Building a Better Badging System

11/3/2014 4:37:00 PM

Digital “badges” can be a way to encourage students to master discrete skills they can take with them to college or careers. But at New Milford High School in New Jersey, it’s the teachers who are printing their badges out and putting them on their doors.

“It turned into a healthy competition,” says Eric Sheninger, who was the principal when the school began an innovative digital badging project to help teachers master digital tools and put them to use in their classroom.

The Worlds of Learning @ New Milford High School website sparked interest in using digital tools in the classroom among teachers. The brainchild of media and technology integration specialist Laura Fleming, the site provides resources to help teachers master these tools—and rewards them with the digital badges once they provide proof that they’ve woven them into lessons.

“I think our teachers were happy there was a system in place that would acknowledge those skills and that learning,” Fleming says.

It’s the kind of self-directed professional learning we keep talking about teachers needing—Sheninger calls it one part of the “holy grail” of PD. But the approach requires more than just building or adapting a website and hoping teachers use it. It needs to be relevant to teachers, reward them for what they do, and be linked with other instructional goals. Here’s how New Milford did this:

Giving teachers a choice—and a voice. Participation in the program is voluntary at New Milford, and teachers can choose from among 13 discrete skills. Teachers took part because the topics were relevant and they could choose what they did. (The brightly colored badges prominently posted on doors probably didn’t hurt either.) And teachers have also suggested their own topics, earning a “digital leader” badge when they create their own material to help others learn.

Focusing on the classroom. Teachers aren’t expected to spend hours on the website focusing on minute details—each skill is supposed to take 10 minutes or less to learn. Instead, most of the time and effort is spent taking those skills and integrating them into lesson plans and other classroom activities, and that ultimately is how teachers earn their badges.

Formally recognizing informal learning. Though the program is voluntary and informal, teachers can use it as part of their formal evaluations. School leaders recognize the badges as proof of professional learning during annual evaluations.

Connecting with student learning. The same kinds of technology skills teachers are learning as they earn badges would also benefit students, and New Milford teachers are now looking at ways to create a badging system for students. In fact, Fleming originally envisioned badging as a way to encourage technology literacy among students, but quickly realized its power for teachers—who ultimately are the ones who will impart these critical skills to the students they teach.

Read more about New Milford’s badging program in Momentum.

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