9 Assessments

Assessments are an essential component of a micro- credential (Oliver, 2021). They should always align with the stated learning objectives or competencies within the micro-credential and be intentionally selected to measure whether the learner has successfully mastered a specific skill . In consultation with industry, assessments should reflect what learners will need to be able to do within that profession. Assessments of competency should be authentic to eventual performance in the expected context. For more information on competency and competency frameworks, see eCampusOntario’s Open Competency Toolkit (Green & Levy, 2021).

Recent conversations related to micro-credential design suggest authentic assessments are an emerging high-impact practice (Gooch et. al., 2022). Authentic assessments are defined as those being relevant to particular or specific workplace and social contexts. They ask learners to “do” and practise the skill, competency, knowledge, or attitude that the micro-credential is designed to support (Wiggins, 2006).

The practice of assessing learners invites them to demonstrate how they have acquired the specific skill, knowledge, or competency targeted by the micro-credential. Without assessment there cannot be trust that a micro-credential has achieved its purpose (Chaktsiris et al, 2021). However, to reach this goal, assessments must authentically measure and share how the learner has acquired the promised outcome of the micro-credential.

Intentional selection of learning outcomes and objectives is a critical step in micro-credential design and development. It is important that an assessment be carefully selected to measure the targeted skill or competency, and for it to alignment with the competency. The same applies to assessments of learning outcomes and objectives. Using the rubric and framework available from Quality Matters while designing micro-credentials, including the selection of intentional assessments, can help to ensure alignment between the objectives and assessment (Quality Matters, 2022).

A rubric helps learners to better understand what is expected of them and what criteria they must meet to be successful. However, it is important to note that rubrics are not always required for assessments, especially if the instructions and criteria of the assessment are clearly explained and learners know what they need to do to reach a specific benchmark (e.g., a grade of 80% or higher). Rubrics do, however, provide learners with instructions and guidance on how to complete an assessment effectively.

Using backward design for  micro-credential assessments

Backward design: is a method of instructional design that focuses on the “big picture” and what learners should be able to do upon successful completion of the micro-credential. The assessment method selected, therefore, should reflect this big picture approach. For example, if the design team feels that a learner should be able to create a resume and cover letter upon successful completion of the micro-credential, it only makes sense that the summative assessment would be to “create a professional resume and cover letter.” The formative assessments, whether graded or ungraded, should provide opportunities for learners to practise specific components of a writing a resume and cover letter and receive constructive feedback from the instructor before completing the summative assessment.

If the micro-credential is competency-focused, and learners are required to demonstrate a specific skill, the assessment must be able to measure and assess that the learner has mastered that specific skill. How this is done depends heavily on how the micro-credential is being delivered. For example, if the competency is welding a piece of copper, and the micro-credential is offered online, a suitable authentic assessment might be a video recording of the learner welding a piece of copper and describing each step of the process. Or if a micro-credential states that a learner will be able to “Identify common mental health–related illnesses in young children,” it would be appropriate for the assessment to measure their ability to “identify” these illnesses ; this could be done with a quiz or test, a PowerPoint presentation that asks learners to identify these illnesses, or a written assignment.

Choosing micro-Credential assessments

When designing micro-credentials, it is important to identify the assessments early on to ensure they are appropriate to the delivery method selected for the micro-credential, as well as the learning objectives. Some micro-credentials are better suited for face-to-face or blended delivery than online or hybrid formats.

For example, suppose the learning objective is to “perform proper hygiene” and the delivery method is completely online, asynchronous. In this case, an appropriate authentic assessment might be a video presentation where the learner is engaging in performing proper hygiene while verbally describing each step of the process.

Assessments of competency should be authentic to the eventual contexts where they will be used and provide evidence converging on the same skill or competence.

Some examples of assessments that could be used for micro-credentials:

  • Project-based assessments
  • Problem-based assessments
  • Scenario-based assessments
  • Video demonstration presentations
  • Written assessments
  • Portfolio (e.g., collected evidence from formal and informal learning)
  • Workplace observation (e.g., specific demonstrations and/or observations over time)
  • Dialogue or conversations (e.g., presentations, interviews, debates, discussions)

It is essential that both the formative and summative assessments selected help learners achieve the stated learning objectives.

Formative Assessments and Micro-Credentials

Formative assessments provide excellent opportunities for learners to practise and gauge their own learning and progress before they complete the summative assessment. Formative assessments throughout the micro-credential can provide learners with automated feedback through online quizzes, or direct feedback from an instructor  to better support and prepare them for their summative assessment. Not all formative assessments need to be graded; ungraded assessments allow learners to practise and engage with the assessments multiple times.

Summative Assessments and Micro-Credentials

The summative assessment is critical and should always align with the learning objectives or competencies in the micro-credentials. Depending on the type of micro-credential being designed, some design teams may opt to provide learners with multiple opportunities to complete a summative assessment until they reach a specific benchmark or percentage. Others may want to provide learners with only one opportunity. Regardless of the choice, which will be different among institutions and design teams, learners should be set up for success with clear expectations related to assessment. They should be supplied with all the required materials and instructional resources, learning activities, course-related tools, and formative assessments to support their learning experience; this includes appropriate and measurable objectives or competencies.

