The New Face of Higher Ed: Mark Leuba of IMS Global Shares How Colleges Are Embracing Alternative Credentials
Welcome to Bootcamps and Badges, and EdTech Times podcast series where we speak with alternative credential providers and experts on skills-based education. This podcast episode is brought to you by work+EDU, an action-based event hosted by EdTech Times.
As alternative credentials become more popular, are traditional learning institutions afraid of going out of style?
Quite the contrary. According to Mark Leuba, Vice President of Product Management at IMS Global Learning Consortium, colleges and universities are stepping forward as emerging leaders when it comes to these new programs.
Listen into our interview with Mark Leuba, in which he tells us the steps higher education institutions are using to adapt to the times and help these alternative credentials make strides forward.
Hester Tinti-Kane: This is Hester Tinti-Kane with EdTech Times. Today we’re speaking with Mark Leuba of IMS Global. Our topic is alternative credentials and digital badging. Mark, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about IMS Global?
Mark Leuba: Sure, Hester. I’m a former CIO with an online university, now with IMS Global, as you mentioned. IMS is a nonprofit comprised of 400-plus K–20 institutions and edtech software providers. It’s dedicated to improving teaching and learning through technology, primarily through mutually agreed upon standards such as Open Badges.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Excellent. So can you talk about alternative credentials? Can you provide a definition of alternative credentials for us, please?
Mark Leuba: Well, I think there are two answers to this. One is a credentials answer, and the other is a technical answer. And I’ll start with the technical answer first. Alternative credentials are digital and modular, instantly verifiable, and they contain data that the learner can use to represent their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Mark Leuba: From a credential-related response perspective, I think the common agreement is that these are discreet, smaller units of learning with a very specific designation of achievement for a particular skill. Usually the subjects have strong market value, they’re stacked together in a larger credential — a certificate, or even a degree.
Hester Tinti-Kane: And are there specific providers that you see leading the way in this area?
Mark Leuba: Well, there are a number of commercial firms that have been successful as you know, Hester. And many have a good reputation. But the organizations that I think are most interesting are the colleges and universities that now are stepping forward as emerging leaders.
Mark Leuba: The University of Wisconsin, for example, Extension (UW-Extension) has a number of innovative programs that it’s formed with a just-in-time education philosophy that focuses on verified competencies. The University Learning Store is a consortium of innovators that are led by UW Extension and they offer online, market-relevant, micro-credentials that compliment their four-year programs and beyond.
Mark Leuba: And then there’s also Capella Education, the parent organization of the university, is really all-in for alternative credentials. They own devmountain.com, which is a successful residential coding camp, and Hackbright Academy, which is dedicated to bringing women into technology. They also have RightSkill, a career pathway program that designs custom education to meet students where they are and then match them to jobs in partnership with CareerBuilder.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Great. So how do these alternative credential programs support education to work? And why is this in particular important to IMS global?
Mark Leuba: Most of the programs, but not all, that I’ve seen have been focused on high demand and employability skills. Although I’m really happy to hear about a well-respected liberal arts program recently, choosing badges that help learners develop their portfolio. But our members are committed to their learners’ success, period. Whether it’s in employment or advancement academically, or in a lifelong learning context. As a member-driven organization we support what they want.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So how are you at IMS Global working with the digital badge providers?
Mark Leuba: Well, we’re now the publisher of Open Badges, which was originally developed by the Mozilla Foundation, as you know. They asked us to assume leadership for the standard last year, because it aligns with our mission and capabilities so well. Leading badge providers, such as Acclaim from Pearson, Badger from Concentric Sky, and Credly, are all active members helping to guide the spec evolution.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That’s great. So we’re talking about digital badges. Tell me a little bit about how alternative credentials and competency-based education intersect.
Mark Leuba: They are interdependent in our thinking. You can’t have one without the other, but together they have much greater impact. Alternative credentials are focused on skills and obviously so is CBE. IMS, as a matter of fact, has a standard for expressing and sharing competencies called CASE — which stands for competency and academic standards exchange — that helps capture and manage competencies and compliments the open badge standard very well.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the research being done in CBE?
Mark Leuba: Sure. IMS has a great working relationship with CBEN — which is a competency-based education network. And that’s an organization, that’s a consortium of 35 institutions — maybe more by now. And we work with them to try to understand the barriers that they’re experiencing. We’ve co-led research projects with them. And we take those technical barriers, and we use that to inform the work group’s activities to make sure that we’re trying to solve the problems that are real life problems in the field.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Interesting. So tell us one more connection. I’m wondering about the role of blockchain, and how blockchain plays into all of this: alternative credentials, competency-based education, and extended transcripts.
Mark Leuba: Sure. We see blockchain as a key component for trust in the digital credentials ecosystem for badges and for transcripts, especially high stakes credentials.
Mark Leuba: But fundamentally it provides a key that can be used to verify that the credential is in fact the one that the holder is representing and hasn’t been changed. But the implementation doesn’t expose any further sensitive data whatsoever. It’s simply a key that can be used as a point of reference.
Hester Tinti-Kane: You folks are doing some really interesting work over at IMS global and I want our listeners to understand where they can go to learn more about you. So is there a URL that you can share — maybe there’s a specific place where they can go on your web site to learn more about your work in alternative credentials?
Mark Leuba: Absolutely. I’d welcome that. It’s IMSglobal.org is the website. Click on the ‘initiatives’ tab and then ‘digital credentialing and badges.’ While you’re there, please spend a few minutes and look around to see all of the wide variety of standards and practices that IMS members are leading for the industry.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Great. Thank you. Are you folks on social media by any chance?
Mark Leuba: Yup, Twitter. We’re @learningimpact.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Great. Well thanks so much for speaking with me today, Mark. It’s really been a pleasure.
Mark Leuba: It’s been my pleasure, Hester. Thank you.
This podcast episode is brought to you by work+EDU, an action-based event hosted by EdTech Times.
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Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.