Project Q&A With: Who Built America Badges for History Education

Project Q&A With: Who Built America Badges for History Education

Developed by the American Social History Project in partnership with Electric Funstuff and Education Development Center, Who Built America Badges for History Education is an online professional learning community where grade 7-12 U.S. History teachers can earn badges as they practice and master the skills of effective history teaching, with a focus on designing materials to help students master Common Core literacy skills. To do that, participating teachers will study, revise, teach, and reflect on two inquiry units, provided by WBA, prior to creating their own inquiry units to use with their students.

What are the 3 main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

A key challenge has been figuring out how to embed the explicit professional development instruction for teachers (i.e., this is why you would do this step this way) into the inquiry units in a way that doesn’t overwhelm teachers with information. ASHP held a focus group with New York City teachers on February 19, 2013, in order to gain feedback on the content and presentation format of a sample inquiry unit, which provided useful guidance as we finalize the inquiry units. We have settled on a format that will be used for the launch, and refined going forward as teachers use the badge system.

Who were you addressing with your badge system design?

WBA Badges for History Education is designed for middle- and high-school level teachers of U.S. history and social studies. We designed the badge system to recognize and reward the skills of great history teachers: iterative lesson design, professional engagement, content expertise, Common Core proficiency, and effective technology use.

How were the criteria for the badges determined. What pedagogies (if any) informed the learning and badge system design?

The system is designed to be useful and directly relevant to participating teachers. It’s organized into three areas of mastery: Lesson Builder, Community, and Specialist. Users must earn a minimum total of 7 badges from three areas (3 Lesson Builder, 2 Community, and 2 Specialist) to become a Master History Teacher. The Lesson Builder track involves three badges (Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master Builder), and each of those badges comprises four steps. To earn the Apprentice and Journeyman Builder badges, users select an inquiry unit, study it, and pass a multiple choice quiz about its historical content and Common Core alignment. They next prepare to teach the unit in their classrooms, and make any necessary modifications. After teaching the unit, users select and annotate two pieces of student work that help to illustrate the successes and challenges you had teaching the unit. The final step involves discussing the student work and process of teaching the unit with an ASHP History Educator and determining what changes to the unit instruction and materials you will make the next time you teach the unit or any of its lessons.

After completing the Apprentice and Journeyman badges, users level up to the Master Builder Lesson track, which gives users the opportunity to design their own inquiry units. After selecting one of the four WBA essential questions and deciding on a topic, users design a unit and identify which historical thinking and Common Core literacy skills it supports. In dialogue with an ASHP History Educator, users refine the unit, teach it to their students, and annotate student work in order to identify necessary instructional revisions. These badges are largely (except for the quiz component) validated and awarded by ASHP history educators. Eventually, when the system includes members who have earned Master History Teacher status, Master History Teachers will be able to validate the work of Builder badge earners.

Specialist badges recognize and reward the particular areas of expertise that history teachers have—in their knowledge of U.S. history content (History Geek), innovative use of technology (Tech Guru), and proficiency in integrating Common Core standards into their teaching (Common Core Reading Specialist and Common Core Writing Specialist). The History Geek badge is awarded automatically by the system when the user passes five content quizzes; ASHP history educators validate the other Specialist badges.

Community badges are designed to encourage participating teachers to connect, share, and communicate with their colleagues in the WBA system. Recognizing those behaviors with badges helps to promote teacher participation in professional learning communities, which have been shown to improve teacher effectiveness. All Community badges are automatically awarded by the system when specific conditions have been met (see explanation below).

What are 3 things you learned about badge system design? What would you do differently if you were to start over?

Our badge design has largely remained the same during development, but one badge did change. Based on the choice of forum software, further discussions about usability, and learning about “stealth” badge awarding at the September interim meeting in Durham, ASHP, EDC, and EFS revised the requirements for the Community badges. We replaced the “I Love Collaboration” badge with an “I Love Community” badge that will be awarded based on points that users earn by participating in the discussions via starting, reading, and contributing to discussion threads. These points will not be visible to users, so that after they pass a threshold for participation, they will be rewarded with earning the I Love Community badge. We also designed the technical backend of the forum to enable community badges to be awarded by the system to users whose posts are marked “useful” by other users (Constructive Critic badge) and to users who share resources (I Love Sharing badge); the requirements for these badges will be specified for users. The fourth possible Community badge is WBA Member; that badge is automatically awarded once a user registers and creates an account.

What are the main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

The challenges to widespread adoption of our badge system lie mainly with our ability to reach its intended audience, and with the audience’s perception of the badges’ value. Teachers and their supervisors, taken as a whole, tend not to be early digital adopters; digital badges are likely to be a foreign concept to many of them. We will need to find multiple ways to explain this somewhat complex system, which utilize the principles of effective face-to-face professional development but in a new, online package. We will need to make clear what kinds of effort and skill the badges represent.

What factors is the success of your badge system contingent upon?

The success of WBA Badges for History Education will hinge on teachers’ willingness and ability to complete the sustained, somewhat time-consuming requirements of earning all of the badges required to achieve Master History Teacher, the ultimate badge. While we have designed the work required to earn badges to be directly relevant to their classroom work, it does involve a significant degree of rigor, and teachers already have many demands on their time. In addition, we will need to educate those who supervise teachers about the value and rigor of the WBA badges, so that teachers can gain professional recognition and reward for having earned them. We will make every effort to help teachers and supervisors recognize WBA badges as a useful, legitimate means of meeting the ongoing professional development requirements that most teachers in the U.S. must undertake in order to maintain their certification.

What have you done, or do you plan to do, to evaluate your badge earner community?

We will have an opportunity to evaluate our badge earner community thanks to a DML Research Grant awarded to team member James Diamond of EDC. Using these funds, Diamond will study teacher usage and the effectiveness of the WBA badge system. ASHP and EDC have begun discussing how to best coordinate the final phase of website implementation and launch with the requirements of the research effort.

No comments