CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
Mastering Micro-credentials: Authentic life-long learning for student success
When I started as an intern at Center for Collaborative Education, I quickly learned that the Quality Performance Assessment team had been exploring a new form of professional development as part of a grant from the Assessment for Learning Project. They had designed micro-credentials and were piloting them in multiple districts across the country to learn more about what worked and didn't work in the design and implementation of micro-credentials.
So, what are micro-credentials? Micro-credentials are mastery-based performance assessments documenting teacher learning that award badges or credentials to educators who complete them. They come in a variety of forms combining online experiences, coaching, and cohort models to give teacher-learners access to the new content and set out a rubric of requirements for documentation of classroom practice that reflects their learning.
In my previous life as the program director of a school-facing arts outreach organization, I attended conference style professional development (PD) programs. I remember trying to communicate a summary of the 50 things I’d learned to my board. It took about eight hours to break down just the useful tools I learned. On reflection, the time I spent sharing tools with the board could have been focused on me developing my own mastery of what I had learned. Micro-credentials offer an opportunity for applied professional development, so instead of eight hours listening, and eight hours writing, I could have spent most of those 16 hours applying my learning in our programs.
Writing the micro-credentials white paper, we wanted to look at models for how to sustain and grow the micro-credentials that CCE has issued. To do this, we set out to understand what was driving teachers and districts to pursue micro-credentials, and ways that they thought micro-credentials might be more effective and sustainable than regular teacher PD.
Christina, QPA program associate, told me that she was excited that when the submissions started trickling in, quite a few submissions were from places that CCE had not served previously. She sought out some of the people from these new districts who had submitted materials to CCE via Bloomboard. All told, Christina coordinated with six school leaders at the district and state levels via phone, e-mail, and in person.
Christina and I really wanted to understand the kinds of choices that school leaders made, so we created a matrix to keep us on track during our semi-structured interview process. We wanted the conversation to flow naturally, but we wanted to make sure to touch on motivations, selections, incentives, and communications about micro-credentials with each district or state. We recorded and listened to the interviews from November through March, and our white paper is now up on the CCE Publications page.
The most important finding was that, just as I described my experience with conference-style PD, many districts chose micro-credentials because they represent an opportunity for teachers-as-learners and teachers-as-action-researchers to test out new ideas, document them, and get credit for expertise as they go.
It is inspiring to see that personalized learning is transferring into professional learning communities and contributing to the learning of thousands of students across the country. Within the combined six districts we spoke to, these educators serve an approximate total of 706,000 students.
We are motivated in this research by the outcomes we hope that young learners will have from the professional learning of their teachers, and learning more about both student and teacher learning processes is important in that process. Imagine the impact that authentic teacher learning has had on these learning communities. A teacher or school leader who does a micro-credential, for example, has the power to change the focus of their curriculum to assessments for learning rather than standardized assessments that only touch the iceberg of what students actually learn in school.
Paulo Freire, in his Letters to those who Dare Teach, said, “there is no teaching without learning,” and this quote rings true to me in the context of micro-credentials. It helps teachers to learn, and it helps them have empathy for their learners when they too continue to pursue lifelong learning. Micro-credentials offer an opportunity to recognize and celebrate what teachers are learning, and encourages them to transfer their learning to their students.