Veronica Diaz is the director of professional learning at EDUCAUSE, the association for information technology in higher education. In her role there, she contributes to the strategic management of the organization’s professional learning product portfolio, directs their online programs and supports face-to-face events and conferences. She also manages the microcredentialing program and virtual and place-based mentoring programs.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Veronica about EDUCAUSE’s work with microcredentialing and mentoring including why and how they got started and valuable lessons learned along the way.
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01:24 – Highlighted Resource of the Week – a 30-minute video of Veronica Diaz’s Content Pod™ (presented at our 2018 Learning • Technology • Design virtual conference) where she talks about EDUCAUSE’s mentoring efforts. Just look below for this. You may also want to download the slides. (We mistakenly say this is a 15-minute video in the podcast. It is actually a bit over 30. If your heart is set on 15 minutes, you can choose to play it at double speed – just click the gear icon. Also, this was extracted from a longer session, so the beginning and ending transitions may seem a bit abrupt.)
[01:50] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews Veronica Diaz, director of professional learning at EDUCAUSE, about her organization’s work with microcredentials and mentoring.
[03:00] – Introduction to Veronica and some background information about EDUCAUSE and her role there.
[04:46] – I’d like you to give listeners a brief history of the why and the what of EDUCAUSE’s microcredentials. That is, what have you done and what are you doing with microcredentials, and why did EDUCAUSE want to get into microcredentials in the first place?
The Why: Veronica shares they started with microcredentialing back in 2013 because they noticed it was something that was slowly starting to take foot in higher education. They wanted to give themselves, as an association, the ability to advance professional learning after their community members completed formal education programs because their tends to be a gap—a gap between what you do after you finish these programs and your continued learning/lifelong learning path as a member of a professional community. Also, there are emerging topics that just aren’t present in higher education right away. They needed a way to support their members in building their awareness of things they needed to know as professionals and then develop the skills and competencies to be able to use that work to continue to advance their careers. Also, the microcredential (being digital) gives people a real multidimensional way to share what they’ve done with a broader community and document – in a richer way – what they took part in and how they spent their time as a professional.
The What: Veronica explains that you can boil it down into a constellation or a framework with four different categories (something she says is a good starting point for anybody). For them, those categories were about:
- Recognizing service to the community
- Recognizing subject matter expertise development
Veronica adds that they started with a pilot and low-hanging fruit—so not all of these categories initially. She explains how they got feedback in this process and that people didn’t like the low-hanging fruit—they really wanted things that were more prestigious and exclusive.
[10:20] – I’m curious about the outcomes and results EDUCAUSE is looking for with the microcredentials—and maybe that’s changed or evolved since you first launched them. What results are you after, and what are you measuring and evaluating to gauge your success? Veronica says that it’s not about the microcredential, it’s about the learning experience. So backtracking from there, what they want to get out of the microcredential initiative, and the learning experience in general, is mapping to competencies—so finding out what the competencies are that professionals need and whether they are having the right level of rigor and long-term development of that competency. She says they are looking at restructuring their badging to do that for them in the future. Something else that’s really important to them in this initiative is to help their community demonstrate – to their own communities/organizations/peers/future employers – that they are an active professional and a lifelong learner. Not everyone is in this category but the people who are really value these badges and they value their professional investment. This gives them a way to signal that in a way they couldn’t before. When they look at the data, Veronica says they look at the number of badges accepted out of the number of badges issued and she talks about the tremendous impact the badges can have.
[14:10] – At this point, you and EDUCAUSE have some years’ experience under your microcredential belt, so to speak. What are some of the lessons you’ve taken away from that experience? And any words of advice or caution or exhortation you might have for other organizations considering adding microcredentials to their portfolio of offerings?
Veronica shares seven recommendations/words of advice:
- Start with a simple framework or constellation
- Don’t build new learning (initially) for the badges – let the badges follow and accompany your learning, preferably something that’s already established in your organization.
