our role has really shifted, where we need to take the leadership in the integration of knowledge and learning.
Rebecca: I’m hearing a lot of conversation focusing on skills and lower levels of the Bloom’s taxonomy, so it would be interesting to hear of examples at higher levels of thinking and working.
Ken: Well, Bloom’s taxonomy actually is a taxonomy of skills and domains of knowledge and abilities so that there are certainly skills involved with synthesis and evaluation, which are at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. So digital badges can work with that. Digital badges… the skills can involve being able to examine a great deal of knowledge and solve specific problems in an industry, and these are the highest levels of application of knowledge and learning.
Nan: In higher ed they’re also being looked at both at the undergraduate and graduate level, and so it’s not just that entry-level piece. Again, we keep talking about licenses and certifications as a type of microcredential, and there are many out there that you cannot acquire until you have reached certain levels of knowledge and abilities. I know we have focused a great deal of this conversation in terms of being skills-based, but in industry they’re really talking about it more as competencies, and the definition of competencies is what you know and what you can do, so it’s both knowledge and skill space, it is not just skill space.
Ken: In fact, one of the issues that some faculty have with microcredentials, particularly digital badges, is that they have a sense that it’s focused too heavily on utilitarian skill, and not focused heavily enough on the larger and the higher levels of learning that Rebecca is talking about. So I think Nan’s bringing in the idea of competency-based learning is really very helpful that way.
John: So, basically those skills could be at any level.
What are some of the other concerns that faculty might have that might lead to some resistance to adopting microcredentials at a given institution?
Nan: So one of the areas that they may talk about is the concern of the integrity. The academic integrity of the microcredential, or of the badge. And what’s important is that each institution really look at their own process for reviewing microcredentials and improving them, especially if they are on the credit side and they’re going to be integrated within the curriculum. So they need to follow the same standards that any course will follow, and that should really help relieve that concern about academic integrity.
Ken: Yeah, in fact the SUNY microcredentials group, which all of us on this podcast are involved with, specifically points out that faculty governance has to be heavily involved in the creation of any digital badge or micro credential program. That’s the whole point of bringing the university level to this. Is that faculty governance that academic input is going to be behind every microcredential that we create. One of the other things that my faculty colleagues have had trouble with, is the very name of digital badges, and they think it sounds a little silly, a little juvenile. They always say, “oh, well, this is just Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts” and so to them it can feel a little silly. It actually doesn’t come from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Digital badges come from gamification and motivational psychologists looked at why people were willing to do so many rote tasks in an online game. Even though they weren’t being paid to do so, and didn’t seem very exciting on its own and what they found is that people were willing to do that because they would earn a badge or they would level up or earn special privileges along the way, and that was very motivating for people. That’s where this technology really came from and then we built more academic rigor into it. The metaphor that I like to use with my faculty colleagues, which was suggested to me by one of my English department colleagues, Peter Manning. He pointed out that in the medieval period in England archers would learn different skills and when they developed a new skill, they would be given a feather of a different color, and then that feather would be put in the cap. So literally a badge is like a feather in the cap, and when you see somebody coming with 8 or 10 feathers of different colors, this is going to be a formidable adversary. Just like people with a few did badges from the SUNY system, they’re gonna be formidable employees.
Jill: The other thing I like to jump in and say too is – the Girl Scout in the Boy Scout badging system if you really know what the badges represent – you know that there are very strident rules learning outcomes and so on involved in attaining the badge. The badge is a way of just demarcing that they attained it. The quality is inherent in the group that’s setting up the equation by which you earn the badge.
John: So it’s still certifying skill.
Jill: It’s still certifying something and again the institution has the ability to determine what that something is, and to make sure that it is of quality.
John: Now one other thing I was thinking is that if an institution instituted a badging system, it might actually force faculty to reflect a little bit on what types of skills they’re teaching in the class, and that could be an interesting part of a curriculum redesign process in a department, because we haven’t always used backwards design where we thought about our learning objectives. Quite often faculty will say, I’d like to teach a course in this because it’s really interesting to me, but perhaps more focus on skills development in our regular curriculum would be a useful process in general.
Jill: I agree.
Ken: I think that’s a great idea, John. We haven’t used the badging system in my school that way yet, but I think it’s a great idea and honestly there are faculty who bristle at the notion that their teaching skills, and digital badging really strikes at the heart of that, in my perspective, elitist attitude about education. We do want to open up students Minds, we do want to expose them to more of the aesthetic pleasures of life, but we also want to help students improve their own lives in material ways as well, and badging can help us make visible, and strengthen the ways in which we do that in higher education. I think we should be very proud of that.
Nan: So again one of the reasons I like to use the word competency, is because it brings the knowledge and skills together, and we’re actually talking about skills as though they are isolated away from the knowledge pieces, and you can’t have skill without knowledge. To develop good knowledge, you need certain skills, and so I think it’s important to really think about this not as two different things that are separated and somehow we all of a sudden are going to be just skills based, but much rather that we’re developing people’s competencies to be highly educated people.
