Associations, Microcredentials, and Digital Badges: Membership Has Its Privileges

What’s an association’s most valuable asset? Arguably, it’s the association’s good name—along with the value its members attach to it. Associations are constantly seeking new and better ways to serve members, and one of the most exciting new ways is with digital badge credentialing.

Most associations offer some kind of continuing education (CE) programming, whether it’s in-person or online (or both). Imagine how much more appealing your organization’s CE would be if successful completion was visible to employers and colleagues via a digital badge (an online representation of a skill or achievement) on a member’s LinkedIn page. Imagine how doing so could help extend your association’s brand value to the member who receives the badge, as well as potential members and the current and potential employers who view the member’s profile.

But how and where do you begin? First, I’ll break down how digital badges work.

Any entity with a web presence can create and award digital badges; in fact, they’ve been used in K-12 education for quite some time in online math and English study programs. These programs have been on the front lines of “gamification,” the addition of game-like aspects to instruments of learning in order to promote student engagement and motivation, and are a keystone of competency-based learning. For example, when children using the free nonprofit educational site Khan Academy master a skill, they are awarded a digital badge, as well as points, and their teacher is notified. The Facebook-like Edmodo platform, which many schools use, allows teachers to award digital badges to kids that their classmates can also see, thus adding a powerful dose of peer competitiveness to the mix.

Once you determine what types of digital badges you’d like to offer your members—whether for achieving new credentials, instructing a course, completing CE modules, or any other certificates of competency or merit—you must provide them in such a way that members can share them on profiles. An open application program interface, or API, is a type of freely shared intermediary that allows various applications to share information. Perhaps the best-known API in digital badging is Open Credit, and the service Credly puts Open Credit to work by issuing digital badges to applications and platforms as diverse as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Salesforce, Moodle, WordPress, and Eventbrite.

The most commonly used standard for digital badging is Mozilla Open Badges, an open-source collaboration of the free-software community Mozilla; the MacArthur Foundation; and the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). Open Badges is absolutely free.

Of course, badges must mean something to the people who receive them in order to have real value. That’s where the undeniable value of your association’s good name comes in. For a badge to have importance, it must come from a credible organization. The benefits of defining and awarding digital badges to members for their accomplishments are twofold—first, a badge program enhances the organization’s perceived value to the member, and second, it promotes and reinforces the association’s credibility and thought-leadership to the industry. Associations are by their nature arbiters of professional quality, and thus any digital badge an association confers will serve as an endorsement of that badge-earner for that skill. Sometimes digital badges are referred to as “microcredentials”—the idea being that they can signify a competency in a very specific area or domain.[1]

For example, the International Association for Health Coaches awards the title of Certified International Health Coach, or CIHC, to those who pass its certification exam. Once the member passes the exam, the organization issues a digital badge, which the member can then post on a LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook profile or on a website.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) also awards digital badges when members complete certification programs. A recent marketing message for AICPA’s Intermediate and Advanced Single Audit certification programs[2] eloquently described how badges can bolster the member and the association’s profile:

Both programs are available as a standalone exam, as well as with optional intermediate- and advanced-level courses that can help you refresh your knowledge or develop your competency prior to taking the exam. Successful completion of the exam demonstrates your competence—to your employer, customers, regulators and the public. A digital badge allows you to display your accomplishment online.[3]

A recent blog post on Pearson North America’s site expounded on the value of using digital badges to identify and highlight skills and achievements to a broader audience. Samantha Wu, a college student on Pearson’s Student Advisory Board, wrote:

… I can see the value badges create in presenting credibility. Traditionally, only achievements that are standardized into a course or position can be displayed. These traditional achievements include the grades a student achieves and the degree that a student earns. However, if a student takes a course through an online learning site or completes a project for a non-profit organization, these achievements are harder to showcase. Badging fills the gap by providing a certified way to represent accomplishments without constructed channels of recognition in place.[4]

If the process of defining and awarding badges seems too daunting, consider turning to a consultant. Educational development consultants with experience in certification and badging can quickly get your organization’s program up and running. Perhaps best of all, they can make it easy for you to manage and support it on your own in perpetuity.

