With the growing interest in higher education in microcredentials, digital badges and other alternative certifications, about 58 percent of institutions are considering offering digital certificates.
In 2015 the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers developed a track at its Technology and Transfer Summit to create a framework for an “enhanced” transcript that now embodies a wide range of educational experience and learning artifacts. Contemporary academic record. AACRAO, working with the Lumina Foundation, NASPA, NILOA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other higher education organizations, has since supported more than 50 colleges and universities to develop, develop, and establish comprehensive learner records (CLRs) in the United States. Student records have gained considerable traction in recent years.
What is a CLR?
A CLR is an official record that speaks to the needs of today’s student, a lifelong student who gains and acquires knowledge in a variety of settings and institutions, including a bachelor’s degree and beyond. This certificate reflects what was learned in an educational program. In this context, the educational program is a technical or higher education degree program at the post-secondary level. The U.S. Higher Education Academic Transcript is now the complete coursework and remains the official document used to award a degree or certificate. CLR is not a duplicate replacement. Rather, it is an alternative expression to record and prove the results of an educational program or activity. Its purpose is to provide students, employers, and others with more grainy, valid information that can be understood outside the academy. It may include learning outcomes or skills and other descriptive information from academic courses (like a transcript), but it may also include information on co-curricular activities, employment or other evidence of learning or acquired skills. This expression of learning must work together.
Although sometimes considered confidential and in higher educational terminology, transcription remains a highly trusted and frequently used expression of learning. Behind the transcript stands institutional governance structures, policies and practices to ensure the timeliness, quality and accuracy of the recorded data. Listeners to the transcript can be confident that disciplinary experts have defined the curriculum, evaluated student achievement, and validated student data, and that an external, objective team (e.g., a recognized organization) reviewed the organization’s processes and practices to do all of the above. For the above reasons, the claims of the transcript are presumed to be trustworthy, accepted as true and have integrity. Thus, in a similar manner to the transcript, the same features of the CLR should be borne in order to serve as an effective and recognized means of communicating a student’s achievement across multiple educational activities.
Connection to the workforce
The United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board (AWPAB) and many other organizations have taken significant initiatives to create similar summative learner records, including certificates from non-higher education providers. This certificate was more broadly named Learner and Employment Record (LER). As described by the AWPAB report, LER is “a system that contains verifiable information about an individual’s achievements in a wide range of contexts, whether formal or informal, classroom-based or work-based, in the education or training process. LERs can seamlessly record, verify, transmit, and interpret information about learning achievement among educational institutions, businesses, and individuals. “
One of the core principles of LER is the concept of student self-sovereignty, which enables students to have agency over their certificate while maintaining the trust attached to the certificate issuer. Self-sovereignty is often applied through digital wallets that enable students to curate and share their credentials in a way that is consistent with the career opportunities they are exploring. Thus, the interest in issuing and using verified, digital learner certificates has found a solid foundation.
Accepting the CLR and devoting resources to developing and implementing a broader expression of student achievement is an extension of existing replica concepts and practices, but it also challenges the traditional notion of what a replica was. For many good reasons, including reliability, continuity, and interdependence, higher education relies on replicas as official records of students’ academic history. The reality is that duplication remains the currency of the state and it still serves as the basis for basic employment for many jobs. The challenge is to recognize the opportunities for innovation as well as to capture important features of the academic record.
We have identified four challenges that most organizations face when considering innovation with student records.
- In most cases, CLRs are not intended to replace transcripts, so organizations need to explore and rearrange value proposals to the organization by primarily looking at the work as a service to its students. A common argument against CLR adoption is the lack of demand from other higher education institutions and the labor market — however, this is changing rapidly as employers and schools innovate.
- Another challenge is the perceived (and sometimes actual) workload borne by faculty, instructors, and staff to evaluate, collect, and maintain learning outcomes as the basis for these new types of records. Requirements and functional responsibilities should be addressed openly at the beginning of the CLR planning discussion.
- In addition, many institutions use a traditional transactional business model where a student (or recipient) is charged a fee for each publication of their copy. This revenue is at potential risk if student self-sovereignty (i.e., disclosing the record directly to the student and enabling them to disclose it to whomever they choose) becomes a standard practice. New and innovative business models are being explored and implemented to address these funding challenges.
- Lastly, there are generally competitive priorities for development resources to ensure that CLRs comply with a generally accepted data standard (e.g., 1EdTech CLR), which means that the critical principle of credible interoperability can also be a barrier. These resources should also be acknowledged and addressed in planning discussions.
AACRAO is working with partner organizations at the national level, with individual organizations and our members to address each of these challenges. Successfully communicating the value proposition of CLR / LER while addressing financial, operational and technical barriers is important for the widespread acceptance of CLR in higher education.
AACRAO is a long-time champion in learning progress. We have jointly created pilots, guides and best practices that allow us to expand the concept of traditional records. An example of this effort is the 1EdTech (formerly IMS Global) CLR Implementation Guide. The work is now extending beyond CLR interoperable technology, representing a strong commitment to collaborative policy development at all levels – because registrars, our members know that applying technology to flawed policies and processes will not succeed.
The Chief Institutional Officer who is responsible for ensuring the integrity of student records is the Registrar. The registrar acts as an administrative proxy for the faculty and is responsible for the artwork that reflects education and is most employed — the most prominent being the transcript. The Registrar provides administrative, operational and implementation support for new academic initiatives and defines and conducts recording processes and practices to ensure the validity of curriculum and student information. In addition, the Registrar operates an academic support system, on the scale by which the curriculum is taught, recorded and expressed on behalf of the student to people outside the institution. As such, registrars must play an important and necessary role in supporting the expansion of student records, and their expressions outside the organization contain integrity and legitimacy and accurately represent student achievement. Building this trust enables these trainee educational records to be easily accepted across the organization and in the larger talent market for which LER makes such promises.
We readily acknowledge that field development is unequal সব not all organizations (or registrars) are ready for an extended dialogue on CLR and LER, but AACRAO is committed to continuing our partnership to shape the dialogue and support institutional innovation through registrars. As a key stakeholder in adopting leading practices to meet student, marketplace and workforce needs.
AACRAO will support the contribution of solid learning in the overall LER work of higher education institutions by recommending academic record practices that protect the integrity and legitimacy of these expressions of student achievement, upholding and continuing the principles of interoperability and student-centered records. Find collaborative and innovative partners.
Mark McConaughey Retired Associate Vice Provost and Registrar at Indiana University in Bloomington and currently serving as an AACRAO Consultant. Mike Simmons is a retired Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of North Texas and currently serves as AACRAO’s Strategic Project Manager.