Implementing a Digital Microcredential Strategy at the University of Washington Continuum College

Implementing a Digital Microcredential Strategy at the University of Washington Continuum College

Bryan Blakeley, Rovy F. Branon
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3809-1.ch015
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This chapter explores the emergence of digital microcredentials and describes how the University of Washington's Continuum College is participating in the iterative design of infrastructures and approaches to support these new forms of credentials. The authors explore the current landscape of digital credentials, including the possible benefits, nascent research, and offer a brief introduction to some of the coalitions and formative work underway in many settings. The chapter details a three-pronged strategic approach at the University of Washington's Continuum College. Each of the three efforts is intended to help both the local context served by Continuum College and a new digital credential ecosystem. The three project areas at Continuum College include using digital credentials for university employees, digitally badging the college's extensive portfolio of non-degree programs, and offering digital credentialing as a service to other university departments. The authors describe these ongoing projects, their current state, and implications for further work in digital credentials.
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Digital Credential Landscape

What is a digital credential? Terminology is still evolving and overlaps in meaning with other learning completion signals. In its Hallmarks of Excellence in Credential Innovation (2020), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) notes that a broader term, alternative credentials, “includes certificates, micro-credentials, digital badges, or micro-certificates— [and they] signal specific competencies, certification, and sometimes licensure” (p. 1).

The UPCEA (2020) definition of ‘alternative credentials’ elucidates the broadest landscape of credentials outside of traditional undergraduate and graduate programs, regardless of format. For this chapter, we choose to focus on a subset of alternative credentials: those that are designed to be digital from the outset. Digital credentials have many forms, but it is increasingly common to hear the term ‘digital badge’ used synonymously with digital credential. Critical to the use cases described in this chapter is that these credentials are ‘open’ and can therefore be shared across contexts (business, university, etc.).

Open digital badges emerged from Mozilla Foundation research in 2010, eventually leading to the publication of open standards for creating, displaying, and using them in 2012 (IMS Global Learning, 2022). As defined by the Mozilla Foundation, a digital badge is

A digital representation of a skill, learning achievement or experience. Badges can represent competencies and involvements recognized in online or offline life. Each badge is associated with an image and some metadata. The metadata provides information about what the badge represents and the evidence used to support it. (Mozilla Foundation, 2014)

Mozilla rightly considered the openness of the technology standards, including “metadata specification, APIs, [and] verification framework” to be crucial to widespread adoption of digital badges. They envisioned an ecosystem in which “open infrastructure technology supports independent badge issuers and displayers,” which led to the democratization of badge issuing, collection, and integration under the auspices of the Open Badge Initiative, or OBI (Mozilla Foundation, 2014).

We will use digital credentialing, microcredentialing, and digital badging synonymously throughout the chapter. Unless otherwise noted, the terms are referencing the (2014) Mozilla OBI definitions and presume an approach that centers credentials around the learner and their lifetime needs for education.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Stackable Credentials: Badges or other achievements that can be combined toward higher-level credentials. Common examples include a set of badges that lead to a meta-badge or several badges that lead to another type of credential (e.g., certificate, degree, etc.).

Rich Skill Description: Detailed and thorough definition of a competency or skill in a machine-readable format that can be easily attached to a digital credential.

Dogfooding: Using a new process, system, or technology internally before releasing it to a broader audience. Based on a 1970’s TV commercial from the Alpo dog food company in which an actor demonstrates his trust in the product by feeding it to his own dog.

60-Year Curriculum: Framework for lifelong learning that recognizes the need for ongoing upskilling and reskilling because of increasing lifespans.

Achievement Badge: Award for participation and/or completion of an event, course, or other experience. May or may not include a robust assessment framework.

Digital Badge: Image file with embedded metadata (e.g., award criteria, earner identity, issuer) designed to be machine-readable and -verifiable.

Skill Badge: Award for mastery of a particular skill or set of related skills, assessed through authentic use of this skill in a transferable environmental context.

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