Digital Promise hosted its fourth micro-credential event – the Symposium on the Currency of Micro-credentials – last week near Washington, D.C. Policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders attended the Symposium to engage in design challenges focused on providing educators with recognition for the micro-credentials they earn.

Micro-credentials validate learning, no matter where or when it occurs and are awarded based on submitted evidence of competence. This allows educators to work at their own pace and place.

Karen Cator, Digital Promise President and CEO, along with co-hosts Mary-Dean Barringer, senior advisor, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward, kicked off the event. Barringer explained that state leaders are intrigued by micro-credentials as ways to pivot the conversation on professional learning away from accountability and toward developing the capacity of teachers. Hirsh highlighted the professional learning standards endorsed by numerous organizations and applauded micro-credentials for giving educators more autonomy and choice and for connecting learning with outcomes rather than seat-time.

The evening ended with an inspiring conversation on teacher engagement between Hashim Pipkin of Digital Promise and Aneka Stewart, literacy specialist at KIPP DC. Stewart discussed her experience earning the Executive Function micro-credential from the Friday Institute at NC State University. She was able to immediately apply what she learned with her students and appreciated both the research that backed up the micro-credential and the ability to work at her own pace. “I would love to have a micro-credential series on executive function so I can keep the issue up front and put [what I learn] into practice,” she said.

The next morning, panelists Ann Coffman from National Education Association; Machel Mills from Tennessee Department of Education; Jim Short from Carnegie Corporation of NY; Jill Snell from Baltimore County Public Schools; and Mary Ann Wolf from The Friday Institute at NC State University engaged in a lively discussion of the benefits and challenges of pursuing innovation in the area of professional learning.

Consensus emerged over the power of micro-credentials and the rich artifacts they produce when the micro-credentials are backed by rigorous research. “We find artifacts are best when relevant and solve real problems in the classroom,” said Coffman. Panelists concurred that micro-credentials put teachers in the driver’s seat. “‘Voice and choice’ is our message,” said Mills, “and as long as we let teachers know micro-credentials [give them] voice and choice, their purpose is inherently embedded [in their practice].”

Assessment of micro-credentials is labor intensive, many acknowledged. One significant challenge is to identify the correct incentives to support assessment, such as financial compensation or conference attendance. Panelists also emphasized the need to find a common language about what constitutes a micro-credential. The field must use the same vernacular and ensure quality remains high and the research is rigorous.

Symposium participants then broke off into six sessions and used the Challenge Based Learning framework to design methods by which states, districts, and schools can provide value to educators for the micro-credentials they earn. Each session, in addition to an open “un-conference” forum, focused on a different ways of providing currency for earning micro-credentials, including:

  • Financial Recognition
  • CEUs and Other Professional Development Credit
  • Advancing along Career Pathways
  • Licensure and Relicensure
  • Pre-Service Credentialing

After intensive design sessions, each group presented their ideas for supporting meaningful recognition for micro-credentials. Four of the groups proposed developing toolkits to support states or districts as they seek to implement a specific type of recognition. For example, the Career Pathways group proposed a toolkit based on a series of decision points organizations must consider to effectively provide educators with access to a “constellation of opportunities” through micro-credentials. The Financial Recognition group, on the other hand, devised a design framework that would showcase existing models and help states and districts design personalized experiences for their educators.

Additionally, the Pre-service Credentialing group proposed a multi-pronged approach to integrating micro-credentials into teacher candidate training. They identified action items to address three challenging areas: assessment, content, and human resources. Assessment was, in fact, a common topic of conversation – the un-conference also devised a solution to assessment scalability including synchronous and asynchronous models.

Several themes emerged from the presentations. Many groups want to gather feedback on their proposals from networks such as the League for Innovative Schools and external stakeholders. Similarly, they identified the importance of forming a broad range of partnerships, keeping standards high, and grounding micro-credentials in research. Through these mechanisms, we can continue to push the micro-credential movement forward.

Symposium participants left with a strong conviction of the potential power and relevance of micro-credentials. “This is a way to validate the knowledge and skills teachers already have, and prepare them for the skills they don’t yet have,” said Janice Poda with Learning Forward.

Micro-credentials provide opportunities for educators to not only have agency in their life-long learning journey, but also to earn recognition for their competencies. “Teachers with micro-credentials are getting hired faster and first, you move to the front of the line because you have a degree plus micro-credentials,” said Dr. Lisa Dieker, professor and Lockheed Martin Eminent Scholar at the University of Central Florida.

The ultimate goal of micro-credentials is to put every educator in the driver’s seat of their own professional learning. They must receive meaningful recognition for the work they are doing along the way. This Symposium brought us one step closer to making this a reality for more educators.

To learn more about the insights and solution concepts developed at the Symposium, check out our event archive

Digital Promise looks forward to engaging participants and our partners in moving this work forward. Complete write ups of every session, as well as all assets from the Symposium, will be available on our website soon. The Symposium was made possible with generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of NY.


About Jennifer Kabaker

Jennifer is the Director of Educator Micro-credentials. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenCohKab.

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