The chart below will aid in developing and choosing appropriate assessments .

Micro-Credential Authentic Assessment Framework
PURPOSE

When developing an assessment for a micro-credential, start with two simple but complex questions:

  • What should a learner be able to do or know by the end of the micro-credential?
  • How will the learner know they are able to do or know this?
RELEVANCE
Once the purpose of the micro-credential has been set, next comes the work to identify the specific contexts where learners will be expected to “do” the skill targeted by the micro-credential:
  • How do you know that the assessment is relevant? Consult with both industry/community partner and learners to co-create this sense of relevance.
  • Working together, explore possibilities for assessments that are relevant to the work or social context where the learner will be expected to use the skill being assessed. For example, how might learners demonstrate their learning in ways that meet their expectations, but also those of the industry and educational partners?
  • What evidence could a learner present that demonstrates they have mastered the skill or competency targeted by the micro-credential?
CHOICE

Offer flexibility through assessment design. Learners can demonstrate competency or mastery in a variety of ways (Acree, 2016). After collaborating to identify how learners can demonstrate their mastery of a skill, competency, or knowledge, consider how they might choose to share their learning in a variety of formats (or multiple means of representation and engagement) (UDL On Campus, n.d.):
  • How is the assessment relevant to “doing” the skill targeted by the micro-credential (UDL On Campus. n.d.)?
  • How can learners demonstrate they have met the goals of the micro-credential? Consider brainstorming this question with micro-credential partners, including learners.
  • There are likely at least a few ways learners can demonstrate they mastered the purpose of the micro-credential. Can this variety of demonstration be used create variety in assessments learners can choose from?
  • How do flexible assessment options align to the purpose of the micro-credential and support learner diversity (CAST, 2020)?
  • Create assessment tools (rubrics, checklists, criteria lists) focused on learning goals that can be used across multiple learning contexts or assessments (White, 2020).
CONNECTION

Connection between learners and instructors is a high-impact teaching practice known to increase student learning (Centre for Teaching Excellence, n.d.). Building connection between micro-credential partners through assessment offers a powerful opportunity for a micro-credential to meet its outlined purpose: to fit a clearly identified need for a skill or competency. To facilitate connection through assessment, consider:
  • How can the assessment invite opportunities for learners to connect to each other, to instructors, and to community/industry partners?
  • Can learners be included in smaller groups throughout the term providing opportunities for them to get to know one another and build social connections?
  • How does the assessment connect learners to the work or knowledge they will be expected to do once the micro-credential is completed?
FEEDBACK
Providing meaningful feedback to learners throughout the micro-credential invites reflection on the core skills targeted by the micro-credential offering. The purpose of any assessment is feedback (Wiggins, 2006). To provide meaningful formative assessment and feedback within a micro-credential offering, consider:
  • How can learners access low-stakes opportunities for them to reflect on their own learning and identify gaps (such as regular quizzes, journaling, or group exercises)?
  • How does feedback relate to authentic and effective assessment, where employers might watch videos or view other evidence of performance through a learner’s e-portfolio (Contact North, 2021)?
  • Are there clear expectations so learners know how they will be assessed (e.g., by rubric, checklist), and why this assessment is important to the purpose of the micro-credential?
  • When is feedback provided to learners? Consider offering feedback throughout the micro-credential rather than only at the end of an offering through a summative assessment and providing opportunities for students to engage in peer-review feedback opportunities.
    • Assessments require instructors to provide learners with constructive feedback, and if the micro-credential is competency-focused, learners should be given opportunities to receive this feedback and master the specific competency; therefore, competency-focused micro-credentials should provide learners with second attempts to complete their assessments after receiving essential feedback from their instructors. The goal is to support learners with mastering a specific competency and therefore, providing this feedback for improvement is essential.
ITERATIVE DESIGN
To incorporate perspectives of all members of the micro-credential ecosystem, adopting a flexible and iterative design approach provides opportunities to evaluate and revise offerings in a cycle of evaluation, analysis, and revision (Mei et al., 2021). Adopting an iterative design and evidence-based approach to micro-credential projects might look like:
  • Identifying which member of the micro-credential ecosystem, educational institution, or industry partner, will lead facilitation to create and evaluate the micro-credential.
  • Co-creating core aspects of the offering, including content, delivery, and assessment through an iterative design cycle with regular feedback.
  • Developing plans to evaluate and rework the micro-credential after each offering every time a micro-credential is offered so that more will be learned about its high points and pain points.

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eCampusOntario's Micro-credential Toolkit by Alissa Bigelow; Colleen Booth; Bettina Brockerhoff-Macdonald; Dave Cormier; Christine Dinsmore; Sam Grey; Laurie Harrison; Aaron Hobbs; Sharon Lee; Pat Maher; Fiona McArthur; Tracy Mitchell-Ashley; Jennifer Mosley; James Papple; Jen Porter; Don Presant; Jennifer Sommer; and Edmond Zahedi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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