Monday, March 1, 2021

Micro-credentials: Education with no wrong door, no dead end

Friday saw over 530 people gather for the fourth annual eCampusOntario Micro-Credential Forum

This year’s Forum theme, Opening Doors for all Learners, featured a series of cross-sector conversations and perspectives focused on the voice of the learner. Our goal was to explore how we can support a flexible and accessible micro-credential ecosystem that ensures education access and opportunity for those in any stage of learning.

Micro-credentials offer “bite-sized” learning – stackable, short-duration, lower-cost, and adaptable learning that breaks down obstacles and improves access to education for all. A more detailed description is as follows:

A flexible and granular form of postsecondary education training of specific skills and competencies that are developed and offered in a partnership between one or more postsecondary institutions and one or more employers, that may be tailored towards a specific need or may be stackable together, tracking towards a larger recognized credential or certificate.

The day was kicked off with a welcome message from eCampusOntario Board Co-Chairs, Dr. Ann Marie Vaughan, President and CEO of Loyalist College and Dr. Steven Murphy, President & Vice-Chancellor of Ontario Tech University, and the Honourable Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities. 

Minister Romano emphasized that micro-credentials are evolving but here to stay, and they must be stackable and trackable: focusing on recognizable skill & knowledge development that tracks and building toward other credentials. They must meet the needs of Ontario learners and industry. Minister Romano outlined how micro-credentials offer lifelong learning opportunities for Ontarians who need to retrain and upskill, and allow lifelong learning to be delivered in ways that are realistic for those who need it, such as mid-career workers: where and when they need it, outside of the traditional 2 & 4 year fulltime enrolment model.

Some highlights of the day:

  • A panel of learners started the day and articulated how micro-credentials offer important ways to demonstrate their job-ready skills and versatile access to education. 
  • This was followed by an industry perspective panel in which discussion focused on the importance of education that is responsive to the labour market and how micro-credentials create value for lifelong learning and labour mobility. In creating micro-credentials and educational pathways we need to be intentional about not creating any ‘dead ends’ – this is the stackable component that enables learners to continually build on their skills and competencies. 
  • Representatives from Indigenous institutes, colleges and universities outlined the need for transparent connection points across the ecosystem. In this new realm of education, learners are curators of their experience; educators are stewards of that experience. 
  • The faculty perspective emphasized the role of contextual knowledge and the need to provide education that is both transactional and transformational. 
  • An overview of research that eCampusOntario is conducting with the Diversity Institute unpacked what unbundling might look like vis-à-vis our traditional structure of diplomas and degrees. In looking at this we need to dislocate ourselves from the past in order to allow ourselves to visualize what education could be in the future.
  • An overview of connected systems and the policy landscape featured panelists outlining the competency approach to education and reinforcing how micro-credentials enable access: there can be different entry points to learning.
  • The final panel on Equity, Access and Lifelong Learning emphasized the disruptive nature of the moment that micro-credentials are ushering in, and the importance of Open credentials, open frameworks, and open recognition.

Over the past four years, eCampusOntario has funded 36 pilots and developed a Micro-credential Framework – a nimble skills recognition model that supports the development of verifiable, labour market relevant micro-credentials that support lifelong learning.

Micro-credentials will be essential in the post-pandemic effort to retrain and support displaced workers, and to sustain the dramatically changing needs of Ontario industry.

What has struck me most about the multiple perspectives that were shared is the sense of shared interests, and our capacity to work together to build educational options. Whether micro-credentials are delivered online or in person, the future needs to be about access and options.  Learners need access to education that leads to meaningful lives and full social and economic participation in society. Learners need the option to pursue learning when and where they need or want to. To have access to learning that recognizes and builds on what they know. To be able to choose learning opportunities that will help prepare them for what will come next.

The necessity of today is the potential of tomorrow: Education for access, equity, and opportunity.

Head on over to for more information on our framework, the pilots, and our ongoing research. And check out our video: Micro-credentials: Opening Doors for all learners.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Connecting Partners for COVID-19 Response and Recovery

Today marked the announcement of a new research partnership model developed in partnership with the City of Toronto, the 8 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in the Greater Toronto Area, eCampus Ontario, along with our research funding partners Mitacs, OCE, NSERC, NRC-IRAP and Magnet. The announcement was conducted by Mayor John Tory, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Research and Innovation Ali Ehsassi, and Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano. 

When COVID-19 struck the City of Toronto and the eight Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Toronto started working together to support Toronto rebuild and recovery efforts. This includes mobilizing the capacity of the faculty and students at GTA HEIs to support capacity development for the City of Toronto and GTA businesses. The City of Toronto Mayor’s Task Force for Economic Support & Recovery — HEIs, led by Councillor Jennifer McKelvie, convened the Academic Institutions Task Force. One key remit of this Task Force was to develop partnerships between HEIs and the City of Toronto to support local businesses and organizations. In order to meet this objective, the partnership model was put forward as a solution to rapidly connect the expertise in the HEIs to City of Toronto COVID-19 research needs.

