Blog Post

Badge-Based Professional Development: Purposes and Possibilities

Note:  This is a cross-post from the TAMRITZ blog.

Digital Age Teaching Course

This past summer TAMRITZ welcomed six schools to the Digital Age Teaching, badge-based online professional development course, including the Epstein SchoolKehillah Schechter Academy, Krieger Schechter Day School, Moriah School, Portland Jewish Academy and Seattle Hebrew Academy.  The course provided educators an opportunity to take on the role of learner within a supportive, connected learning community.  Teachers and administrators were encouraged to embrace the modern learning ethos for the course, which is based on principles of game-like learning, principles of connected learning and project-based learning.

Ethos of Course:

  • Hard fun Challenge yourself, solve problems and embrace interests.
  • Play: Learn through tinkering and welcome a messy process.
  • Flow:  Engage joyously and take satisfaction in creative accomplishments
  • Fail fast, fail forward:  Fail for fun and learn through multiple iterations.
  • Collective wisdom:  Stand on the shoulders of your colleagues.
  • Naches: Take pride and joy in helping others succeed.
  • Curiosity:  Create a "need to know" in learners.
  • Generosity: Share, participate, comment and engage.

VoiceThread explaining the spirit of the course in more detail:


Content:  Levels


Each level of the course focused on a different skill set and a collection of tools, articles, videos, discussion threads and activities:

Learner 2.0:  How does learning happen in the digital age?

Digital Citizenship:  How can I integrate digital citizenship into the student learning experience and model habits of digizens?

Professional Learning Networks:  How can a professional learning network support my own growth and practices?

Create 2.0:  How can I leverage new media to creatively share and publish my learning and my students' learning?

Learning Design:  How can instructional design, badge learning and new media engage my students in deep learning experiences?  How do these instructional approaches shift my own teaching practices?

7 Purposes of Badge-Based PD

1.  Learning Network:  Community of practice

TLN-Main Through a collaborative learning network of schools across the U.S., educators shared their practices and ideas around engaging students through digital media and learning.  The course served as an initial learning hub for connecting schools from a wide range of geographic locations, school models and interests.  As schools continue to develop their own badge learning programs, the network will support the sharing of "lessons learned" from the trenches, as well as how badge learning programs are developing and evolving.  Relying on collective wisdom, the entire learning network will benefit, rather than developing work and practices in silos.

2.  Learning Lab:  A sandbox for tinkering and iterative prototyping

Educators literally immersed themselves in a playful, badge-based learning experience.  The course platform housed learning content (quests), served as a repository for learning artifacts and reflective journals, and provided social interactions through friending, discussion boards, activity feeds and public comments. More than just an online course, the Digital Age Teaching community experimented with a variety of tools and offered thoughtful feedback on peer work.  Collective wisdom pushed everyone's learning along and supported risk-taking in a "walled garden," where only community members could access the resources and the works in progress.  Rarely do adult learners have the opportunity to play, tinker and dive into the messiness of learning with no judgment or professional pressure to excel. The learning lab model put everyone at ease and encouraged experimentation.

3.  Badges as Feedback:  Formative assessment and scaffolding

Badges served as milestones and marked learning achievements within the learning community.  Smaller badges marked granular accomplishments and larger "quest" and "level" badges marked broader skill sets.  Each learning artifact received feedback upon submission. Each badge also served as feedback on achieving specific skills, where badges were tied to rubrics.  Badges also recognized soft skills (centered around connected learning habits), such as participating in the discussion form, starting a new discussion thread and coaching others in their learning journeys.  Throughout the learning journey, badges provided scaffolding for the learning experience and served as frequent feedback.

4.  Connected Learning:  Model and practice

The principles of connected learning helped in laying the framework for this course's design, and connected learning habits were encouraged and practiced throughout the experience.  Within an academic context, learners were encouraged and expected to engage and participate in a socially connected community.  A variety of choices were woven into the course, supporting learners in pursuing their own passions and interests.  We listened to a variety of voices from the connected learning landscape, including experts in the field, students and researchers. Learners were asked to apply their learning in relevant, hands-on ways, often creating artifacts that could be used within their own professional context. It is much easier to experience connected learning, rather than explaining what it might look in action.  Liz Ebersole, Teacher, Seattle Hebrew Academy, reflected on connected learning while exploring the Learner 2.0 Quests:  "Teachers need to harness the intrinsic motivation that is inherent in our students'...use of these technologies.  We need to recognize the types of connected learners that are already present in our classrooms and help them to use the technologies they are already proficient in for academic purposes.  Meeting them in this world will seem more like play and less like work."