 

Perrin Davis is senior vice president of Agate Development, an educational content development company that consults with associations on developing educational and training programs. The team at Agate Development partners with associations of all kinds to research, develop, institute, and support badge-driven certification programs. To learn more about how Agate can help your organization reap the benefits of badging, please contact development@agatepublishing.com.

 

 

[1] https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-02-02-how-to-make-micro-credentials-matter

[2] http://www.cpa2biz.com/content/media/CPE/GOV/single-audit-certificate.jsp

[3] AICPA, e-mail message to author, March 7, 2016.

[4] http://www.pearsoned.com/education-blog/everyone-in-education-should-care-about-digital-badges-heres-why/

Real Solutions for Real Challenges: Making Open Educational Resources Work at Your Institution

Perrin Davis, Agate Development

In my last article, I described how open educational resources (OERs) have been proven to save college students money and improve their outcomes. Both factors help keep students enrolled and move them closer to graduation—the ultimate mission of all post-secondary institutions.

Here’s an illustration. In 2013, Virginia’s Tidewater Community College rolled out a pilot of a two-year business administration degree program entirely dependent on OERs. Dubbed the Z-Degree, the pilot was extremely successful on all counts. For example:

  • Students in the pilot were less likely to drop Z-Degree classes and had higher final grades.
  • An amazing 98 percent of students enrolled in the pilot rated the OERs they used as better than or the same as traditional textbooks.
  • Withdrawal rates from the Z-Degree pilot program were significantly lower compared to those of students enrolled in all other programs at the college.
  • Students saved money—lots of money. Ultimately, the school determined that students pursuing Z-Degrees will save 25 percent of the total costs of their degrees versus students enrolled in its traditional two-year degree programs.[1]

Not surprisingly, Tidewater has decided to expand its Z-Degree program.[2]

But at the same time, the world of OER is largely uncharted territory. Institutions looking to dive in are often discouraged, and sometimes efforts to adopt OERs get stalled. In this article, I’ll provide useful strategies for negotiating five of the most commonly feared obstacles to adopting OERs.

Challenge 1: No central repository of OERs exists. Many organizations and institutions have made efforts to assemble useful lists, but it is very difficult to navigate and maintain them. Maintenance is a particular issue, as the field of OER grows every day.

While it is certainly true that no central repository of OERs exists, the good news is that there are lots of resources to help you find what you’re looking for. For example, the OER Commons lists thousands of resources by subject area, grade level, and material types.

The website Jorum is an OER repository run by JISC, a nonprofit committed to distribution of higher education and further (continuing) education materials in the United Kingdom. Jorum also provides a handy list of links to other OER repositories, such as the California State University System’s Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT), UNESCO OER Platform, OpenStax, and OpenLearn Works, here.

Possibly the most prestigious OER resource library was created in 2002 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Called MIT OpenCourseWare, it provides free access to almost all of the content of courses taught at the institution. It offers full online courses, open textbooks, lectures, lecture notes, assessments, simulations, and various other types of supplemental learning resources.

Challenge 2: In the world of OER, quality varies. No institution or organization vets or certifies OERs as equal to, or better than, commercial educational resources. But last summer, Jorum announced plans to audit the content it aggregates for linkability, copyright clearance, currency, and usability, and to migrate those resources that are deemed worthy to a new, more permanent site. The migration is planned to continue through November 2016. Also, the OERs on California’s MERLOT site are peer reviewed.

The OER Commons includes user ratings and comments for each resource, and allows users to search by rating. Like most, it also provides extensive information about the resource’s origin and authorship, which can be an indicator of quality. The handicap of the rating system, of course, is that it’s entirely dependent on whether users provide feedback. And while a resource’s pedigree can suggest that its content is of high quality, there are no guarantees.