Under the direction of Manjit Jheeta, Director, Toronto Office of Partnerships, the eight GTA HEIs established the Toronto Collaboration Platform (TOCP) to support City of Toronto recovery and rebuild efforts, leveraging the design work conducted to date. The Collaborative helped to source faculty and student experts from across the eight HEIs to support City of Toronto staff in addressing important and urgent project needs.

An important facet of this partnership is that students are participating in all aspects of projects, from conducting the R&D activities under the supervision of our expert faculty, to project management, teamwork and communications. Students are paid as research assistants, and also receive a micro-credential as part of their participation.

It was a natural fit for eCampusOntario to help coordinate this important technology-enabled effort between three levels of government and Toronto’s colleges and universities. We are connecting our city’s best expertise to help mitigate the impact of COVID 19 on its citizens.

eCampusOntario not only helps bring together partnerships like these, but also designs and manages the technology that connects our brightest higher education researchers with our municipal leaders.

As the convenor for Ontario post-secondary education, eCampusOntario helps connect and support this kind of research and experiential learning that is essential to help in our province’s pandemic recovery.

Together we can build effective solutions for our current challenges that will help create jobs and keep people safe.

Read more about these projects on the City of Toronto website.

More information on the innovative Toronto Collaboration Platform is at this website.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Virtual learning is real learning

Sharing my TESS 2020 opening remarks as we kicked off TESS2020 today. If you missed day 1 you can catch some of the presentations on our social – it was an exemplary day.

Image of TESS Conference logo

Thank you for joining us at The Technology and Education Seminar and Showcase 2020!

We at eCampusOntario are delighted you’ve taken the time to be part of TESS this year. I’d like to extend a special welcome to our colleagues from Kenjgewin Teg, who recently joined eCampusOntario as our 46th member and, significantly, our first member Indigenous Institute. 

As Lutfiyya and Daniel have said we have a great lineup – discussions, panel presentations, and breaks with a variety of entertainment. We have benefitted from support and help from many people – not the least of which is our fantastic team who have worked behind the scenes to make this event what it will be. We are also indebted to Jennifer Gordon from Humber College who provided key input and advice on running a virtual conference – thanks Jennifer. 

In this virtual conference we are all convening from different places. This is one of the things that makes the online environment special. The land acknowledgement Daniel read is an important way for us to begin our proceedings-- and we can build on today’s acknowledgement. Each of us can acknowledge the traditional territories from which we join the event today. To do this, I’ll ask you to go to the site posted in the chat

and find out which traditional territories you are on. Then please share this with everyone through the chat. 

I happen to be in east Toronto: the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinabewaki, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, part of the larger Mississauga nation. I’ve lived in many places in Canada, and was born in Saskatchewan, on Treaty 4 territory, traditional home of the Cree, Blackfoot and Sioux. 

It is important to acknowledge our relationship to the land and those that have lived here before us. Doing so is an important reminder of our responsibility to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls To Action.

This social context informs our work. It includes the imperative to join the fight against anti-Black racism and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do. 

Above all, we can seize this moment to rebuild and support an environment that prioritizes inclusion, representation and voice. 

Taking time to remember and invoke the land outside is an important way to remind ourselves that our lives are so much more than technology at a time when so much (including this conference) is mediated by screens. 

This is a significant time for all of us. We collectively have been navigating unprecedented changes due to COVID 19. We know that the pandemic has disproportionately affected those already experiencing marginalization. And so our theme this year – Humanizing Learning – is an appropriate way to think about the ways in which we can work together to make learning as human as it can be.

Because most of us are now teaching and learning online as our default mode, we are navigating the different tools and approaches we can use to help ensure our online courses are as engaging as our face to face ones. 

We have to remember a very important point: Virtual learning is real learning

Many of you joining us today are leaders in creating innovative, interactive and above all high-quality online learning experiences that result in meaningful learner engagement. We have the ability to ensure not only that our learners can access these quality experiences, but they can do so as part of their lifelong learning journey.

The online learning experiences continue to get better and better, precisely because we convene at conferences like this and share our stories, our successes, and our failures. These events – virtual or otherwise, are important conduits for our own professional development, that in turn have positive effects on our collective ability to model learning as an active way of engaged living. 

Our sector – with rest of the world – went through a sudden pivot when the pandemic first hit. You are all to be commended for navigating this sudden turn. The work we have done together over the past five years provided our sector with guidance and leadership on creating quality online learning environments, which greatly benefited this sudden shift to remote learning.

