Although I love the freedom, flexibility and personalization of informal learning with my PLN on social media, I always felt that there should be a system for acknowledging that learning.
Badging for professional learning, now, seems an obvious solution. Badging itself has a long, rich history, even dating as far back as the middle ages. Throughout its history, badging has been used to guide, motivate and reward. But even just less than a year ago, when I started my journey into the world of digital badging, I had no idea myself how powerful it would be.
My journey into the world of digital badging started this year with a challenge from my principal Eric Scheninger. He asked me to develop a system that would familiarize teachers with Web 2.0 tools and related technologies. At the time, I was more focused on digital badges and eager to create a digital badge initiative for the students. I knew, however, that such a program would fall flat, as so many often do, unless teachers got to experience digital badging themselves.
It was at that point I decided to marry the two ideas into a digital-badge-based professional learning platform. The platform would kill two birds with one stone; provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and give them first hand experience with a digital-badge-based learning system. I was sixteen years into my own career as an educator. I had a firm understanding of what works in teacher professional learning and what doesn’t and I wanted to disrupt the system!
DIY Badging System
I had a vision, but I also had a steep learning curve to undergo in order to make it happen. I started with a company called Credly and a Wordpress plugin of theirs called BadgeOS. Credly, is a free web service for issuing, earning and sharing badges. Their free plugin BadgeOS instantly transforms a Wordpress website into a platform for recognizing achievement.
I knew I had found the solution and although I had only basic familiarity with Wordpress, I refused to let that stop me. I purchased our domain name, worlds-of-learning-nmhs in the hope that other schools might want a similar system of learning for their teachers and be able to substitute their own school name for nmhs (New Milford High School). By October I was ready and able to launch our badging platform.
How does it work?
Teachers (or anyone who wants to join) simply register on the platform. Members can then choose to learn about a tool from among the (growing) selection of badges I have on the site. Our badges include badges for mastering tools like Buncee, Padlet, and ThingLink, as well as a variety of other web-based tools.
To learn about the tool, I provide a purposely brief description of what the tool is. I also include a very short screencast which provides an overview of how to use each tool, a brief written description of how the tool can be used and how the tool can be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum through the Common Core.
Educators can earn the badge by then integrating what they’ve learned into their instruction in some way. Users can submit ‘proof’ to me that they have done so. Their evidence can include a URL demonstrating what they have done, a lesson plan, or even just a text description of how they or their students have used the tool. Upon receiving their documentation, I issue them a digital badge for their learning. I release a new badge every few weeks, as to not overwhelm teachers with too many choices.
After my very first tweet to promote the platform, I was thrilled to see that not only did teachers in my district join, but teachers from all over the country (and even some internationally) were joining.
A map of where participating teachers are located.
The feedback I received was tremendous. I was inundated with emails thanking me for developing such a system and also messages from educators and administrators asking me how they could develop a similar system.
At that point, I decided to give it all away. I offered my files for districts to install and personalize. Some districts expressed interest in integrating this exact badging system and others wanted to take this platform and use it as a springboard into badging in other areas. For example, online academy classes, information literacy skills, training library staff, and recognizing the digital achievements of students and staff in 1:1 initiatives.
In the words of one educator who contacted me, "I think your platform is exactly what my school needs to motivate teachers- especially those who would like to explore new technology in their classroom but are intimidated and don’t know where to start. I think it is a wonderful place to experiment with web-based technologies in a safe and welcoming space. This is such a great way to encourage and recognize the digital achievement of the staff."
This message, amongst the others, confirmed for me what I already knew - that teachers want to create their own professional learning path, that they want to learn anytime and anywhere, and that they want to receive credit for their informal learning.
Teachers in my district have also used the platform to recognize their own proficiency with technology tools and volunteered to share their knowledge by contributing their own screencasts to our platform. These teachers have earned Digital Leadership badges to recognize their efforts.
I think the badging system was so successful when applied to professional development because it is an informal learning system, it is a ‘safe’ place, free from administrators, for teachers to be able to learn, experiment and take risks.
I believe this platform works because it reflects the learning needs and wants of teachers, it provides a place for beginners to learn new tools as well as room for teachers to become more proficient with technology tools to showcase their knowledge and skills. Teachers who take the time to learn on their own time now have a way to be acknowledged for and to receive credit for that learning.