When we launched the online version of TD4Ed in the summer of 2014, we gave educators who completed the curriculum the option to submit their work for evaluation and recognition via a microcredential. The world of microcredentials, or digital badges, functions as an alternative to more formal credentialing and certification systems, and acknowledges learning, skills acquisition, and other forms of competency and mastery that don’t necessarily take place in classroom settings. Since TD4Ed is a “non-traditional,” extracurricular learning experience, this digital badge gave users a way to get some sort of credit for their effort and process.
We initially offered our TD4Ed microcredential through Achievery, an online badging system. In this most recent phase of work, we wanted to explore whether it made sense to ramp up how we offered microcredentials, and how this might or might not add value to TD4Ed users.
We explored a range of microcredentialing platforms, some primarily geared toward educators and learning institutions, and others with a broader intended audience. A few are self-contained systems that host all badges on their internal site, but most allow other organizations to host badges on their own external sites, too. One of the pioneers in this field is OpenBadges, free software from the Mozilla Foundation that enables others to make and issue their own badges. Many of the microcredentialing platforms we looked at utilize OpenBadges software; if one were to map out the digital badge ecosystem, OpenBadges would be the central node.
We’ve had a lot of conversations at BIF about microcredentialing and how we might, as we describe it, “try to crack the credentialing nut.” The main issue here, for us and for many others in this space, is how to think about microcredentials’ validity, credibility, and worth. What does earning a microcredential actually mean? Some platforms address this question by verifying badge issuers to make the badges more reputable, but for the most part, that verification process is light, and it’s unclear what value it adds. Others, like Achievery, approach this issue by acting as a portal to portfolios of work produced to earn the microcredential, so that others can judge its merit for themselves. Digital Promise’s tactic involves working with institutional partners to create microcredentials for teachers, which give the badges an element of legitimacy and rigor.It seems to us that peer review and evaluation are a crucial part of recognizing and rewarding work. One of the more interesting models I saw for how this might function involves a social learning framework. In this model, individuals who complete a course or otherwise fulfill the requirements to earn a microcredential earn the right to adjudicate the work of others. They can give feedback to others working toward the same badge, and determine whether or not someone else’s work merits the microcredential. This framework is at the core of how both P2PU and Badge List operate. We have not incorporated peer review into TD4Ed’s model, but it seems like a reasonable way to ensure some level of verification, while simultaneously fostering a community of learners.
Digital Promise recently hosted a summit on microcredentials to address some of the challenges in this space. They are asking lots of great questions about microcredentials (many of the same ones we have!), and have put together a series of resources for those working in or thinking about badges and how to recognize learning. You can see some of their conversations and graphic notes from panels and discussions by clicking here.
To see more details on the platforms mentioned above, as well as some others that are worth evaluating, check out the chart below:
Our TD4Ed microcredential is still available (for now) via Achievery, but they are currently in the process of suspending their digital badge program. We’re figuring out what that means for TD4Ed, so if you have earned the TD4Ed or other microcredentials, let us know what this alternative recognition pathway means to you!