The best course of action is to either have faculty vet the resources or hire a consultant to develop them under your faculty’s supervision. Instructional design consultancies and development houses can sift through a vast number of resources on your behalf and assess their quality, ensure that their licenses allow them to be used as the institution wishes, and map them to a course’s outcomes and objectives. Consultancies that specialize in OER have their own extensive knowledge bases of quality resources and can often quickly and inexpensively pair resources to a particular course. The end result: a single OER or an amalgam of multiple OERs perfectly tailored to the course’s instructional needs that can be reviewed and vetted by the institution’s faculty and approved for use.

Challenge 3: Rules for OER use can be fuzzy. Some are licensed to permit anyone to use them, alter them, and repurpose them however they wish. Others can be used but not altered; still others require users who choose to alter the work to return the altered work to the OER community. Some OERs specifically forbid commercial use, but what constitutes commercial use can be unclear.

Fortunately, guidelines do exist. Creative Commons (CC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to simplifying the process of sharing knowledge and intellectual property, sets forth the various types of licenses you’ll see on OERs at this link. The organization offers a great introduction to CC’s license applications in the world of education here, and you can read its OER case studies here. The six CC license types are:

  • Attribution (CC BY): Allows users to freely alter, distribute, and combine the work, even for commercial purposes, with proper attribution; the most liberal of the CC license types.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): Allows users to freely alter, distribute, and combine the work, even for commercial purposes, with proper attribution as long as any altered work is shared under the same license. (This license type’s best-known user is Wikipedia.)
  • Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND): Allows users to distribute the work, even for commercial purposes, but it cannot be altered in any way and the original creator must be credited.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): Allows users to download, share, or alter the work and allows users to share their altered work under any type of license they choose, provided credit is given, but prohibits any type of commercial use.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): Allows users to download, share, or alter the work provided credit is given, but prohibits any type of commercial use and requires any altered work to be shared under the same license.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND): Allows users to download and share the OER provided credit is given, but prohibits any type of alteration or commercial use; the most restrictive of the CC license types.

At OER Commons, license information for each resource is found under the heading “Conditions of Use.” There are four categories:

  • No Strings Attached: You can change the content, make derivative versions of it, and redistribute it to others, and you may or may not need to provide credit information for it.
  • Remix and Share: You can make changes or derivative versions of the content and you can redistribute it, but there are limitations.
  • Share Only: You cannot make a derivative version or change the content, and redistribution is limited.
  • Read the Fine Print: You must carefully follow the restrictions placed by the owner of the resource’s copyright.

Here too, an instructional design consultant or development house can greatly simplify the process. They are experienced in negotiating the tricky ground of intellectual property rights and also can obtain permissions where necessary.

Challenge 4: Determining how to inexpensively and easily distribute OERs to students and faculty can be challenging. If OERs are distributed electronically, students who do not have access to computers or tablets face barriers to their use. For-profit campus bookstores may be reluctant to provide low-cost printouts of OERs for student use, since OERs pose a significant threat to their business model. For that matter, printing an OER at all, even to a laser printer, can be expensive and requires access.

Rice University’s Openstax College offers peer-reviewed quality textbooks in 19 subject areas via four free delivery methods: downloadable Adobe PDF format, live web view format, interactive eBook (ePub) format, or Bookshare format (for students with visual impairments or learning or physical disabilities). There is also a fifth option: relatively low-cost printed copies obtained from Amazon (for example, the 850-page Principles of Macroeconomics text from OpenStax is available new for $33.50; used copies are often available for less).

Consultants can also help in this respect. They can customize the OERs selected for your courses to be delivered through your institution’s learning management system (LMS) and also can help establish arrangements with low-cost print-on-demand providers for students who cannot (or prefer not to) use digital versions.

Brevity—or relative brevity, anyway—is another important virtue of using consultants to construct customized OERs. And in many cases, brevity translates to greater ease of delivery. As I mentioned earlier, the OpenStax Macroeconomics text is 850 pages long. Instructional design consultants can research, locate, and package together a variety of OERs (or parts of OERs) specifically tailored to a particular course’s learning outcomes and objectives. Whether they are open source or conventionally published, textbooks tend to be one-size-fits-all and thus contain the maximum possible amount of information about the topic. A customized OER can be much more streamlined, which makes for more efficient delivery.

