Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2013, No. 5: Online credentials

“Flipped” and adaptive learning programs gained traction on campus. A high-profile internet hoax involving a college athlete propelled the term “catfishing” into the public consciousness. MOOCs hit some key stumbling blocks, while the notion of a college degree became more fluid.

techThese were some of the key ed-tech developments affecting colleges and universities in the past year—and we’ve got a full recap for you right here.

In this special all-digital publication, the editors of eCampus News highlight what we think are the 10 most significant higher-education technology stories of 2013.

To learn how these stories have made an impact on colleges and universities this year—and how they’ll continue to shape higher education in 2014 and beyond—read on.

5. Colleges rethink what it means to earn a credential.

First announced last year, the University of Wisconsin System’s new flexible degree program officially launched in November, becoming what is believed to be the largest public university program in the nation to offer “competency-based” degrees.

The web-based initiative allows students to earn college credit by demonstrating knowledge gleaned from the workplace, military experience, or coursework on tests.

Designed to help working adults earn degrees faster, the program is being touted as a model for the future of higher education. And it’s just one example of how technology has forced campus leaders to rethink what it means to earn a credential.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), one of the regional accrediting agencies, recently approved four institutions to offer degrees via direct assessment. This is one of “several interesting [changes] on the horizon,” wrote HLC’s Karen Solomon; others include “the disaggregation of services [and] expectations for institutional and student success.”

She explained: “Students are mobile. They earn credits across institutions and utilize many modalities along the cycle. An organization can document that a student completed a program of study while enrolled at the institution, but there may be several institutions that awarded credits to the student. Should this achievement be considered institutional success only by the institution awarding the degree? [Or,] should all other involved institutions also be able to consider the completion as success?”

Digital badges also have exploded in popularity this year. Merit is an application that more than 500 colleges and universities now use to validate and promote students’ accomplishments. From making the dean’s list to taking a service-oriented spring break, students are awarded standardized digital badges denoting successes on campus.

The badges, or merits, are then displayed on an individual Merit Page that is easily shared through social media.

Mozilla’s Open Badges project employs a similar digital badging system that can be shared through social media, though one that is less standardized as educators can create their own badges using their own criteria.

This past fall, the WICHE Cooperative for Education Technologies partnered with Mozilla, Blackboard, and Sage Road Solutions to explore the possibilities of digital badges through a massive open online course.

But as Anne Derryberry, one of the course designers, noted in an article for eCampus News, the emergence of digital badges has created key questions for accreditors to address going forward.

“Many postsecondary institutions are considering, even preparing to implement, badges within academic programs and for faculty development,” she wrote. “As these institutions and others contemplating using badges evaluate the suitability of badges for their programs, questions come up about how badges might be encompassed within an institution’s accreditation.”

Unlike degrees, she noted, badges don’t need to represent just mastery. They also can acknowledge skills and abilities that lead up to mastery.

“This granularity supports stackable credentials that allow institutions to take a modular approach to curriculum design, with badges for core competencies providing a cross-curricular foundation,” Derryberry wrote. “These are also the very reasons that badges challenge the way accreditation is currently designed and how it currently functions.”

See also:

Competency-based degree programs in higher education: Opportunities and challenges

Going beyond a degree with digital badges, social media

Accreditors are monitoring changes in e-Learning

Online colleges seek to avoid ‘access without success’

Computing on campus: An ‘accidental revolution’?

Badges, credit, and accreditation in online education

Online flexible degrees set to launch in Wisconsin


eCampus News Staff