This week I am diving into the second ISTE Teacher Standard: Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University and I am attempting to answer the following question: “How can teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the ISTE Standards for Students?”
My school is in the midst of redesigning our middle school enrichment program. Currently, students participate in classes where all the students are learning about the same topic (graphic design, robotics, coding). While this is a great program and some of the students are very interested and engaged, a large handful of students have no interest in the topic and, therefore, are very reluctant to participate. Several discussions have revealed that the enrichment program needs to be revamped for next year, where students have more choice in determining what their area of focus will be. One idea, suggested by an outside consultant, would be to use digital badge learning to allow students to have individual choice and ownership in their learning.
The idea of using digital badges for our enrichment program led me to ask the following questions:
How can digital badge learning courses be used to offer students individualized courses of interest for enrichment classes? How will their skills be assessed? Will the courses focus on internal or external motivation (grades)?
Our school currently partners with Tamritz Badge Learning as a way for our sixth graders to complete their digital citizenship course. Like with most digital badge courses, students earn badges and those badges serve as a “digital recognition for accomplishing a skill or acquiring knowledge after completing an activity” (Ferdig, 2014, pg. 24). The students are able to work at their own pace, learning about topics such as: connected learning, personal learning environments (PLEs), digital footprints, netiquette and intellectual property. Under the guidance of their classroom teacher, students are expected to become the experts, while the teacher simply acts as a helper and cheerleader.
Sarah Blattner, creator of the Tamritz course, describes the importance of non-traditional learning opportunities: “Learning happens beyond the school calendar, beyond the classroom walls and with all sorts of people, including teachers, experts in the field, mentors, counselors, coaches and peers. Learning today is about collaborating, evaluating, synthesizing, creating, communicating and problem solving” (2013, pg. 54). Blattner also goes on to note not only the opportunity for a different way of learning, but the need for it: “John Dewey said, ‘If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.’ We are living in a time of infinite information and possibilities for learning, collaborating and creating. We must teach and learn for tomorrow” (2013, pg. 65). Digital badge learning offers students (and adults) a new way of learning and a new way of assessing that learning.
I talked with several veteran members of my school’s faculty and inquired as to the original purpose of the enrichment program. The unanimous response was that the enrichment period is meant to give students an opportunity to explore topics that are not generally covered in the curriculum. The idea of offering enrichment courses via digital badge courses provides us with an opportunity to meet our students where they’re at: “Many young adults are immersed in mediated activities that revolve around games, photography, music, apps, print, television, image, video, and voice and text communication. This mediated environment is rich with learning experiences that expand and diversify meaningful life pathways, connecting youth to new opportunities” (Grant, 2014, pg. 29). One school district in Rhode Island has implemented a digital badge learning model that offers the students the opportunity to discover the following topics:
(Fleming, 2013, pg. 13)
I had big dreams of an amazing program, where students were pursuing their own interests, outside professionals were serving as consultants via videochat, teachers were floating around the room and students were sharing their latest endeavors. My delusions of grandeur suddenly came crashing down…
When I proposed this idea to my professors and classmates, they responded in the following ways:
- A HUGE concern would be the amount of professional learning that would need to be undertaken by the teachers. In fact, to even implement something like this, in my mind, a minimum of one year on training before this was even adopted (@RobinHenrikson).
- I love the philosophy but without teacher buy-in and training/prep it could sink quickly (@RobinHenrikson).
- I imagine I am like a lot of your colleagues, intrigued but confused/overwhelmed by this. Could this be piloted on a smaller scale before it is turned into a school-wide program? (@AnnieTremonte).
- [In a highly-capable elementary class, during a fractions unit] I had a variety of activities students could practice and when they were ready to show mastery, they earned a badge. Students who needed assistance with a particular skill knew who they could ask for further help, and I was able to really delve deep with students 1:1 or in a small strategy group (@CherylSteighner).
- For a new program to be implemented in a school, the administrators and staff have to ALL be part of the buy-in otherwise, it is managed by just a few individuals, who quickly get burned out (@mtellschool).
- Are there parents/community volunteers, who are experts in their fields, able to teach a badge learning course? If you could find outside individuals or resources for the courses, it would be a great start to a wonderful enrichment program for your school (@mtellscott).
- It might be best to pilot with a teacher champion at first. I’ve found with new initiatives at SPU when you get one or two faculty champions the concept/idea/project spreads like wildfire to others: peer mentoring (or pressure!). You would want to select 1-2 teachers who are already excited about how a digital badge system could be helpful to their class rather than starting with teachers who are already skeptical (@ingersoll_ryan).
All of this feedback helped me to realize that, when starting any new program, it is best to be methodical and first pilot the program on a small scale and then let it grow from there. One idea is to start by using digital badges to conduct professional development learning opportunities with the teachers. Technology & Learning recently wrote of the benefits of professional development via digital badges: “Professional development experiences for teachers are often one-size-fits-all excursions. By engaging teachers in conversations about digital badges, district professionals are empowering teachers to engage in conversations about what skills and knowledge they need and want. Additionally, when teachers earn badges, they become part of a community. They are recognized as members who have specific expertise, knowledge, and abilities” (Ferdig, 2014, pg. 24-25). Teachers are not only given the opportunity to explore their own area of interests, but also learn about the badge platform from a student perspective. Do you use digital badges to complete (or facilitate) professional development? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comment section below.
Another possibly that was suggested by my Digital Education Leadership community was the idea of starting small with one or two badges and then letting the program grow from there. As I mentioned earlier, the school already has students complete a digital citizenship course using badges. The idea of launching some pilot badges based on students’ interests seems manageable. How can I determine what badges to offer? What things need to be considered? If you have implemented a digital badge pilot program, please share your experiences in the comment section.
Learn More About Digital Badge Learning
Barack, L. (2013, December 11). Librarian creates site for teachers to earn digital badges for new skills [Blog post]. Retrieved from School Library Journal website: http://www.slj.com/2013/12/technology/librarian-creates-site-for-teachers-to-earn-digital-badges-for-new-skills/#_
Blattner, S. (2013, Summer). Digital badge learning: “Geeking out” across the curriculum. HaYidion, 54-65. Retrieved from http://tamritz.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/HaYidion-BadgeLearning-SBlattner-Article.pdf
Ferdig, R., & Pytash, K. (2014). There’s a Badge for That. Tech & Learning, 34(8), 23-30.
Fleming, N. (2013). R.I. Students Gaining ‘Badges’ and Credits Outside of School. Education Week, 32(20), 12-13.
Grant, S. (2014). Badges: Show What You Know. Young Adult Library Services, 12(2), 28-32.
McIlvenny, L. (2015). Open badges – glorified award stickers or valuable learning credentials? Access, 29(1), 30-40.
Reid, A., & Paster, D. (2013, October 11). Digital badges in the classroom [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/10/11/
Tomaszewski, J. (2013). 21st-century student assessment: digital badges [Blog post]. Retrieved from Education World website: http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/schools-students-digital-badges.shtml