Jill: Very symbiotic really, and I think this is also where you get at the idea of how can non-credit and credit work together. If you’re thinking about them, in terms of the outcomes and developing your class in that way, and if one of those by itself would be something that’s non-credit, and then if you build them all together then you get a course. Or then your couple of graduate courses together, then you get a credential that is something on the way to a graduate degree.
John: This brings us to the concept of stackable credentials or some microcredentials designed to be stackable to build towards higher level credentials.
Ken: Really a micro-credentialing systems, should always be stackable. That’s one of the bedrocks of the whole idea of it. So it’s not required that a student go beyond one microcredential, but microcredentials should always be applicable to some larger credential of some sort. So, for example, all of the university badges at Stony Brook University stacked toward a master’s degree. And in fact we’ve tried to create what’s called a constellation of badges, so that students can wind their way to a master’s degree by using badges… or on their way to a master’s degree they can pick particular badges to help highlight specialties among electives that they can choose. So it’s a way for them to say, yes I have a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, and as part of that I have a particular specialization in financial literacy, or in teacher leadership, or an area such as that. But yeah, microcredentials should always be able to stack to something larger. And if we do it right, eventually we’ll have a system that works really from the first… from high school to really into retirement, because there can be lifelong learning. That’s involved in microcredentials as well. There’s always more to learn, so there should always be new microcredentials to earn.
Nan: I totally agree with Ken and if we provide different microcredentials and don’t provide how they do stack and build a pathway, then we really have not helped our students. In many ways we have left it, traditionally, historically, left it up to the individual to figure out how their bits and pieces of learning all fit together and we kind of expect that they’ve got the ability to kind of put it all together and apply it in many different ways, and I think that the role that microcredentials is really playing here, is a way of helping us start to talk about these discrete pieces, and then also how they build together and stack, which gives the person the ability to think about how it fits into the whole. I think what microcredentials is doing is opening up higher education, in a way to really be thinking about how to better serve our students, and give them those abilities to take what they know, package it in different ways, be able to apply it in many different ways, and be able to build that lifelong goals, and seeing how it all fits together.
Rebecca: Just thought I’d follow up a little bit. I think a lot of examples that we see are often in tech or in business and those are the ones that seem very concrete to many of us, but for those of you that have instituted some of these microcredentials already, how does it fit into a liberal arts context, which might not be so obvious to some folks?
Nan: There’s actually quite a few examples of microcredentials and badges that are more on the liberal arts side. There’s been some initiatives across the United States where different institutions have been developing, what we can think of as the 21st century skills: communication, problem-solving, applying learning, being resilient. These are some of the kinds of badges that are starting to really evolve out of higher education, which really brings in those different pieces of a liberal arts education, and being able to lift that up and give the students the ability to say, “I’ve got some good problem solving skills and here’s some examples and I can show it through this badge.” When we look at the research in terms of what employers need for the 21st century employee, we’re really looking at very strong liberal arts education that is then integrated into a workplace situation. So I’m seeing a lot more badges being grown in that liberal arts arena.
Ken: Yeah, at Stony Brook University, we have a number of badges that are in the liberal arts. So for example, we have a badge in diverse literatures. So there may be people who wish to earn that just for personal enrichment, but it’s something that might be really interesting to English teachers as well, because by earning a badge in diverse literatures, which requires a minimum of three classes in different areas, different nationalities of literature, teachers will be able to go on to select pieces of literature more appropriate for diverse audiences. They’ll be able to explore greater world literatures because of the background that they’ve had in exploring different literatures in their classes. So, that’s just one example, but of our about 30 badges, about third of them are in those humanities areas. That said, I will acknowledge that they are not anywhere near as popular as the more business oriented and professional oriented badges, where the link to skills simply seems more obvious. So I think that the liberal studie… the liberal arts… the humanities badges.. the connection is not quite as clear and so there’s still a lot of potential there.
Jill: It’s so important for the employers and for the students themselves, but I think almost most importantly the employers to understand what that means. They have to understand you have a microcredential or a badge and problem solving. They have to have some kind of trust, that it’s truly a skill that equates to their workplace situation, and that’s where the online systems where you can actually delve into what’s behind the my credential, is so important. You can really sit there and look at it, and verify that what the competencies and the skills that the individual has attained through earning this badge.
John: So the definition in the metadata is really important and establishing exactly what sort. Now that brings us to another question. At this point each institution that’s using badges is developing its own set of badges and competencies. Has there been any effort at trying to get some standardization and portability of this across institutions or is it too early for that, or do you see it going in that direction at some point?
Ken: John, it certainly hasn’t happened yet, but I do know that the SUNY Board of Trustees at their last meeting started to consider developing working groups to do just what you’re saying. So it’s not so much to standardize what badges are, but rather to standardize reporting and explore ways to help badge earners to explain and demonstrate their badges to employers, and to other schools more easily. So I know that’s where the SUNY system is headed.
Nan: And if it is for credit, then it falls within transfer credit anyway. So really, if it has gone through the appropriate academic curriculum development processes, the governance processes, then it has the same rigor and therefore is very transferable through our policies on transfer. So really what we need to be doing is doing some good work around the non-credit side,…that really helps the transfer of non-credit learning.
