Online code comes together to form a digital profile summarizing educator micro-credentials.

Take a peek at the research behind educator micro-credentials


A growing consensus recognizes educator micro-credentials as promising new professional learning resources

Educator micro-credentials are gaining more mainstream acceptance, but it’s important to ensure the process surrounding micro-credentials is grounded in rigorous research, according to a new whitepaper from Digital Promise.

The whitepaper highlights Digital Promise’s micro-credentialing framework and takes a close look at the processes involved in producing educator micro-credentials.

The potential of these educator micro-credentials lies in their ability to help educators bolster their professional learning at scale, according to the report–they leverage an online tech platform that gives access to “competency-based, on-demand, personalized, and shareable opportunities to demonstrate and be recognized for their professional learning.”

Read more: The major momentum behind micro-credentials

The system is widely considered a step up from traditional professional development, which is often not tailored to individual educators’ needs or preferences and can be much less engaging and motivating.

Even though early adopters are singing the praises of educator micro-credentials, they still need research to encourage widespread and mainstream acceptance, the whitepaper’s authors write.

Drafting educator micro-credentials

Research from Digital Promise demonstrates how the development of educator micro-credentials has expanded across state education agencies and school districts. When research-based organizations translate their work into micro-credentials, it gives educators the ability to access resources that strengthen their instructional skills and give them new knowledge into critical areas of teaching and learning.

When an organization works with Digital Promise to draft educator micro-credentials, they’re invited to answer five questions before the template drafting process begins. In doing so, it’s more likely that the ensuing micro-credentials are grounded in research and meet standards for clarity and quality.

1. What competencies are important to educators? Issuers identify what discrete skill the proposed micro-credential will ask an educator to demonstrate.

2. Is the competency demonstrable? Issuers focus on competencies that can be demonstrated through the submission of artifacts and scored against a rubric.

3. What does the research suggest? Issuers identify existing research that supports the competency and ensures strong alignment between the research, key method, and submission requirements.

4. Once a competency has been isolated, how much evidence is the right amount of evidence, what evidence is appropriate, and how would an educator demonstrate the competency? What evidence would indicate a successful demonstration of the competency? This also provides a litmus test for the “granularity” (too big or too small) of the competencies.

5. What other related competencies would an educator demonstrate while they are demonstrating the selected competency? Linking one micro-credential competency to another helps develop logical pathways and stacks of micro-credentials.

Read more: How digital badges are shaking up teacher PD

Here’s how one organization develops educator micro-credentials

The report details how various groups turn the vision, which develops from answering the five questions, into a micro-credential draft using the Digital Promise template.

The template includes: title, competency, key method, method components, supporting rationale and research, resources, and submission guidelines and criteria such as overview questions, work examples/artifacts/evidence and scoring guide, and an optional reflection.

The National Education Association uses the Digital Promise model to publish 120 educator micro-credentials on its own platform. In using the “Five Key Questions” and template, NEA ensures its micro-credential authors started the process with a solid research base.

“Digital Promise vetted it very closely and pushed back plenty of times,” says Brandy Bixler, NEA’s Digital Learning Specialist who managed the project, in the report. “All research cited needed to be relevant, current, and free online. Our writers appreciated the push and the [resulting] micro-credentials are very high-quality.”

Recognizing the value of educator micro-credentials

More and more groups agree that educator micro-credentials have promise and potential as a key part of professional learning.

The report notes that “more recognizers are approving the earning of micro-credentials in the Digital Promise ecosystem as official professional achievements.”

In Nevada, the Clark County Education Association and the Clark County School District designed a “Professional Growth System” for employees. Educator micro-credentials approved by Digital Promise are the only micro-credentials allowed. “Our educators love it, because these micro-credentials tie the knowledge to the practice and that’s what’s been missing in so much professional development,” says Brenda Pearson, the director of professional learning for the Clark County Education Association.

Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine School District attaches incentives to Digital Promise micro-credentials. The district gives its teachers a list of recommended educator micro-credentials and also gives them the chance to explore others they’re interested in earning. And once earned, educators see perks such as a $200-$600 base salary increase. “Our commitment to the micro-credentials grew from our experiences with the content provided and skills expected. The list of resources provided as part of each micro-credential also provides assurance of a strong alignment to research and best practices,” says Theresa Ewald, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. “Of most importance, however, is the work my teachers are doing as a result of their learning and the impact on our learners.”

Laura Ascione

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