Illumination by Modern Campus

Lisa Templeton (Oregon State University) on Expanding Horizons with Microcredentialing Initiatives

November 30, 2023 Modern Campus
Illumination by Modern Campus
Lisa Templeton (Oregon State University) on Expanding Horizons with Microcredentialing Initiatives
Show Notes Transcript

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Lisa Templeton to discuss the expansion of the Oregon State’s microcredentialing initiative and the importance of access and affordability for modern learners. 

Amrit Ahluwalia(00:13): Lisa Templeton, welcome to the Illumination Podcast. It's so great to be chatting with you.

Lisa Templeton (00:20):Well, it's so great to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Amrit Ahluwalia(00:22):Of course. So we are live, we're in Washington dc We're at the SIA Acro Convergence Conference. It's a new conference really focused on alignment between continuing education and academic affairs as relates to micro-credentialing. This is a topic that any regular listener of this podcast or any reader of the evolution will know we are somewhat passionate about. And now, Lisa, you are the vice Provost, the division of educational ventures at Oregon State. So relatively new role. Prior to that, you were the associate Provost of eCampus. And over the last 18 months, over an 18 month period, you and the team at Oregon State launched 36 different awarded 300 badges. Why has Oregon State decided to expand its micro-credential footprint the way they have?

Lisa Templeton (01:07):Yeah, thank you. It's a great question. We are so excited to be piloting a micro-credential initiative for our university. And I guess the history of it is Oregon State University is the land grant institution of the state of Oregon. And we take providing access to learners incredibly, it's incredibly important to us. It's kind of the core at everything we do. And in my role at eCampus, we have been providing online degrees for many years as we've been expanding in my new role in this brand new division of educational ventures, we're really looking at Oregon State's, been offering degrees for 150 years, and that's great. It's core to what we do, but in this new role, how do we look at innovative ways to create pathways to other credentials, not just degrees?

(01:57):So just because we've been doing it for 150 years doesn't mean it's the only thing we need to do. So we started thinking about what else should we be doing? What other types of pathways to credentials are needed by modern learners, by today's learners? And that's really where we started our thinking. And for us, we know that higher education has become so expensive and it's out of the realm for many learners. So how do we do something that's more affordable? And we also know time is an issue. A lot of the work students that we've helped in, supported and worked with at eCampus, we envision being the students in these micro-credentials as well. And we know they are busy. These are working adults. They often have families prior commitments in their communities. They're busy. So how do we develop something that's affordable and quick, but also meets the needs of today's modern learners? So we took that rationale of access, affordability, and then added to what are the skills that are needed in today's workforce? And really that was the rationale for trying this. So we said, let's put something out there, let's give this a try, evaluate it, and then modify if we need it. But let's try something. Let's develop other credentials that learners can use.

Amrit Ahluwalia(03:12):This is such a cool concept. How tightly aligned is the work you're doing in your micro-credentialing pilot to a competency-based education model? Is it sort of a full Venn diagram? Is there a crossover or are they two separate things?

Lisa Templeton (03:29):Yeah, our approach I think is pretty different than a lot of other universities. Our alternative credential program, we're talking about the micro-credentials, which fits under that is really focused on credit. So what we're doing is we're actually taking courses degree credit bearing courses, and based on the skills that we need. So for us, this was a way to go faster. So instead of looking and creating all sorts of new courses, we're saying, what do we have at eCampus? We have I think about 1200 online courses and all those courses have learning outcomes. So we looked at those learning outcomes and the courses that we already have because we could move quicker. And what if we bundled a few of them together looking at what are the workforce needs right now and what are the courses that have the course learning outcomes that meet those needs that make sense to bundle together? And that's how we were kind of approaching it, taking this rich, robust, high quality portfolio of online courses and rebundling repackaging based on what we think a modern learner would need.

Amrit Ahluwalia(04:34):Absolutely. What's striking me about this model, one of the foundational pieces that we ever published in the evolution that I still reference back to as I think about the transformative educational space is Dave King and his,

Lisa Templeton (04:52):I just had lunch with him. 

Amrit Ahluwalia(04:56):And the spectrum of learner access, the concept that there are multiple phases on a spectrum of access where a university has a responsibility to serve its community, but not everyone is necessarily looking for the rigor, the robustness, and the cost of a full degree program. And this unbundling approach really strikes me as being true to that vision of serving a spectrum of access by finding different access points for people to programming that might already exist.