We now turn to the challenge of scale: how do we build on the work we have done, to continue to provide high quality learning environments that generate enthusiasm, engagement, and a sense of connection in our learners. We can do this by embracing the principles of human centred design that remind us to put the needs of the learner and the social contexts in which we all live at the centre of our curriculum design. 

So welcome to TESS 2020 – I am certain you will enjoy the program!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Future is Micro: Learning that is developmental, iterative, and experiential

Micro-credentials are having their moment. For those of us who have been working with them for some time it seems like this has been a moment a long time coming. 

I’ve been giving micro-credentials a lot of thought lately as we here at eCampusOntario start to ramp up our work in the space. Our micro-credentials Framework offers a highly useful guide to implementing these, and has been used by the 36 pilots we have funded across a range of industries. And the eCampusOntario fourth annual micro-credential forum will take place in February 2021: have a look at the 2020 Forum re-cap page to learn more. 

Micro-credentials offer iterative and agile ways for learners to mark milestones in their learning journey. In an ideal world these will always ladder into successive credentials that enable learners to build on their knowledge and skills throughout their lifetime. We already have models of practice for this in the ways that we can transfer from diplomas to degrees.

If I think about the credentials I have earned that have formal recognition these are broken into two types: those that have been part of a laddered series of credentials (BA, MA, PhD) that form the basis for my formal education, and those that I have earned through professional development that I have earned throughout my career. These credentials have been developmental, and iterative

Formal credentials earned by (bottom left to right) UNBC, Queen's University, University of Toronto; (top left to right) MIT, University of Windsor, Kellogg School of Management
The path from formal credentials to professional development

But learning is much more than formal programming, as important as this is. Informal learning has played (and continues to play) a significant role in my developmental journey. In this sense my formal credentials are complemented by the experiential aspects of service to my community and my participation in communities of practice. This experiential learning is significant as it represents the wider constellation of experiences I have had that have all contributed in meaningful ways to my overall professional development, and my development as a human being. 

Image showing the logos from the universities where I have earned formal credentials surrounded by logos of institutions for whom I have done service, and so have learned from
The constellation of credentials and experiential learning

I had the occasion yesterday to catch up with a colleague with whom I worked many years ago. We were discussing micro-credentials and reminiscing about when we first connected on these back in 2012. And last week I was interviewed by my friend and colleague Laurie Harrison as part of our upcoming TESS conference (next week! Register here). We chatted about the work we used to do together (I worked for Laurie at the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre back in the early 2000s). This included creating short, online courses for teachers working to integrate people with special needs in the classroom as part of the Special Needs Opportunity Windows (SNOW). We didn’t call these micro-credentials at the time, but that’s what they were. 

The difference now is that we are working as a system (or set of systems) to more rigorously stand up micro-credentials as viable pathways to learning, be this for formal or informal learning, as well as for reskilling and retraining. This latter point is very key to helping our society in the pandemic rebuild and recovery. There have been many people laid off, furloughed or otherwise under- or unemployed, including due to changes being wrought because of automation. Micro-credentials offer a viable and valid model for ensuring that learners can access vital learning to support career progression and transition. Scaffolding learning in this way helps us ensure our recovery and rebuild is as inclusive as can be.

There is much work to be done on micro-credentials, and eCampusOntario is here to help. I am confident that we can work together to ensure access to education as part of our role in supporting the postsecondary system. As our SXD Lab puts it: our goal is to promote and enable purposeful learning for a meaningful life through the ongoing development of prepared citizens to participate meaningfully in the economy. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

From Digital First to Digital by Design: Education for the Post-Pandemic World

I’m truly excited to be joining eCampusOntario today. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome to this integral organization.

The eCampusOntario team has done an amazing job of managing the pandemic pivot, led by Interim Co-Executive Directors Lena Patterson and Jamee Robinson. Their message from 3 August 2020 outlines the critical role eCampusOntario plays in the Ontario post-secondary education system, from supporting the student experience and faculty innovation in pedagogy and the use of educational technology, through to broader strategic goals such as furthering the development of micro-credentials and sector collaboration. We really are all in this together.

As we go forward we need to be mindful of the current social context. This includes the imperative to join the fight against anti-Black racism and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated challenges for people experiencing marginalization in our society. We will seize this moment to rebuild and support an environment that prioritizes inclusion, representation and voice.

I take the helm of our organization at a time when what we do at eCampusOntario is more important than ever before. The team has done a superb job of helping the PSE sector pivot into digital first. This work will take on even more resonance as eCampusOntario leads efforts to enhance the learner experience across all campuses in Ontario.

And we should remember that while we are navigating a wholesale transformation of society, not least the post-secondary education environment, these changes are not necessarily all new. The internet has been with us for several decades. My own undergraduate learning experience in the mid-1990s included online video conferencing classes with learners from across northern British Columbia campus connection sites. This enabled learners to access courses and credentials without travelling far from their homes. These were formative experiences for me, confirming that we could take new technologies and ways of communicating and create meaningful learning and access opportunities.