Jill: And one way we can do that is by reinvigorating and breathing new life into a 1973 policy that SUNY has on the books for the awarding of CEUs )continuing education units). It has a recommendation in a process by which campuses can take non-credit curriculum and send it up through a faculty expert and it has a certain guideline about how do you come up with an approval process and how many CEUs could be granted for such work. So, there are some skeleton pieces to how SUNY may codify that moving forward, at this point there is not a rule about how to move forward with non-credit. In fact, SUNY I think trying to be responsive to the emergent nature of this very concept, it has not tried to come in and be too prescriptive yet.
John: On the other hand, when students do receive microcredentials at multiple institutions. Let’s say they start at a community college. They move perhaps to Empire State, maybe they move to a four-year college for university, if they don’t finish and get a degree, they still would have some microcredentials that they could use when they go on the market, because many of them perhaps might use Credly or some other system where they can put it on the LinkedIn profile and they still have that certification, which if they just don’t get the degree it just shows them as not being a degree recipient, which actually seems to hurt people in the job market, but perhaps if they could establish that they have been acquiring skills a long way, maybe it might be helpful for students.
Nan: John, that is a really good point. In many ways, our degrees set up a system where if anyone who steps out of a degree has nothing to show for it and therefore is at a disadvantage, and the microcredentials can help demonstrate their progress, and the competencies that they already have, and so it can play a very important role in people’s lives, when students do need to step in and out of higher education.
John: So where do you see microcredentials going in the future? How do you see this evolving?
Ken: It’s in such an amorphous space right now, it’s hard to imagine what it’s going to undulate into. A big part of what’s happening now is what Nan has talked about. An attempt to try to put some boundaries on this and bring some common definitions to bear on the technology and and the idea of a microcredential, but I think it’s going to still expand. What it’ll do is it’s going to increase partnerships among interesting groups. I think in a lot of these, the universities will be at the center of the partnership, but we’ll be bringing in many more student groups, industry partners, government groups, nonprofits. I think it’s going to increase the amount of communication dramatically, and that’s very exciting because for too many years universities have fulfilled that stereotype of the ivory tower, and this is really breaking that down in some very productive ways.
Nan: And when we look at it from a national perspective, and looking at it to see where some of the direction is going with groups such as IMS global, with connecting credentials and other groups, but what we’re really seeing is the prediction that every student would have a comprehensive digital student record, that they would take with them. It becomes a digital portfolio and the badges would be in their microcredentials, any degrees, they’d have an ability to be able to transport themselves in many different directions, because all of that information would be there, and that digital student record would allow anybody to click in and see the metadata behind it, to know what those competencies that people have, and how it was assessed, what it really means so that there’s a real description of that. That would also enable students to have, again the prediction is that students would be able to transfer from institution to institution. They’ll be able to stack up and build their degrees in ways that would really support the student in their whole life pathway. Ken has just mentioned about partnerships. I think that what we would see is a great deal of partnerships across institutions and with institutions in industry, that really start to build these pathways that people can move along with their comprehensive digital student record.
Ken: Nan, can I ask you a question?
Ken: So a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about they termed co-curricular transcripts, which would be the kind of transcript that would include club membership, informal learning, not credited learning, but it sounds like we may be getting beyond that in a really positive way, and that just the idea of a transcript is becoming a little transformed, so that those other kinds of learning will actually be transcripted in the same digital format. Am I reading that right? Do you think that’s where we’re going?
Nan: Yes, I do think that’s where we’re going, Ken. We’re right at the end of a multi-year, multi-institutional project that Lumina funded, looking at these comprehensive digital student records, that go way beyond… also capturing things like clubs and other kinds of things that students engage, but really, they’re competency-based they start to record those competencies, the data behind the competencies, and when students are in a club or when they’re doing other kinds of activities, the kinds of competencies that they’re gaining from those pieces are also being recorded. So it’s not just: “You are a member of a club, what did you really learn and what can you do because of that?” and so I think that we’re gonna see that evolving more and more over the next decade or so.
Ken: That’s great, thank you.
Jill: If I could add to the question about the role of microcredentials evolving. One of the things that I think is going to be happening, and part of why I’m so excited about microcredentials is, I see this as having a nice connection for the non-credit side of the house of colleges and universities to the credit side, because for so many years, non-credit has been connecting with, and trying to serve business and industry, in ways that really have been limited, and so this really opens up the ability to connect and collaborate with credit expertise within the institution, to be able to create those true pathways, from start to finish from the smallest first step along that pathway all the way through, and that’s really exciting, and I think… and I hope… that’s part of this overall discussion we’re having about micro-credentials moving forward. In a lot of ways this is cyclically. We talked about the CEU policy of 1973. There has been this two sides of the house as they say, as I said a number times today, and really we’re all about education and trying to help people to learn things and be able to apply them to their jobs and their lives and having that connection be that much more seamless and clear. I think that’s one of the most exciting things, from my seat at the table.
John: Well, thank you all for joining us.
Nan: Thank you
John: Look forward to hearing more.
Jill: Thanks for having us.
Ken: Pleasure to be here.
Nan: Take care everybody, bye bye.
Jill: Bye, guys.
Rebecca: Thank you.