Lisa Templeton (05:24):Yeah, that's great. As I butted in and said, I just had lunch with Dave, and I told him that because Dave, for those of who's listening, who dunno, Dave King, he was the associate provost before I was the executive director under Dave. And we worked very closely over the years and he definitely had this great vision, this very insightful vision of a spectrum of access to Oregon State University. And so I told him about what we were doing, and he said something that I thought was really great, and I'm going to make him listen to this podcast so I can give him credit. But he said, I think it takes about seven years for an idea to get into a place. He said, ideas come up, and then at universities it's really hard to move. And about seven years later they are there. And I was like, huh, it has been about seven years. There might be something there, but this step, you're going to have to look back at it. It was published that seven years ago, but this absolutely connects to what Dave's thinking was and some new thinking at the university as well. So why not take what we have and unbundle it? Rebundle it to help modern learners to make things more affordable, more accessible. But it's also looking at, I think in this whole credential area, what can we do? How do we make things stackable? So I'm thinking of there's multiple audiences for microcredentials. We actually have current students. A significant portion of the majority of our enrollment has been our current students at OSU. So they're coss skilling. So I'm an undergraduate student and three years out to getting my degree, but I need a summer job. What if I can show I've earned digital badges and that helps me get that summer job? Because you can see the skills I've earned in those digital badge.

(07:04):These were courses I actually needed to get my degree. We're working with those current students, but we also are looking at, and we've attracted some non-degree admits. So students who aren't part of Oregon State University, and those are those more traditional adult learners who say, this is going to help me in my career. But yet, even though they're not earning a degree, if they decide to come back and get that bachelor's degree, the postbac, or even a graduate degree, we show on our website how these micro-credentials can be stacked into a degree. So what you're paying for these courses, you're not going to lose any money. These will count towards certain degrees if you plan that correctly.

Amrit Ahluwalia(07:39):That's so neat. And this might be a stage two early, but I think it's so interesting to think about how building pathways for traditional learners into non-traditional or micro-credential programming, because a lot of our colleagues in the continuing ed space, I think there's a desire to serve more folks from the traditional academy, but there's a recognition that it might be two different audiences. How important is building relationships with the traditional degree seeking students at this stage to helping the university actually establish a lifelong learning relationship with those individuals based on education as opposed to, I think the student alumni relationship that a lot of institutions maintained today, which is more oriented towards, you did your learning with us maybe 10, maybe 15, maybe 20 years ago. Now you're an alumni, please donate. I don't think a lot of students tend to think about their alma mater as a place to continue learning.

Lisa Templeton (08:45):I think so when we launched this, that was definitely not necessarily, oh, how is this going to connect with alumni giving? Really the motivation behind this was truly access and affordability. So that's what we were trying to do. With that being said, absolutely, if an alum is trying to reskill upskill change jobs or just continue their education, this is absolutely an opportunity. And we love when our alums come back and retool with Oregon State. 

Amrit Ahluwalia(10:01):Now in order to build the micro-credentialing model, you have, obviously there's an alignment with credit programming, which isn't necessarily a common approach. How did you build an effective and collaborative relationship with the Academic Affairs department and specifically obviously with the registrar and campus to really get this off the ground? And of course, very much speaking to the topic that you and your colleagues will be discussing here at the Convergence Conference, but also to the entire theme of the conference itself.

Lisa Templeton (10:31):Yeah, so E campus at Oregon State University, which is part of the Division of Educational Ventures, is a central unit. And I think it's pretty unique. So we are a central unit, but everything we do at eCampus and within the division of Educational Ventures has a partner. I can't think of a thing I do alone. Everything we build, offer do has an academic partner, and I think that's our secret sauce in some ways. So Oregon State University campus isn't a standalone university. We're not out there on our own hiring our own faculty courses, hiring our own faculty or offering our own courses. What we do, and we don't buy content from anybody else. What we do at Oregon State eCampus, as I said, is a partnership. So if we develop a course or a program, we do that with an academic partner and they determine which faculty member is going to teach it and offer it.

(11:25):So it's this really great collaboration. So everything we develop online we feel is high quality. It is Oregon State. It doesn't matter if you took it online, onsite, it's an Oregon State course, an Oregon state degree. Our students actually come back to Corvallis or come for the first time and they walk at graduation with the campus students because again, it's the same degree. So with that being said, we have these great collaborations with all of our academic colleges. We're already working with a faculty member in course development and developing degrees. So when we came up with this idea of we want to blow up a degree and offer something in smaller pieces, they were really, really amenable to the idea. And actually, we have faculty who are very eager to do this. They think it's a great idea as well. It increases enrollment in their courses.