- Badge design is very similar to instructional design so the same principles apply
- Metadata matters
- Education and communication are key (both internal and external)
- Make recipients earn their badges – they will value them more
- Design matters – if you don’t have the internal expertise to design the microcredential, look at hiring somebody because the first thing people will see with these badges is your brand.
[19:26] – Another EDUCAUSE initiative that I know you’re deeply involved with is mentoring. Similar to what we did for microcredentials, would you give us the why and the what of EDUCAUSE’s mentoring programs?
Veronica says they’ve been doing mentoring in face-to-face settings for quite a while but last year they piloted a virtual mentoring program with Pennsylvania State University. The face-to-face programs are pretty common but in general, their community has told them when they engage in professional learning the number one or two thing they always want is networking and advancement support. For that reason they see their mentoring programs as a key feature in their learning programs. Not only do they support networking and advancement, they also support career changes and provide value to their professional learning programs. From an organizational perspective, it really helps to build community and to boost communication and there’s some synergy that happens across your learning programs when you have mentoring as part of it. The nice thing about the virtual program is they don’t just serve a few folks, they are able to serve between 300-500 people a year—and on a very personalized community level.
[21:43] – The mentoring efforts are more recent than your microcredentialing efforts, so you don’t have quite as much data and experience to draw on at this point, but what have you learned from the mentoring efforts to date? Any surprises that challenged ideas or assumption you went in with? Veronica shares they asked folks to tell them what they were looking for in a mentoring relationship and they said two things across the board: 1) professional advice and 2) their ideal mentoring relationship is from a manager or higher level contributor to an individual contributor. They also saw a lot of people want peer-to-peer as well because they need advice on a very specific area that maybe their formal education program didn’t provide them. The last thing they wanted was personalization. Veronica adds that with virtual mentoring, they didn’t have particular software to do this. For the pilot, they used things like Google Hangouts and Zoom but the big part of the virtual mentoring is the matching—to match at scale is where it becomes very challenging. One of the reasons they engaged with Penn State was to develop an algorithm that would do intelligent matching for them.
[26:04] – About the algorithm you developed with Penn State, can you talk a little about the types of factors that you determined are important in helping to match people for the mentoring opportunity? Veronica explains the partnership they have with Penn State is global so there is a pretty robust application process that their mentors/mentees go through and the algorithm takes all of the answers into consideration and suggests the most successful matches based on that. But you have to train it and that takes quite a bit of data to do.
[27:31] – What do you see as the major opportunities and threats for EDUCAUSE’s professional learning as a provider of lifelong learning? Veronica points out there is a lot of competition for professional learners but thinks they have a unique opportunity to offer a multidimensional, evidence-based learning experience to their communities because they can bring together many of those organizations in the work they do. Being a non-profit she thinks they have a responsibility but also are seen as a bit more friendly in that area and not so much as a threat. They are able to form partnerships to provide a fuller picture and a richer engagement opportunity to the community member. So taking advantage of these collaborations they can engage in at a higher level to serve the professional is where they have their unique value proposition.
[30:02] – What’s going on in learning these days that most excites you? Veronica shares one of the things that excites her is the rise and adoption of alternative credentials. This is allowing for the development of just-in-time experiences that will serve their members quickly and in a way that matters to employees. She points out we really need to move to an evidence-based learning model where it’s not enough to have just a degree but we need to know more about a person’s learning experience/path to be able to understand what they’re able to do. The learning experience is much richer than just taking a course—it’s service. With alternative credentials there is a real opportunity to showcase all that informal and service learning in a way that will matter to the professional and to their employers as well.
[32:31] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Veronica talks about her experience participating in a two-week immersive institute program for professionals in higher education and explains why it was so impactful.
[35:32] – How to connect with Veronica and/or learn more about EDUCAUSE:
[36:10] – Wrap Up
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[38:20] – Sign off