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Learning Report: Scenes from a Rhode Island Micro-credential Symposium

Earlier this spring, educators from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and national nonprofit organizations gathered to learn about the pioneering work of Rhode Island educators exploring the role micro-credentials can play in a professional learning system for teachers. This initiative is a part of the Assessment for Learning Project, which is funding twelve pilots re-thinking assessment all over the country. Upwards of 50 Rhode Island teachers, from seven districts across the state, piloted these micro-credentials.

Micro-credentials, or Digital Badges, provide competency-based, personalized, and on-demand professional learning to educators to build their professional practice. Educators demonstrate their professional growth by using the skills they learn in their existing classroom practice. Educators have choice over what they want to learn and select the specific topics that will strengthen their professional practice. Educators can develop the selected skills on their own time, since there is no requirement for seat time as there is in most graduate programs.  In some school districts across the country, micro-credentials are becoming a novel way for educators to be recognized for advanced skills.

In the morning, Barnett Berry, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Teaching Quality, established the context of micro-credentialing as a mode of instruction. Berry’s keynote was centered around two ideas. First, 18 billion dollars is spent on professional experiences. Second, if we’re striving for competency-based, personalized learning experiences for students, then it is equally important educators to have similar learning experiences.

The Designers

In the first panel of the day, the team of Rhode Island educators and Center for Collaborative Education staff who designed the piloted micro-credentials shared its experience in making them. The micro-credential were organized into three stacks as a means for creating different entry points for educators to build their assessment literacy (Basic Performance Assessment Design, Advanced Performance Assessment Design, and Leading a Performance Assessment Community). Attention was paid to the level of experience and expertise of practitioners, as well as topics that were identified as important from the field.

The Practitioner Participants

Four teacher panels shared their experience piloting the micro-credentials. One panel was comprised of four teachers, ranging from 3 years to more than 20 years of experience. Their conversation opened up discussion on the impact this form can have on instructional practice, especially as it related to teacher capacity and willingness to incorporate greater student voice and choice in the classroom assessments.

Adult Education

Rhode Island Adult Education has a different teaching workforce than the K-12 teaching workforce. Adult Educators do not have a credentialing process for their instructional staff, and most have not received much professional training in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. During a morning panel, Adult Education practitioners shared how these micro-credentials strengthened their instructional practice and discussed how this form of professional development could help their colleagues.

Policy and Next Steps

After lunch, as four “policy people” came together to discuss the ramifications of scaling and use of micro-credentials in a district or state-wide setting, the panel discussed its guiding question: “What policy or regulatory barriers exist that make the adoption of micro-credentials problematic?” They also, recognizing the energy in the room, asked, “How can we harness the depth and meaningful learning that we’ve been talking about all day?” When considering next steps, Rhode Island Department of Education Deputy Commissioner for Teaching and Learning Mary Ann Snider asked participants -- non-rhetorically -- to examine the factors that currently make professional learning less meaningful than it could be. West Warwick Principal Phil Solomon reminded the room that no innovation like this can work unless we involve teachers right from the beginning.

The Closing

The April 26 symposium helped to unpack key issues in introducing educational innovation in the delivery of professional learning, and the support systems needed by the field to engage in this kind of work purposefully. Learner agency and self-driven learning is vital to the next generation of education, and that holds true whether the learners are kids or adults. Micro-credentials are just one way of approaching this work, but they are an intriguing and powerful way to do so. We are grateful for the curiosity, questions, stories, and passion of symposium participants to push the boundaries of professional learning.


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