College IT programs continue to recognize the value of integrating professional certifications; common objectives and time-stamped credentials serve the employer well, industry validated outcomes and aggregated test results support the efforts of institutional effectiveness, and certification provides another credential for distinguishing student ability. But what are some implications for program administrators and classroom instructors?
Historically class content is specified using only a course syllabus with general outcomes or objectives listed. The instructor has had a great degree of latitude determining specific course content, creating both the learning content and the assessments. Course evaluation was typically limited to the most basic level-one evaluation, in which students assess the course answering questions concerning course organization and instructor effectiveness.
Integrating certifications into the classroom provides new levels of content definition and evaluation. Certification specifications not only dictate what is to be learned, but also to what degree. Certification may also span multiple courses, requiring a much greater degree of coordination between subsequent courses. Most importantly, course effectiveness in no longer measured based on how the student feels about the instructor, but rather measured using a new standardized metric – certification exam results..
As a result, courses and programs have a new level of transparency. Not only is student competency measured against a standard, but also instructor and program performance. Certification results can be compared between instructors, courses, and even between programs. Instructor performance is made public and no longer hidden behind the classroom door.
Early adopters of certification in the classroom are comfortable with this increased transparency. This group is typically highly motivated and may likely have experience with certification preparation and exams. But what about the other instructors? What issues appear as certification in the classroom is scaled out across the program?
Let’s assume you require certification in every class and expect instructors to pass the exam as a prerequisite to teaching. What if this school-identified expert doesn’t pass? What actions should administrators take? And what action is required if a class has poor results on the certification exam? Is this seen as an issue with the instructor’s pedagogy, or will the instructor declare a deficiency in the certification outcomes or exam? Where does the blame for poor results lie – the student, the curriculum, the instructor, or the certification?
Integrating certification into your program is the right thing to do. But, there are challenges that arise as this new metric is applied to learning. School and program administrators must be prepared to actively manage instructors, incorporating exam results into effective evaluation and professional development planning. Instructors will have strong opinions when they fail exams or have poor class results, but educational reform and continuous improvement requires that administrators focus on data, not opinion.