Special Issue on Micro-credentials: A First Taster…

Though highly contestable, it’s not uncommon to hear of a particular challenge facing university students; the transition from learning environments which are structured and (partially) directed by educators, to the “wilds” of employment, where they must demonstrate skills, competences, and offer valuable knowledge and experience to prospective employers.

Photo by Håkon Grimstad on Unsplash

Viewed in this light, the formal university student is something of a caterpillar, cloistered and tentative, until blooming through authentic and real world experiences, becoming valued, and valuable. The issue of employability generates heated debate regarding educational futures and highlights tensions concerning the role of universities and the linking of educational practices to employers’ needs.

Micro-credentials are a topic of interest in this debate, as Brown and Nic Giolla Mhichíl (2021) illustrate using a different four-legged animal metaphor. As we have previously reported through the NIDL blog, issues regarding micro-credentials and employability are the central theme of a forthcoming special issue of the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education(ETHE), co-edited by Dr. Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl and Prof. Mark Brown, of DCU, in conjunction with Prof. Beverley Oliver, emirata of Deakin University. The special issue theme is…

“Micro-credentials and the Next New Normal in Digitally Enhanced Higher Education Ecosystems”.

The recent explosion of interest and literature on micro-credentials and the worldwide growth of new policy developments suggests the special issue is timely.

The newly-published first piece, authored by Marcelo Fabián Maina, Lourdes Guàrdia Ortiz, Federica Mancini, and Montserrat Martinez Melo, of UOC, is titled A micro‐credentialing methodology for improved recognition of HE employability skills. The article reports findings from an innovative, mixed-method pilot study conducted in Eastern Africa. The authors foreground this study in the challenges described above, “to provide students with the option to accumulate meaningful, skills-focused digital credentials in order to meet today’s workforce requirements.” (p.2). The article presents a detailed methodology for developing skills through student articulation both within learning content and employment contexts, as illustrated below.

Student articulations were collated into an ePortfolio, following which students were awarded a digital badge as a micro-credential. An innovative element of the study was the use of a cross-sectoral sample, containing students (n=169), lecturers (n=13), and employers (n=24).

Lecturers were positive in response to the innovation, particularly regarding outcomes assessment, with seven  (of 8) viewing it as helpful in this regard. Qualitative findings also demonstrated that lecturers valued the “contextualisation of evidence” (p. 10) within student accounts, which prompted many to consider how they could incorporate demonstrable evidence within wider teaching practice. Students were also very positively disposed towards the project, with a particular interest in how the use of an ePortfolio could support constructive and iterative engagement, with one student noting:

Due to the feedback I got from my teachers and the employer about my evidence in the ePortfolio, I realized that there are some aspects that I needed to improve in my professional development”.

Employer attitudes are understudied as regards micro-credentials, and findings were interesting in sharing further insights from this perspective. As the paper reports, some “commented that the badges and the attached evidence provide a clear view of the candidate skills that is due also to the availability of rich information that complements what is reported in a traditional curriculum vitae” (p. 14). 

Putting it into practice

In a strong discussion, the authors synthesise their findings and highlight several positive elements that the programme provoked in educators, students, and employers. Sagely, they also note that…

this approach could be challenging when dealing with a large number of students” (p. 16).

This observation arising from the study would appear a common challenge and tension when considering the simultaneous pressures of teaching at scale and attempting to enable and encourage more innovative personalised forms of learning.

A broader, pressing issue regarding micro-credential adoption is the lack of efficacy and applied implementation evidence. While a discourse of micro-credentials as “solutions”, “key tools” and “huge for the future of work” is prevalent amongst media and industry commentators, scant evidence exists to support this discourse. This article is refreshing as a contextual, pedagogically-grounded and applied example of a successful pilot programme, which generated diverse perspectives. The authors are realistic in noting that this is a small-scale pilot. Still, educators and course designers interested in micro-credentials will find much interest in this piece. They should look forward to the further articles coming shortly in this timely, special issue.

Supporting Open Scholarship: The Journal ‘ETHE’ goes from Strength to Strength

Our NIDL team has a strong commitment to Open Educational Practices (OEP), which extends to quite tangible support for Open Scholarship. Not only do colleagues intentionally publish their work in open access publications, such as this recent article by Eamon Costello, Tiziana Soverono and Prajakta Girme presenting ‘A Postdigital Fable‘, but they also play lead editorial roles in several journals.

The Journal is growing from strength to strength and is now a leading Q1 internationally ranked publication in the field of Educational Technology

In particular, the NIDL has a strategic investment as a formal Editorial Partner in the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education (ETHE), which is published by Springer. As an Editorial Partner our support helps to ensure that ETHE remains freely available to educators and researchers.

Therefore, we are delighted to report that the ETHE has consolidated its status as the leading open access publication in the field, as borne out by altmetrics, leading indexes and its social impact. The traditional impact indexes have shown how, for the second year running, ETHE has climbed further up the rankings of academic publications in the field of Education.

In just one year, ETHE has moved from 27th position to 18th (out of a total of 264 journals) in the Journal Citations Reports (JCR) Core Collection for education.

It has also significantly boosted its journal impact factor (JIF), increasing from 3.080 in 2019 to 4.944 in 2020 (first quartile, Q1).

In Scopus, another leading database of international scientific publications, ETHE has moved up from 41st to 11th place (out of a total of 1,531), obtained a CiteScore of 9.2 for 2020 (in 2019 it was 5.6) and entered Q1 of the education and computer science categories.

Beyond these traditional measures, another indicator is how the education community perceives the value and quality of the Journal, and we can report that in 2020 ETHE received almost 1,300 articles, 62% more than in the previous year.

This year the total submissions to September stands at 950, reports Josep M. Duart, Co-Editor-in-Chief from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC).

Altmetrics are another set of indicators that measure and analyse social interaction through the number of times an article is downloaded, its presence in bibliographic managers such as Mendeley, its mentions on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, its appearances in newspapers and blogs, etc. They measure the impact of research by quantifying its presence on the social web. There is clear evidence of how ETHE is also showing growth and achieving high impact levels in altmetrics. For example, in 2020, the journal obtained 2,493 altmetric mentions on social media and its articles were downloaded 1,093,680 times.

The Journal has a truly international outreach. In 2020, for example, 186 authors from 34 different countries published their work in ETHE.

A key element to ensure the variety, quality and internationalisation of the Journal’s subject matter is its team of more than 500 peer reviewers. The editorial team and advisory board is also made up of researchers and scholars from all of the world’s continents and regions. The Editorial Board is currently made up of 53 researchers from 27 countries, and balanced in terms of gender too. 

‘ETHE’, an open access academic journal formally supported by the NIDL, has consolidated its position as a world leading publication in the field of Educational Technology.

The Journal’s team of Co-Editors-in-Chief is made up of Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl, from the NIDL, Álvaro Galvis, from Colombia’s University of the Andes, Airina Volungevičienė, from Lithuania’s Vytautas Magnus University, and Josep M. Duart, from the UOC.  Under the team’s leadership, ETHE publishes regular thematic issues with a timely collection in 2019 for example on the impact of Artificial Intelligence on higher education. Professor Nic Giolla Mhichíl is currently leading a forthcoming special issue on the burgeoning topic of micro-credentials with guest co-editors Mark Brown and Beverley Oliver.

You can read more about the history of ETHE beginning in 2004 on the Journal’s website.