Challenge 5: Obsolescence is a constant worry. Educational materials quickly become dated. Commercial publishers have a profit motive for updating textbooks every two years or so. Not so with OER. Many potential users are concerned that they’ll spend time and effort to locate and vet OERs, only to find them hopelessly out of date in the span of a few semesters. Then, they fear, the search will have to begin anew.

But remember—one of the best reasons to choose OER is its flexibility. If you select an OER with a CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, or CC BY-NC-SA license, you can change it any way you like, including adding extensive material of your own. These OERs are truly living resources that an institution can update on a near-constant basis, particularly if they are delivered exclusively in digital form.

Putting OER to use at your institution can be challenging, to be sure, but the payoff makes it worthwhile. And teaming your institution’s faculty with the right facilitators can greatly mitigate the challenges and get your OER program up and running quickly.

As Daniel DeMarte, vice president of student learning and chief academic officer at Tidewater Community College, remarked, “Colleges need instructional designers who understand intellectual property and how open resources work.”[3] Even if your institution doesn’t have a staff of instructional designers at the ready, the right consultant can help you get an OER program off the ground and provide the support needed to make it flourish.

 

Perrin Davis is senior vice president of Agate Development, an educational content provider and development house specializing in customized resources and courses. The instructional design team at Agate Development partners with schools of all kinds to research, develop, aggregate, and link existing OERs in a customized format to meet courses’ outcomes and objectives. To learn more about how Agate can help your institution reap the benefits of OERs, please contact Perrin at development@agatepublishing.com.

 

 

[1] http://web.tcc.edu/academics/zdegree/index.html

[2] http://www.ccdaily.com/Pages/Campus-Issues/Students-earn-degree-without-buying-textbooks-.aspx

[3] http://www.ccdaily.com/Pages/Campus-Issues/Students-earn-degree-without-buying-textbooks-.aspx

Adding Value, Improving Outcomes, Retaining Students: Taking Advantage of Open Educational Resources

Perrin Davis, Agate Development

Open educational resources—it’s a hot-button topic in higher education these days. Who owns them? Who can use them? Have they been vetted for rigor, accuracy, and relevance? Are they viable alternatives to the major publishers’ textbooks and online educational resources? And of course, to answer those questions, one has to actually find them—which leads to a host of other questions. The benefits of OERs are undeniable, but the challenges of locating, vetting, and deploying them can be paralyzing.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program set aside $2 billion to help community colleges educate and train the workforce. As the program’s overview states, community colleges are the key to solving the U.S.’s underskilled workforce problem:

In an increasingly competitive world economy, America’s economic strength depends upon the education and skills of its workers. In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate’s degree are projected to grow twice as fast as those requiring no college experience. The nation needs workers with the education and skills to succeed in growing, high-wage occupations, and community colleges serve as significant and rapidly growing contributors to the nation’s higher education system, enrolling more than 11.8 million students. Community colleges work with business, labor, and government in their communities to create tailored education and training programs to meet employers’ needs and give students the skills required to obtain good jobs, earn family-sustaining wages, and advance along a career pathway.[1]

In addition to fostering relationships between community colleges and employers and funding training programs, the grants specifically target the development of high-quality open educational resources (OERs) for free use by community colleges and their students. The goal: Increase student retention—and thus student success—by reducing the financial barriers to post-secondary education.

In a 2013 study by U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, 65% of students surveyed reported that they had opted to not buy a required textbook because of its expense. Of that group, 94% responded that they feared doing so would affect their grade.[2] The College Board reports that in the current school year, community college students face the highest burden of textbook costs of all: $1,364 for books and supplies, versus $1,298 for students at four-year in-state and out-of-state public schools and $1,249 for students at private four-year institutions.[3]

The average price of a new textbook? According to the most recent data (2013) from the National Association of College Stores, it’s $79, with used textbooks not far behind at $59.[4] With little gap between the cost of new and used textbooks, and with textbook costs skyrocketing, it’s no wonder that students are making the difficult choice to forgo books.

