Micro-credentials, the new gold star for teachers, show evidence of learning


Micro-credentials may be the future of learning — for teachers.

Also known as digital badges, micro-credentials allow instructors to show how they’re keeping up with leaps in personalized learning methods — and raising student achievement results — through hard evidence and data. Now, they have a new platform through which to log their progress.

Digital Promise, a nonprofit that aims to advance student learning through technology, this week launched a new micro-credentialing platform with Bloomboard, a company that offers online resources for teachers. Interested educators can demonstrate how they’ve done something as simple as “Checking for Understanding Using Gestures” to skills as lofty as “Empowering Your Students in Motivation” and “Supporting Students in Executive Function.” There are more than 100 micro-credentials to choose from, from categories such as “Collaborating,” “Critical Thinking” and “Data Literacy.”

“The way schools traditionally measure professional development is the hours teachers spend in workshops,” said Jennifer Kabaker, director of the initiative at Digital Promise. “What micro-credentials allow us to do is stop thinking about professional development in terms of time, but instead focus on whether an educator can take that learning and apply it in the classroom.”

The team at Digital Promise, which is based in Washington, D.C., has been researching and working on the project for about two years. Teachers can upload evidence of their skills (also called “competencies” in the industry lingo) that includes audio or video of themselves in action, lesson plans, student work, assessments and personal reflections.

“They’re uploading artifacts or evidence that shows they can apply that key method,” said Kabaker, like using data to personalize learning.

One Wisconsin superintendent believes so totally in how micro-credentials can help teachers take ownership of their own classes and improve student outcomes, she has raised the base salaries of teachers who create and use them.

“It creates a culture of risk-taking,” said Pat Deklotz, who oversees 10 elementary and high schools in the Kettle Moraine School District in Wales, Wisconsin. “It puts teachers in a seat of control in aligning their growth with their own personal abilities.”

Deklotz said she piloted a micro-credentialing program on Google Docs last year that increased teachers’ base pay from $200 to $600, depending on the complexity of the badges they created. About 260 teachers out of 300 in the district submitted credentials and evidence of how they changed instruction methods.

This year, she is going to encourage teachers to submit on Digital Promise’s platform.

“We want to personalize learning for our teachers, because that’s what we expect them to do for their students,” she said. “An unintended outcome has been the collaborative nature that [micro-credentials] have spurred. Teachers will get together and formulate their plan of study, and they’ll show evidence in a wide range of classrooms, so they know they’re having an impact.”

Digital badges have been developed in both K-12 schools and higher education institutions, for students and teachers, in the workplace and in cities across the country. Recipients of micro-credentials can add them to their resumes and school or job applications, and share them on social media and in interviews.

“You see a lot of different organizations developing their own badging platforms, exploring what that can mean for workforce recognition and providing employees with new ways of showing their learning outside of traditional degrees and certificates,” Kabaker said. “The sky’s the limit for digital badging.”

Brent Maddin, provost at the Relay Graduate School of Education, which is based in New York but does not have a campus and believes in educating teachers through different training modules rather than direct instruction, said he wants to see students pick up micro-credentials as well as master’s degrees.

The nontraditional teachers’ college helped develop two sets of credentials around data literacy and formative assessments for Digital Promise’s platform.

When asked to give an example of a sample micro-credential, Maddin said a common one, like checking for understanding, can show if teachers have a clear sense of whether their students are mastering the subject they’re being taught.

“There are a number of methods that a teacher may use — one of those may be asking lots of questions of kids in the middle of a lesson instead of waiting for the test at the end of the week or at the end of the class,” he said.

When asked whether making sure students are absorbing their lessons should come naturally to teachers, Maddin said that is not always the case.

“I would say that the very best teachers do that all the time, and you could stop at any moment in their instruction and they would have a good sense of who in the class is with them and who didn’t quite get it,” he said. “Unfortunately, what we see among probably more teachers than we would like to admit, is that there aren’t enough checks for understanding along the way.”

With micro-credentials, he added, “we can change the conversation from, ‘Did you learn today?’ to ‘Can you show me that you know how to do the task?'”

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.