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From Badges to Breakthroughs: Unleashing Learner Potential through Competency-based Achievements

Ellen Wagner, WCET, Chair Fred Hurst, Northern Arizona University Karen Solomon, Higher Learning Commission Deb Everhart, Georgetown University and Blackboard, Inc.

What You Can Expect from this Session
• This panel session shares experiences and perspectives with innovations that are challenging “The Course” as the primary unit of educational currency. • We will discuss credit for MOOC completion, personalized learning, direct assessment and verification of competencies and badge frameworks as options for extending low-cost, quality educational opportunities for increasingly diverse

student and instructor populations.

Alternative Models of Postsecondary Education are Gaining Traction
• New student populations expect education that is flexible, relevant, and meaningful • Elite universities are accelerating interest in online learning through massive, open online courses. • Expectations of institutional accountability have amplified questions about whether and how universities should be “scored.” • The “ticking time bomb” of American student loan debt is changing consumer attitudes about the value of education.

The Potential for Alternative Credentials
• Thomas Friedman: “Alternative credentialing has potential to lift more people out of poverty…. [and] to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems” ( man-revolution-hits-the-universities.html). • Alternative credentials can ignite learning enthusiasm, improve learner success, and ultimately increase human potential.

New Modes and Models
These phenomena, among others, are driving the demand for low-cost, reasonable-quality educational experiences. Innovative institutions are responding with alternatives such as: • MOOCs • Personalized Learning • Competency Based Learning • Badge Frameworks

New opportunities have emerged from changing expectations
Evaluating and award credit for student learning, wherever and however it has been acquired. At a growing number of institutions, degrees and certificates are awarded based on credits from courses as well as from analysis of prior learning, community service, and student portfolios. The network needs to grow.

New opportunities have emerged from changing expectations
• Some alternative credentials recognize demonstrated, validated competencies tailored to desired outcomes through direct assessment. • In some vocational areas, the source of learning is insignificant in comparison to the verified ability to perform a specific skill or job. We will need new structures as well as those to evaluate the competencies.

New opportunities have emerged from changing expectations
• Badges - small, discrete bundles of defined outcomes are available through learning communities that provide reputation frameworks for peer validation, with badging and other designations of achievements. • These learning opportunities vary broadly in their quality and applicability to higher education; some may displace the need to earn an entire degree.

Please Tweet Your Questions to US

#EDU13 @edwsonoma

Since we mentioned MOOCs…
WCET Frontiers ( A Simple Guide for Navigating the MOOC Muddle (Garn and Dowden, 2013)

Dr. Fred Hurst
University of Northern Arizona Personalized Learning

Northern Arizona University – Personalized Learning

Change is good. You go first.
- Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoon

Northern Arizona University – Personalized Learning

Northern Arizona University’s Personalized Learning enables motivated students to earn a high quality degree more efficiently and at a lower cost by customizing coursework to fit individual learning styles and previously acquired knowledge.

Northern Arizona University – Personalized Learning

Student Experience •Self-paced online adaptive learning •Mentor faculty •Readiness assessment •Curriculum is interdisciplinary and prescribed - there are no electives

•Every concept - multiple modalities
•Pre-, interim, post-assessments

Northern Arizona University – Personalized Learning

• Developed degree programs in 6 months: Small Business Administration, Computer Information Technology, Liberal Arts • Lead faculty for each degree • Student starts any day of the year • Subscription model - $2,500 per six months – all inclusive (fees, materials, texts) • Two student records: • Traditional transcript • Competency report

Northern Arizona University – Personalized Learning

Aggressive Timetable

•Approved by HLC on May 21st
•Understanding to offer U.S. DoEd – Title IV in August •Students enrolled; ~1200 prospects •500 student goal in first year; 8,000 in five years •Three new programs second year; masters degrees in third year

Higher Learning Commission
A Commission of the North Central Association

Direct Assessment Competency Based Programs
 Assuring Quality in Higher Education
Karen J Solomon Vice President for Accreditation Relations

Federal Definition 34 CFR 668.10
 Direct Assessment includes range of portfolios,
presentations, examinations and other documents that reflect mastery of learning goals

 Methodology for determining “credit hour
equivalencies” required
prior work

 Federal funding not eligible for giving credit for

Reviewed by

 State Coordinating & Governing

 Accrediting Agencies  U.S. Department of Education


Issues to Address
Purpose and Philosophy Clearly defined goals Framework for programs  Structure and Coherence of the Program  Competencies defined  Beginning, Middle and End Stages  Competencies are not only individual units but
build to a unified body of knowledge

Issues to Address
 Application of Academic Policies  Student Eligibility  Attendance, Leaves of Absence  Satisfactory Academic Progress  Information to Students  Support Services & Access to Academic Resources  Peer Engagement

Issues to Address
 Eligibility, Development & Engagement of

 Subject Matter Experts  Mentors and Coaches  Curriculum Designers  Content Assessors


Issues to Address
 Assessment of Student Learning  Evaluation and Improvement Systems  Distinguishing Competency-Based Program from
Prior Learning Assessment

 Billing and Title IV  Tuition Refunds  Calculation of assistance earned

Issues to Address
 Credit Hour Equivalencies  Transcripting of Competency Earned  Equivalent Courses or Credit Hours Noted  Clear Information for Other Institutions and

 Contractual Arrangements


Current Status  Growing expectations for  Four institutions approved to offer
Direct Assessment programs Application to be available – transparency regarding persistence, completion and student success

Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials
Dr. Deborah Everhart Director of Integration Strategy, Blackboard Adjunct Assistant Professor, Georgetown University


No badge is an island. Open badges work within a complex ecosystem.

Open Badges Ecosystem
• Primary Stakeholders
– Learners/ Job Seekers – Learning Providers and Assessors – Employers and other Badge Consumers

• Key Components
– Verification – Authentication – Validation


Learners/ Job Seekers

Learning Providers and Assessors


Employers and Other Badge Consumers


Standards Organizations



QUESTIONS for panel:
What is the biggest opportunity you see for your breakthrough innovation? What is THE biggest (possible) hurdle you see as people consider moving ahead with your breakthrough innovation? What is the one thing you want people to remember about what you have presented?