Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Digital Badges and Trade School - One Year On


Since my first posting on the idea of using digital badges as an acknowledgement of achievement for teachers and students in Trade School I have been using Trade School Norwich as a testbed for awarding digital badges.

I've been using website to construct the badges. I then exported them into a Trade School Norwich page that I set up on Credly. Credly is a website that hosts pages for organisations that awards badges and individuals that have earned badges. Badges awarded can be displayed on the website, shared through social media and can also be exported to a Mozilla Backpack.  The backpack allows people to publicly display any badges that they have earned on a recognised platform.

Here are a few of the badges that I have designed and awarded to teachers and students

You'll notice pretty quickly that graphic design skills is not something that I am particularly skilled at. 

Starting the Process

It's been just under a year since I started experimenting with the awarding of digital badges to teacher and students of Trade School Norwich. In that year there have been about thirty-five classes offered and about 170 students that have taken one or more of these classes. Classes have been on subjects as diverse as how to sew bunting through to making garden planters, starting shorthand and an introduction to Indian cookery.

I have tried to create a digital badge for every one of these courses. In the end I created thirty. There was no particular reason why there were courses that I ignored other than I just didn't find the time to create the badges and upload them onto the Credly site. None of the students seemed to mind too much.

Prospective teachers and students receive an automated email from Trade School after they register their interest on the Trade School website. I added some brief text to these emails so that teachers and students are told that they can be awarded digital badges after they have completed their course. 

I asked every teacher to make a note of the names of the students that came to the class. Every class has a number of no-shows. When the courses were completed I awarded the Teacher badge to the teacher (if it was their first class) and the class badges to the students that attended the classes.

Response to Badges

I didn't expect the response to the Trade School Norwich badges system to be universally celebrated and I was right. Reception to the badges has been mixed with some badges being accepted by students and other badges being pretty well ignored. 

Much of this depended on the support of the teacher. If the teacher actively supported the idea of badges for their class then take-up by the students was that much greater.

Take-up of the badges also seemed to have a broad link to whether the teachers and students were "digital natives" or "digital immigrants". For those unfamiliar with this idea it was first suggested in an article by Marc Prensky in 2001. The link to the original paper is here. It is certainly not a crude "young people understand the digital world and older people do not" line but is more to do with the way that the digital world has changed expectations about learning. Younger people have lived in a digital world from the moment they were born and this has had an effect on the way that they learn and how they want their learning to be viewed by the outside world. This may make them more open to the idea of digital badges. 

Following on from this is a general awareness about badges, both in terms of their availability and their utility. 

Digital badges first arose in online gaming, especially in Massively Multiplayer Online Games such as "World of Warcraft". Those who are familiar with this games will proababy have some prior knowledge of badges and may be more willing to accept them.

At the moment I only mention the badges in a small paragraph in the automated emails sent to teachers and students. Take-up of badges might improve if a new page is created on the Trade School Norwich website with a link from the Navigation Bar at the top. This might give these badges more prominence and increase awareness and acceptance amongst both teachers and students. This will of course require the agreement of the other Trade School Norwich volunteers (who have so far been supportive of the badge system).

Lastly I have noticed that badge take-up is closely linked to the utility of the badge. Digital badges are broadly awarded for skills, participation and achievement (there is of course some cross-over between these three areas). A close look at which badges are most popular with Trade School Norwich shows that it is those classes that teach a readily defined and measurable skill that are taken up by the students. Classes that are less well-defined in terms of a specific set of skills or knowledge set are less popular.

Let's take two hypothetical Trade School classes to show what I mean here. 

Two classes: one is a class on how to think about your posture when you are sitting at your desk and the other is how to build a chair out of scraps of wood. If there were badges available for both then my experience would show that the latter would be far more popular than the former. If a student does the chair-building course then he/she has learnt a specific set of skills and has some concrete to show at the end. The former is more amorphous in terms of what is specifically learnt and students will walk away from the course with insights and good ideas but nothing in terms of specific skills.

Trade School Teacher - An Offer to All Trade Schools

By far the most popular badge in terms of acceptance is the one that is given to the teacher. 

My feeling is that this is because the badge is a public acknowledgement that somebody has taught a subject that they are knowledgeable in and passionate about. Most Trade School teachers have no (or limited) experience of teaching and the badge may be a way of showing future learning providers that they have some experience in teaching. In other words, the badge is part of their professional development and gives them some publicity.

Since I am still imbued with the spirit of the Mozilla Festival, so I have decided the "share the love" with my fellow Trade Schoolers around the world. I have created a Trade School teacher badge for every active Trade School around the world. It looks much the same as the above. Just take out the word 'Norwich' and put in the name of your own city and there you are.

If you want to start awarding badges to your teachers then this is the way that you go about it:

  • email me asking for the badge to be sent to you as an attachment (remember to tell me which Trade School you represent)
  • open up an account with Credly under the name of your Trade School (there are other badge-hosting websites such as Achievery)
  • upload the badge that was emailed to you
  • start awarding the badges to your teachers
  • come back to me if you need any help with any of the above

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