Why a Credentialing Strategy Must be Part of Your Digital Strategy
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Why a Credentialing Strategy Must be Part of Your Digital Strategy

Jack Suess, CIO, Collin Mood, Senior Computer Engineering, University of Maryland Baltimore County
Jack Suess, CIO, Collin Mood, Senior Computer Engineering, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Jack Suess, CIO, Collin Mood, Senior Computer Engineering, University of Maryland Baltimore County

For the last two years, Digital Transformation has been something that many organizations are attempting to undertake. There are many great articles on this subject, from Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, or EDUCAUSE. EDUCAUSE defines Digital Transformation as "a series of deep and coordinated culture, workforce, and technology shifts that enable new educational and operating models and transform an institution's operations, strategic directions, and value proposition."

For higher education, nothing can be more transformative than transforming an institution’s value proposition and operations in the academic space. We believe that micro-credentials and the Comprehensive Learner Record are the levers to unlock digital transformation in the academic experience.

For UMBC, we have six projects that are part of our digital strategy, micro-credentials are key components of three of those projects:

● Use digital platforms to advance and support the student experience;

● Expand digital skills training for all; and

 ● Advance and support digital innovation in curriculum and pedagogy across all modalities.

Over the next few years, these projects will help us automate how we record, track, and digitally display the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies acquired throughout one's UMBC experience.

We got started on this journey by a driver that is common across higher education -- employer demand for technical workforce skills.

In 2017, the Greater Washington Partnership (GWP) launched a workforce skills initiative. The GWP represents many of the major employers in the Richmond to Baltimore region. They came together AND in collaboration with universities in the region, identified knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) needed in the workforce. There are four specific areas they focused on:

1. Digital generalist - all jobs should have these basic digital skills.

2. Cybersecurity specialist - KSAs needed by students entering this field.

 3. Machine learning - KSA’s needed by Data Scientist related roles

4. Data analytics - KSA’s needed for data analytics professionals Working with our faculty, UMBC created six self-paced modules in the EdX system to cover the six areas of emphasis by the GWP. Our team worked with our Career Center to create a series of self-paced modules. Students access the modules by enrolling in a practicum course. While the practicum is zero credits, it is noted if the student successfully completed this course on the student’s transcript. We consistently have 100 students a year taking the practicum, with about 50% successfully completing all modules. As an incentive for students, the companies involved in the GWP offer interviews for summer internships to the students that have successfully completed all the modules. We are now working to expand our pilot and encourage more students to enroll into the practicum course.

A new initiative, launching this summer, is a collaboration called STEM Ready. STEM Ready is a collaboration between Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, and UMBC’s programs at the Shady Grove campus. This program is allowing students starting as early as 10th grade to take dualenrollment classes between high school and community college. Through dual enrollment, students earn college credits at no cost. UMBC is supporting this program by micro-credentialing the KSAs the students master in either high school, community college, or at UMBC. The goal is to get these students summer jobs with companies involved in the GWP in technology and allow them to integrate experiential learning with their academic courses. Moreover, the STEM Ready partnership provides a meaningful pathway from a high school diploma to a bachelor's degree where learners can acquire micro-credentials for competencies they have acquired along their journey. Since the STEM Ready program has a very diverse student population, we are hoping this initiative helps make STEM competencies more accessible to more people and diversifies the regional workforce.

“A robust micro-credentialing initiative is fundamentally rooted in designing measurable learning outcomes with directmeasure assessments in place”

UMBC’s strategic plan and mission/vision focuses on the integration of academic, co-curricular, experiential, and service learning. While these results have been launched with smaller populations, these pilots were designed with a much larger vision in mind: How can we leverage technology to personalize students' educational journey and allow students to distinguish not just what they have learned, but what they have done at UMBC. To do this, in 2019, UMBC joined a cohort of institutions interested in implementing the Comprehensive Learner Record (CLR). The CLR is a project that AACRAO (registrars), NASPA (student affairs), and 1EdTech, formally IMSglobal (educational technologists) developed that use the micro-credential standard to develop a more robust standard for a co-curricular transcript. What is powerful about this approach is that by using micro-credentials as the underlying component of the CLR, it is relatively easy for employers to automatically ingest these credentials into their hiring systems.

A robust micro-credentialing initiative is fundamentally rooted in designing measurable learning outcomes with direct-measure assessments in place. During our first pilot with GWP, UMBC purchased software that not only allowed our team to map learning outcomes and experiences but the software is also certified to support the CLR standard. For those interested in a more detailed discussion on this effort, we have a short audio presentation we did to put this in place.

Circling back to the topic of digital transformation that we started with, these pilots have demonstrated success. We see how this aligns with supporting both our students and employers. We are now using this effort to support digital transformation. As we revamp our General Education and University requirements for students we are planning to use the CLR to highlight direct measures that show how students have achieved our functional competencies. We are rethinking how we use the CLR to integrate experiential, civic, and service-learning in tandem with a learner's academic learning to fully support our mission and vision. To do this, we have transferred the leadership of this effort from our IT organization to Academic Affairs, through a partnership with our Division of Professional Studies and our Shriver Center. Working with the Vice Provost, we are focused on collaboration with the Deans of our Colleges and plan to offer a number of new curricular focus areas that will leverage micro-credentials and the CLR.

We conclude with the following lessons learned:

1. Before starting with micro-credentials, do your research. The aefisacademy.org community website has many vendor-neutral resources and presentations to get you up and running in this evolving area.

2. Pilots are critical, but it is essential to plan for scale. We expect that in a few years we will generate well over 100,000 microcredentials a year as we use them to track direct measures of learning. That can’t be done with a spreadsheet!

3. If the CLR is on your roadmap, review the AACRAO resource on best practices.

 4. Partner. Adopting a CLR is essentially digital transformation of your transcript, it is important to use change management and bring campus groups along!

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