Approaches to Microcredentialing across the Curriculum
A cross-curricular microcredential program creates a learning pathway built from smaller and stackable course groupings. Microcredentials provide students with recognition of success through awards along the journey to a certificate, minor, or major. Earning microcredentials contributes to motivating students to complete their degrees and ties curriculum to skills sought by employers.
Building microcredentials across current institutional curriculum provides an opportunity for faculty to engage in their program curriculum to achieve a range of engagement and motivation goals—from attracting students and awarding smaller units of course accomplishment to satisfying local employability needs.
Drawing on my completed work, I provide a range of principles to guide preparing microcredentials from current curricular strengths, as well as strategies to assist in institution-level microcredentialing. The goal is to increase student opportunity to showcase academic accomplishments as well as motivate and engage students in a way that increases retention and degree completion.
Strategies for microcredentialing
Think of microcredentials in terms of current course clusters. Plan and develop microcredential programming in a manner responsive to employer needs. Here are five approaches to strategically develop microcredentials:
- Draw from stackable program segments. For many programs with degree requirements organized around requirement clusters or areas, microcredentialing can be viewed as segmenting. The degree segments can be organized into one or more microcredentials to be earned as part of the journey of earning a degree.
- Capture unique program strengths. Degree programs often have specific strengths that make them especially attractive to both students and prospective employers. The courses capturing these strengths work well as a basis for microcredentialing and can highlight programs strengths within a student’s program of study.
- Group marketable skill sets. Microcredentials might include a grouping of courses around special skills sets of interest to area employers, such as communication, writing, accounting, economics, health care, or neurology.
- Underscore what is unique and special. Clusters of courses demonstrating expertise are what distinguish one program from others. Such an approach to microcredentialing assists in enhancing program identity and enhance marketability to students and employers.
- Highlight faculty strengths. Microcredentialing can empower faculty to create something uniquely new. Current faculty research strengths or unique approaches to the field provide opportunities to build collaboratively or across disciplines.
Guiding principles for microcredentialing
The process of creating microcredential programming includes building consensus and interest, incentivizing collaborative development, creating and approving programs, and attending to infrastructure needs. It is important to support not only faculty champions of microcredential programming as they process proposals across departments to schools and senate but also staff who oversee advising and web presence.
Here are a few guiding principles for navigating the process:
- Be responsive to current marketability. Begin by informing the process by drawing from institutional surveys and advisory board input. Attend to market needs and employer desires with an understanding of what increases student employability.
- Ensure alignment to larger programs. One strength of microcredentialing is that it is stackable toward a certificate, minor, or degree when aligned thoughtfully to larger programs. Structuring microcredential requirements from current programming also helps feed students into the larger program and, ideally, enhances enrollments.
- Motivate student by rewarding achievement. Rewarding student accomplishment through completion of course clusters can provide motivation and increase retention. Capturing achievements along the way to larger program or degree completion can assist in engagement and motivation throughout a longer academic journey.
- Capture faculty enthusiasm. Casting microcredential development as an opportunity for creating innovative curriculum assists in building buy-in, increasing the number of faculty and staff engaged in the process.
- Provide guidelines and clear direction. Once microcredential programming processes and infrastructure are constructed, typically with a task force or committee taking the lead, next steps should be establishing guidelines and incentives.
While the format for microcredentials can vary, below are two sample microcredentials designed from my institution’s current offerings. They provide a foundation for and can be built onto for learners to earn a minor, certificate, or degree. Note that each highlights the types of skills sought by prospective employers.
Professional writing for work
Learners expand writing skills for professional workplace context and audiences, building critical thinking, reading, and research skills across a range of professional writing genres capturing diverse content in a range of multimedia. Following microcredential completion, learners will confidently prepare written work demonstrating attention to audience and cultural contexts independently and/or collaboratively.
Skills: Critical thinking, analytical writing as well as active reading, editing, researching, speaking, and listening are among transferable skills gained.
Courses: English W231 Professional Writing, W234 Technical Report Writing, and W324 Technical Editing
Gender and visual literacy
The microcredential in gender and visual literacy offers employers proof of specialized training in analyzing visual material through the perspective of gender theories and visual rhetoric methodologies. Visual literacy is of importance in an increasingly visual world, and development of this skill is valuable in professional settings. Microcredential courses provide a foundation for the women’s and gender studies minor or certificate while also benefiting learners’ research and professional careers.
Skills: Written communication, empathy, creative textual and visual analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, and research applied across digital genres.
Courses: Women and Gender Studies WOST W200 Women in Culture, WOST W300 Gender and Film, and WOST W300 Gender and Visual Literacy
Cautions for microcredentialing
Leaders of microcredential development can mitigate risk and increase successful implementation by establishing infrastructure supports early on through various campus units including, but not limited to, records and registration as well as advising. Including stakeholders in the process early on can foreground details such as how microcredentials are captured in students’ records and when advisors can begin sharing microcredential program opportunities with advisees. Attend to what supports the external affairs offices can offer. Formalize where information on student progress toward microcredential programming will be stored. Have a process to make students aware that they have completed a microcredential. Be sure to also inform students of a microcredential award in cases where they complete one without purposefully working to earn one.
Increasing interest will naturally emerge from sharing proposals run through departments, schools, and campus. Faculty leaders play an important role in making new programming visible as they share details on new opportunities with students. Clarity on who plays what part will be invaluable to continued interest, support, and growth. Establishing an advisory or coordinating committee early on helps distribute workload and advances the important goal of empowering individual campus supporters and champions of microcredentials. Leaders do not need to complete this work alone. Microcredentialing provides contexts for collaboration across curriculum, empowering faculty to create curricular opportunities for students with an eye toward student retention and employability enhancement.
Edwina Helton, PhD, is professor of English and director of women’s and gender studies at Indiana University East.