‘Digital Badge’: An Alternative Way to Certify Early Education Teachers

A partnership between researchers at the University of Virginia and Minnieland Academy, has the potential to introduce another avenue through which early childhood teachers could become certified, on a grand scale. The collaboration includes the development of professional development (PD) that supports teachers knowledge and practice around specific skills, and a system through which teachers could demonstrate mastery of that skill, consequently earning a digital badge, or micro-credential. 

In contrast to more traditional PD experiences, such as an in-person teacher workshop, or a longer college course that may touch on many different teaching topics, the PD for the micro-credential is different because it allows teachers to learn about specific skills they might lack. Teachers can then apply to earn a micro-credential where they show evidence through lesson plans, submission of classroom videos, and written reflections, that they can demonstrate these skills. 

“Large scale studies have shown that, in the field of early childhood, there is often no association between the level of teachers’ education and children’s outcomes. There remains a significant need for ways to certify that all teachers can demonstrate the skills they need to support young children’s learning and development,” says Jessica Whittaker, lead researcher at the University of Virginia. “Micro-credentials are an innovative strategy to meet this need. They are bite-size and competency-based.”

Over time, teachers can accrue a set of digital badges that demonstrate the depth of their knowledge and expertise in many different areas.

Initial development of a PD and a system for earning a digital badge focused on supporting children’s reasoning and problem-solving skills is currently underway. In a pilot study, teachers at several Minnieland Academy locations in Virginia will participate in the PD and apply to earn a micro-credential, which focuses on supporting children’s observation and description skills. 

If the pilot study is a success, there will be some proof of concept that an early childhood micro-credential system and aligned professional development might be an effective way to train and badge important teaching skills in the classroom. According to Whittaker, ‘that has the potential to transform the micro-credentialing landscape for early childhood educators throughout Virginia, and ultimately the entire nation’.