In the years since the establishment of the TAACCCT grant program, educators and the market alike have responded, building and refining countless OERs in virtually every imaginable domain. A handful of forward-thinking schools have seized the opportunity and funneled grant money to qualified faculty willing to create resources.

The OER success story at Utah’s Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) is compelling. Jason Pickavance, SLCC’s director of educational initiatives, presented the school’s stunning results at the 2015 Open Education Symposium, held at the White House. Pickavance remarked:

The Salt Lake Community College OER Initiative has saved students over $750,000 since we started tracking savings in the summer 2014 semester. This fall semester we saved students about $300,000 with about 150 OER sections. We’re offering OER-based courses in math, biology, business, education, English, history, sociology, and psychology. Our goal is to save SLCC students at least $3 million over the next three years. We’re on track to complete that goal. In the fall of 2016, we should have 300-400 open sections, at least doubling this year’s total.[5]

Even more impressive: The initiative substantially improved student outcomes. Among SLCC students enrolled in developmental and college math courses using OERs instead of conventional textbooks, 35% fewer failed their courses. What’s more, 25% of the OER students received As, versus 15% of the conventional textbook group.[6]

Early on, I made mention of the challenges schools face when trying to put the wealth of OERs to use. To name a few:

No central repository of OERs exists. Many organizations and institutions have made efforts to assemble useful lists, but it is very difficult to navigate and maintain them. Maintenance is a particular issue, as the field of OER grows every day.

In the world of OER, quality varies. No institution or organization vets or certifies OERs as equal to, or better than, commercial educational resources. In order to determine whether an OER is useful for a particular course, a qualified faculty member or other subject matter expert must thoroughly review it and assess its quality, as well as its applicability to the course in question. Doing so is time consuming. Educators and administrators are already very busy, and time spent vetting an unsuitable OER is wasted time.

Rules for OER use can be fuzzy. Some are licensed to permit anyone to use them, alter them, and repurpose them however they wish. Others can be used but not altered; still others require users who choose to alter the work to return the altered work to the OER community. Some OERs specifically forbid commercial use, but what constitutes commercial use can be unclear. Compliance with OER licenses is very important, and it can seem onerous.

Determining how to distribute OERs to students and faculty can be challenging. If OERs are distributed electronically, students who do not have access to computers or tablets face barriers to their use. For-profit campus bookstores may be reluctant to provide low-cost printouts of OERs for student use, since OERs pose a significant threat to their business model. For that matter, printing an OER at all, even to a laser printer, can be expensive and requires access.

Obsolescence is a constant worry. Educational materials quickly become dated. Commercial publishers have a profit motive for updating textbooks every two years or so. Not so with OER. The TAACCCT grant funding extended through 2014, and no similar program has come along to replace it. Many potential users are concerned that they’ll spend time and effort to locate and vet OERs, only to find them hopelessly out of date in the span of a few semesters. Then, they fear, the search will have to begin anew.

While all of these concerns are legitimate, they also have reasonable, viable solutions. In my next article, I’ll provide strategies to mitigate each of these issues.

Perrin Davis is senior vice president of Agate Development, an educational content provider specializing in customized resources and courses. The instructional design team at Agate Development partners with schools of all kinds to research, develop, aggregate, and link existing OERs in a customized format to meet courses’ outcomes and objectives. To learn more about how Agate can help your institution reap the benefits of OERs, please contact Perrin at development@agatepublishing.com.

 

[1] https://www.doleta.gov/grants/pdf/SGA-DFA-PY-10-03.pdf

[2] http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/NATIONAL%20Fixing%20Broken%20Textbooks%20Report1.pdf

[3] http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/average-estimated-undergraduate-budgets-2015-16

[4] http://www.nacs.org/research/industrystatistics/higheredfactsfigures.aspx

[5] http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/10/prweb13053194.htm

[6] http://lumenlearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/SLCC-Case-Study_Print.pdf