5.  Digital Media Literacy:  Level up skill set

A central goal of the Digital Age Teaching course was to level up educators' awareness, knowledge and skills around digital media and learning.  Educators learned through a variety of tools that are appropriate for the K-12 classroom, which exposed them to new media applications and resources in a very real and applicable way.  Each quest provided research, articles, videos and other media that bolstered their digital media literacy skill sets.  Quests provided opportunities to play with tools, interact with their colleagues and critically think about their application in the classroom and for professional development within their own schools.

6.  Gamification:  Engage in play and hard fun

The Digital Age Teaching course wove in a layer of "game" throughout the learning experience, including Quest Badges based on hard skills and Community Badges triggered by behaviors, which were tied to points and leader boards. Adding a playful thread of game-like learning supported the ethos of the course and encouraged educators to consider how game design parallels learning design. Kelly Platzke, a teacher from Krieger Schecter Day School, reflected in one of her journal posts: "I do believe elements of game play parallel learning design.  Playing and learning are both problem-solving, the only difference is that one is thought of as fun and the other isn't.  Clearly that needs to change.  This really ties back into our PBL [project-based learning] discussion.  Call it playing or call it learning -- give students a challenge just beyond their reach, give them some tools, give them some guidance, give them some social interaction and fun, and let them overcome!"

7.  Badges as Microcredentials

Upon completion of the course, educators earned an Open Badge.  More than just an attractive graphic icon, the badge can be shared out through blogs, wikis, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media interfaces.  The badge is also hardcoded with metadata about the learning achievement, including TAMRITZ as the issuing institution and the course fulfillment requirements. Digital Badges have the potential to capture knowledge and skills that otherwise may go unrecognized, such as learning at professional conferences and workshops, as well as learning that happens informally and independently in online spaces.

7 Possibilities for Badge-Based PD

1.  Microcredentials towards licensure

What if educators could connect professional learning across contexts and easily share their learning achievements?  What if badges could serve as indicators of keeping professional practices and pedagogical knowledge current?  What if state licensing boards embraced open badges for this purpose?  What if we could collect our achievements throughout our entire career and across career changes?

2.  Endorsements -- Who will vouch for our learning?

We are not talking about light endorsements by friends, like an endorsement on LinkedIn or a "like" on a Facebook page.  Endorsements by respected learning institutions and organizations would add value to badges earned across contexts and "verify" the learning achievements and skills.  Endorsements will answer the questions, "How do I know this learning happened and it has validity?  Who vetted this learning?  How do we know the issuer is a reputable source?

What role can institutions play in endorsing badges and badge learning content?  For instance, which learning institutions will add value and merit to a TAMRITZ Digital Age Teaching badge? Vouch for its validity?  How will the endorsement encourage learners to display their badges?  How will others view badges that have institutional endorsements?  Watch for developments in this area of open badges, as thinking around the idea of endorsements is currently being led by the Mozilla Foundation, creators of the open badges infrastructure.

3.  Digital Résumé  -- More than just a work and school history

Digital media allows us to take advantage of the wonders of hypermedia, transforming the possibilities of the résumé towards a dynamic, digital portfolio. As learners, we can curate our own learning achievements, whether it is through a blog, a web site, a wiki, Credly or the Mozilla Digital Backpack.  Open Badges affords us with an opportunity to share what we know and to be selective about with whom we are sharing.  What learning artifacts would you choose to link to your digital résumé?  What badges do you wish you had in your backpack, so that your community is aware of your current learning and skill sets?

4.  Wider Network -- Break down the silos

TAMRITZ's badge learning network amplifies the possibility to continue to break down silos and create a a culture of openness and sharing.  Instead of constantly reinventing the wheel, we can rely on the collective wisdom of our badge learning network.  How about a "Badgefest," Spring 2014 to celebrate this effort?  Stay tuned!

5.  Personalized Learning

Badge learning naturally supports differentiated instruction and personalized learning.  Badge learning also provides a unique opportunity for students to take more agency over their learning, integrate their passions and connect learning across contexts.  How can we as professionals get involved in designing our own badge learning pathways? How can we engage our students in designing their own learning pathways?  How can we curate our learning achievements and help our students to do the same?  How can we tie the Common Core to badge learning achievements and experiences for our students?

6.  Badge Exchange -- Clearninghouse

TAMRITZ looks forward to hosting a digital Badge Learning Exchange, further promoting the openness of the Web and digital media and learning in general.  The vision for this exchange includes the sharing of badges, rubrics, sample learning artifacts and learning pathways/architecture.  As schools design and launch their programs, we will encourage open sharing and collaboration.  What would you like to see in a Badge Learning Exchange?

7.  Parent Outreach and Education

Badges communicate so much more than a report card or a mark on the top of a student's paper.  Digital badges provide a complete learning story, including learning across contexts, how an achievement was accomplished, links to learning artifacts and more.  How do you envision using badges to communicate what your students know and what they can do?  How can a badge learning program support your parent community in bolstering their skills sets around digital media literacy?  How can you use badges as a window into your students' learning journeys?


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