Having worked in Ontario’s post-secondary education sector for the past 20 years--10 years in colleges and 10 years in universities--I am struck by the incredible opportunity before us. We can position Ontario PSE to collaborate to compete together, supporting pandemic recovery and resilience.

Following the pandemic pivot, our focus can now shift to Digital by Design. Where the pandemic forced us all to scramble to put everything online, we now have the opportunity to more mindfully and artfully design digital learning environments that support all learners. For the future of digital learning must be about options: options to facilitate learning in distributed, online environments, to scaffold face-to-face and in situ learning via mediated communities of practice, and to provide ways for learners to access microcredentials that ladder into certificates, diplomas and degrees in support of ongoing career progression.

Over the next three months, eCampusOntario will consult broadly with stakeholders as we create a new strategic plan to take us through the next 3-5 years. How can we support system transformation and stability through digital by design learning? How can we create meaningful education when face-to-face interaction is limited? How do we ensure all learners can access education and support for ongoing career and personal development?

I look forward to learning with and from our community in this process. We are interested in your thoughts, your innovations, your caveats and cautions, and the excellent research that will help guide the way. Stay tuned to hear more about ways you can get involved, including at our upcoming annual conference, being held 20-21 October 2020.

Image showing a person looking outward with a telescope, atop a cloud with an arrow pointing up, signifying strategic planning

Monday, August 31, 2020

On the Importance of Art and Design Research

For the past four years I have had the pleasure to serve and support OCAD University as we have nurtured and expanded our research capacity.

None of this would have been possible without the exceptional team I've been privileged to be part of these past four years. The team in the Research Office has been nothing short of exemplary. It has been a distinct pleasure to work with everyone in our support of research at the University. Our committed and dedicated staff have brought a professional client services lens in support of research excellence. The team is small – but mighty! I will miss working with them - our time together has been fun, but we have achieved many serious things, all while supporting each other to achieve the best we can.

Some highlights of our work: In the past four years our Tri-Agency research funding has increased, our per capita faculty research funding has increased, and the number of faculty engaging in research has increased. I've been pleased to support three new Canada Research Chairs take up their positions and help to lead Art and Design research to new heights here and beyond.

Our highly successful This Is Research communications campaign is now in its fifth iteration. The no-cost Inside Art and Design Continuing Studies course featured a video series featuring the work of our talented faculty. The This Is Research campaign has achieved significant visibility for our research-active faculty across the campus and beyond. The posters, postcards and electronic posters displayed throughout the campus have fostered faculty and student awareness of the important research and research-creation activities undertaken by the OCADU professoriate. They have also been important instruments in our external relations advocacy for amplifying the visibility of OCADU research activities to important government and community stakeholders.

I am proud of the work we have supported, including the Research, Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion (REDDI) project. This project continues OCADU’s leadership to ensure that research at the University, and Canada Research Chair appointees, are afforded a supportive and inclusive research environment. COVID-19 has disrupted our work, but has brought to the fore the importance of supporting those who are further marginalized by the pandemic. The current social context emphasizes the need to continue the fight against anti-Black and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do.

I look forward to continuing to hear about the great work that happens at OCADU. Art and Design are so important to the wider research culture, and I hope that the momentum we have created continues to inspire and challenge.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Research, Remote or Otherwise (plus 3 geese)

Some really good announcements on the research front this week from the federal government, including ample new support for COVID-19 medical research and vaccine development in addition to Support for students and new grads affected by COVID-19 and support from the granting councils for research assistants to extend research scholarships, grants and fellowships via various programs for several months.

There is also an additional $250M in funding for firms to access via the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). The Logic's overview (paywall alert) also details changes to the SR&ED (mainly halting audits) that Minister Bains has outlined in the COIVD response package to supporting firms in Canada. One thing that should be done is to get the SR&ED program in line with its original terms and conditions and support more experimental development activities - the ED part of the SR&ED that has historically been ignored by those administering the program. This singular failure of the way in which SR&ED is administered needs an urgent fix now as we look to support firms to pivot and reframe their businesses in a COVID context. 

This new funding will go a long way to ensuring that we can continue supporting research as much as is practicable while some facilities are closed, and to pivoting into remote research where this is feasible. There are also new avenues of research opening up, for example in looking at ways in which we are collectively navigating the changes and challenges before us, from remote learning to remote systems and service delivery, through to how culture and cultural production is being adapted to mental health and well being. 

The opportunity afforded here is to enable Canadian researchers to help not only lead the world in navigating the immediate public health crisis, but also in adaptation of the economy. And speaking of local adaptation, below is a particularly Canadian adaptation to the 2 meter physical distancing rule - stay three geese apart!

COVID-19 sign from Toronto's Beaches that says Do Your Part. Stay Apart. The length of 3 geese.