(12:16):It's a good thing. And these courses are already developed. We're already using courses that have been developed. So what we did is I spoke with the provost and he was definitely amenable to experimenting with this. We put a team together, if I remember correctly, our graduate school, our registrar's office, academic affairs, my role in each campus, and really started talking about what could microcredentials look like at OSU. And as everyone knows, it could be many things. It could be, it can be credit. I mean the prices can range the amount of work. And where we decided to start was really in the credit realm. And as I mentioned, what we were doing is taking the courses that we have already and rebundling into smaller packages. So once we kind of determined what it was, then we said, can we do this right?

(13:08):Can we offer a new credential? And the registrar's office was very clear if this was going to be listed on a transcript, there was going to be a longer process if this micro-credential was on the transcript. So we said, what would be the fastest way to move? I think at a university, there should be two paths. There should be these long, thoughtful paths that take, they're bigger lifts. And then there should also be a road that we go quickly, and that's the road that we can innovate and make mistakes and then regroup. So we can look at the long path of how do we get these on the transcript, but what can we do now? And the registrar said, well, if they're OSU courses, we can still list those on the transcript. It's not going to say you have a micro-credential in Spanish, but it'll list this three Spanish classes.

So we took this idea to our faculty senate executive committee and said, this is what we want to do and we want to move quickly. And what they did was they appointed a micro-credential review committee, and it's done at a university level. It's a group of faculty member and administrators who when we want to launch a micro-credential, they look at this, they review it, and they do the approval. So it's really quick, and that's really exciting. So we can be more market driven because we've got this quicker approach. So that's kind of how we were doing it. As we are kicking this off as we evaluate it and decide, wow, we actually do need this on the transcript listed as a micro-credential, we may have to go down that long, the longer road, but meanwhile what we're doing is we're awarding digital badges through crud, and it is a partnership between eCampus and the registrar's office, and it's going very well.

Amrit Ahluwalia(14:54):That's a spectacular, the model's so interesting because it also, you're right, it does set the institution up to look at micro-credentialing through multiple lenses at once, the long-term vision and how can we get there today? I am curious, how did you and the team come to establishing a sense of taxonomy between the kinds of credentials that were going to be offered, what they were going to be called and what they meant in a way that applied universally? I think the fact that eCampus is a central unit probably played a large role in creating cohesiveness right off the start.

Lisa Templeton (15:25):Yeah, absolutely. I think it was critical. So there is one unit that kind of knows what's going on in the micro-credential world on the credit side for all of Oregon State University, and I highly recommend that. So left hand is talking to the right hand. What we're trying to do is get industry insights through a variety of ways. We have a corporate and workforce education unit that's bringing in insights. We work with Guild and Guild obviously works with major corporations. And we're hearing from them, what are the needs of these corporations? We're bringing all this information back. And from that we're looking at, okay, what are the courses that we have that we think the learning outcomes we'll meet the needs? And then we kind of figured out, we reach out to the academic colleges. We work often with associate deans there or department heads and the faculty say, we want to bundle these courses together. What do you think about participating in the micro-credential pilot? And as I mentioned, they're eager, right? There is a lot of excitement about this. I think everyone gets this. Everyone, as I mentioned earlier, and I can't say it enough, really cares about access and affordability at Oregon State University and this is a way to do it. So we're creating things that are providing access to others who may not access OSU if we didn't have these micro-credentials.

Amrit Ahluwalia(16:38):Absolutely. And I love thinking about micro-credentialing through the lens of an access mission, especially from a land-grant perspective, because the two things are, they're so closely intertwined. Obviously we're seeing more and more leaders trying to find ways to launch and manage micro-credentialing programs in a way that is cohesive, that is aligned, that is collaborative. Because I think we've seen the impact that siloing can have on a space like ours. What advice would you share with other leaders that are trying to execute models similar to what you've already got in place?

Lisa Templeton (17:12):Yeah, Bob Hanson says this often. He's the CEO for up. CF, for those of you who don't know it. And it has really resonated with me that alternative credentials right now kind of feels like where we were with online education 15 or 20 years ago. And I've been in online education for a really long time, so I remember that we used to really operate in the margins. Folks didn't really care too much about it. It wasn't part of the, people didn't feel like it was the core mission to develop online programs. So we were operating in the margin really kind of struggling on how do we prove we can do this in a high quality manner. And over the years we've gotten there. I know at Oregon State University right now, our faculty are really proud of the work we do. We've been ranked in the top 10 by US News and World for nine straight years in a row and our undergraduate bachelor's.

