Friday, November 13, 2020

Designing Micro-credentials for an Australian University

Greetings from the Designing Micro-credentials and Professional Short Courses at the Marie Reay Teaching Centre at the Australian National University. This is my first time in a classroom since March, either as a teacher or student, due to COVID-19. 

It was exciting to be in a room with colleagues (a very large room with a lot of space and other COVID precautions). The instructor took some time to get used to teaching in a classroom, using online terminology and techniques (which was amusing).

The ANU introduced a Micro-credentials Procedure (5 October 2019). The term has no set definition so ANU has defined the specific way it sees these short qualifications being used, for postgraduate studies which offer credit to a degree, over days or weeks, not months. ANU will be using the same Moodle platform as used for courses, by customized for micro-credentials.

A micro-credential could be delivered in a classroom, blended, or fully online. However, the assumption is that most will be at least partly, if not entirely online. The coursers will use a mix of synchronous and asynchronous approaches (that is some in real time with the students in the room or a video conference online at the same time, but mostly the student studying materials in their own time).

The key issue I see for success with micro-credentials is avoiding attempting to duplicate a traditional university campus academic experience. This is because, in part, that experience is a myth and much of that which is real is not suitable for mature students who would undertake a micro-credential. Traditional university teaching has lectures and tutorials, where the teaching staff do most of the talking and students spend their time listening (or in fact not listening). In reality most students did not attend the lectures and if required to attend tutorials do not actively participate. What a micro-credential, or any good university course, needs to do is get students working

At the workshop we were shown several online tools designed to get studnts active and communicating with each other. Examples were a simulated posit note wall using , a quiz using,  and voting using I did not find any of these particularly useful or engaging. These will be particularly unappealing to more mature learners, assuming they can get the interface to work, and their poor accessibility features do not prevent use. One of the participants at my table mentioned the use of, and I suggest that is more the type of application which will be of value for advanced learners. The emphasis should be on students interacting with each other on substantial projects over time, not quick exercises driven by an instructor.

The particular micro-credentials I have in mind are tech-teaching. This would provide an introduction to teaching for those in technology fields, such as computing. These could be university tutors, or those doing small amounts of training in a workplace. This would be aligned with the Skills Framework for the Information Age SFIA, such as Learning delivery ETDL.

One point is that with this type of educational offering meeting other course participants is as important as the content. This may require more than the usual icebreaker activities. 

The ANU staff introduced aspects of the micro-credentials policy, as well as how to go about designing a course, with leaning objectives for a target audience. How to design a course I am familiar with, having been formally trained to do this. However, micro-credentials have their own requirements, being short and for a very specific audience. It occurs to me that the ideation process used in product development could be of use. 

Micro-credentials introduce restrictions on the educational design and delivery process, beyond those of conventional courses. My practice has been to design pure online courses, and then add face to face elements. I will try adding a third step: first designing a set of microcredentials, which can be combined to create a conventional course, run in blended, or online mode. This should be easier than starting with a conventional course and then trying to modify it to be a set of microcredentials.

One area where I suggest more guidance is needed on micro-credentials is timing and structure. A typical Australian university student would be expected to do about 40 hours study a week for 12 weeks. Microcredentials are meant to be short, however, university lecturers have a tendency to try to cram too much into a course.

It may take several attempts for any organisation to come up with a workable strategy for micro-credential. I suggest treating the first version as a pilot.

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