(18:05):And again, as I said, we're not buying content, we're building it with our faculty. So we really feel like we've done online education the right way. So that was 15 years, 20 years of work to get there. And I feel like I'm starting over again in the alternative credential, kind of operating in the margins. We do a lot of pilots, right? Pilots a great way. And my university is very supportive of let's try it. So that's kind of where we are. We're piloting this. We are bundling three online courses together and building micro-credentials. We are seeing who enrolls. I've got a lot of details on the market, who's finishing, who we're giving badges to, and we're going to take all that information at the end of our two year pilot and say, let's keep going, let's adjust, or let's kill it. If it's not working, I think it's going to work.

Amrit Ahluwalia(18:54):So far so good. 

Lisa Templeton (18:55):But I guess that's my advice for another university is this is something that's probably going to be happening in the margins. Try something.

(19:06):Don't wait until it's perfect and you get everything you want. That long road is too long, right? You're going to need to do something quicker. And if it doesn't work, try something else. I think that's really, it's time. This is a time, very similar is a time that I think is very similar to where we were 15, 20 years ago when we really started innovating in the online world. And I think it's an incredible opportunity for learners. So I hope others try jump into the alternative credential arena, and I hope that they share. I always am willing to share what worked, what didn't as we're all learning about this together.

Amrit Ahluwalia(19:46):Absolutely. And yeah, no, I totally agree. I mean, it's so funny. We always talk about there's never been a more important time for, but it's true there really, when you look at the data around student learner completion rates, when you look at the data around enrollment rates, when you look at the concern people have about whether or not education is a viable investment for them, there really has never been a more important time for us to experiment with new ways of making high quality learning accessible. One thing I am curious about actually, and now, and for the benefit of listeners, we're going vastly off the list of questions at this stage. No problem. But I am curious, have you found the process of marketing programming and the process of getting folks enrolled and getting folks engaged in programming? How have you seen those processes change now that you're shifting to a micro-credentialing model as opposed to maybe a more traditional credit bearing or degree model that you would've had previously?

Lisa Templeton (20:47):That's a great question. So at Oregon State University, we do a biannual statewide needs assessment of adult learners through our campus. So about every other year, we are reaching out to learners, potential learners who are thinking of going back to finish their degree, get their first degree or get that second degree, and really asking them what they're looking for. So we used our statewide needs assessment to test the concept of micro-credentials. And what we learned is there is low awareness. Folks do not know what micro-credentials are, but high interest. So when we described microcredentials great interest in 'em, so that is a problem if you have something with low awareness, we can't go out and market in our traditional way if you don't know what it is. So I am lucky to have a fabulous marketing team, and they understood that we need to start with awareness to begin what is a micro-credential. And then once we get the awareness, we can start doing a more robust marketing job of these are the different options we have. So I think a couple things we've learned along the way is it's going to take a little time for this concept to catch on, and especially when every university is calling a micro-credential something else,

(22:05):And it's inconsistent, that's problematic. But for us, we have seen, since we've launched every term, the enrollment has increased. So we're seeing a steady rise of both campus-based students who are opting in to cos skill, why they're earning their degree, and also the non-degree admit students who are just jumping in on this. What we're doing and finding, I think it has been helping is we have some certificate programs that we've already offered as a university, online certificates, undergraduate and graduate level. So we're putting the micro creds kind of on the same webpage with them. So the concept of certificates is more comfortable. So as people look for a certificate at Oregon State University, they'll then happen upon, oh look, here's a list of microcredentials, what are those? And they'll be there. So I think that has been working well.

Amrit Ahluwalia(22:53):Absolutely. Well, Lisa, I mean that pretty much does it for me. I'd like to close out the way we close out every interview on Illumination, which is find out if someone is trying to go to dinner in Corvallis, Oregon, where do they need to go?

Lisa Templeton (23:06):Alright, dinner in Corvallis. So I have a few favorite places, but I think I have to give a shout out to Tai Chili. So Thai Chili is a little teeny restaurant on Monroe, so it's right on campus and if you like Thai food, it's fabulous. I tend to get the pad Thai, they do the spices from zero to five. And I want to warn you, I like spicy food and I can't go past one. It is very spicy. So that's my only caution. If you come to Corvallis, check out Thai chili. Just be aware. Be very careful about the chilis. Be careful, very careful on your spice level, but it's absolutely delicious right on campus. You can walk to portion size is great. I can usually get two or three meals out of it and it's just great. That's awesome.

Amrit Ahluwalia(23:52):That's an excellent honorable mention. Lisa, thank you so much. I appreciate you.

Lisa Templeton (23:57):It was my pleasure. Thanks so much for inviting me for.