Badges? We Might Want to Think About Stinking Badges…

Some initial, mostly unfiltered thoughts on digital badges from a professional development perspective:

  1. Most badging programs are too simple. They focus on rote skill and don’t have a clear pathway for building competency on a holistic level.

  2. Buy in, like any other initiative, is extremely important. Badging isn’t enticing on it’s own. And being enticing for the sake of being enticing, is a really bad reason to tackle a large project.

  3. In designing a meaningful program, outlining desired outcomes needs to happen before competencies are even discussed. Aligning tasks and work for the participants will only happen if you know what you want them to get out of the program.

  4. Credentialing has to have weight behind it. This comes either from the organization or the privileges and benefits that come from earning the credential. This can be at the department level certainly, but becomes more meaningful if the institution shifts to recognize micro-credentials.

  5. Displaying the credential needs to be simple.

I’m not entirely sure where this is going to go, but there it is.

Some helpful reading:

Developing a Higher Education Badging Initiative

Digital Badges as Curricular Building Blocks

Open Badges specifications

Privacy Concerns are Just Beginning

Bill Fitzgerald already wrote an analysis of what can happen now that Congress has essentially erased privacy rules governing how Internet Service Providers can gather and sell your information indiscriminately, so I won’t get into that here.

If you’re in #edtech, listen up:

School data can now be used by the service provider to gather student information without notification and used for whatever they want.

We are not immune.

If your school gets eRate funding, you are now likely to be in breach of data security rules because the ISP itself – not the app or website you’re using – is collecting and can, potentially, make money off of student information. Moreso, the FCC is in charge of eRate and Ajit Pai, the Republican chair, has promised to roll back net neutrality and privacy rules set in place by the former chair, Tom Wheeler.

This is a big deal.

I was calling my representatives to ask that they vote against this rule. Now, I’m calling to ask them to think about the monetization that is going to occur through our student’s use of the web and how they plan on mitigating the legal issues now in play just because a school offers Internet access.

This is a big deal.

Call your representatives. Stand up for reasonable restrictions on data collection and use by service providers.

Data Security Breach flickr photo by Visual Content shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

No, Today’s Students Don’t Learn Differently

If you’re working in instructional support (#edtech, instructional tech, learning support…whatever you want to call it) you’ve probably heard, “Today’s students just learn differently.”

No they don’t.

Writers will write. Storytellers will tell stories. Musicians will make music. Athletes will compete.

People have drives to be creative, curious, playful, impactful, relevant…

What’s different is the fact that school rams them through a system which actively works to standardize as much of the process as possible. We’ve built a system which prevents students from using the outlets available to show off their learning. By default, the system eliminates creative, playful, impactful work.

Today’s students don’t learn differently.

Standardized Test flickr photo by biologycorner shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

What I’m finding is that teachers, when shown methods and tools that give students opportunities to be creative, are surprised at how learning changes. As they struggle to characterize what’s happening, the easiest explanation is that today’s students are just “different.”

We fail to recognize that it doesn’t take a computer to allow students to engage. My job is to help teachers figure out how to get out of the way. The challenge is to make sure that teachers see instructional benefit in shifting practice with – or without – the technology in the classroom.

Featured image is Creative Playground flickr photo by Radoslav Minchev shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Teach Like a Teacher

Teaching is being overrun by impostors. Perhaps I’m reading into something, but the explosion of “Teach Like a [thing]” culture scares me. Culturally, have we reached a place in education where taking on a persona to find inspiration for change is the best option for our students? Simile is powerful and inspiration comes in many forms. But when inspiration turns into identity, it becomes a problem.

A lot of the personas invoked in these discussions are really awful role models. Working renegade, above the mire of educational bureaucracy, might set you apart on facebook or Twitter, but institutional change – powerful change for all students – rarely comes from one person doing their own thing in isolation.

How do these ideas spread? How do we move beyond the 150 “best” ideas for X, Y, and Z? Where does the inspiration really make lasting impact on our practice and not just the toolset?

Growth flickr photo by rubberkid shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Finding excellence in teaching means recognizing teachers at their best: real interaction with real students. My students don’t want a viking, a ninja, a champion, or a wizard. They want a teacher who is genuine.

Let these ideas serve as inspiration, but remember that real change in learning comes from teaching like a Teacher.

Review Questions with Spreadsheets

I wanted to use a new method of reviewing with students as we wrap up our cell activity unit. I’ve been working with my students on forming questions with the question formulation strategy around content as well as finding new ways to build content knowledge resources. We’re at the point in the year where details are more and more significant and we connect (seemingly) disconnected ideas.

I threw together a template spreadsheet (click to make a copy for yourself) in Drive and then assigned students to groups. Using Doctopus (life changing…really), I was able to give each group a blank template. Their task was to come up with review questions on anything they’d like from this section.

Review questions in Sheets flickr photo by bennettscience shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The next layer was to have the groups look at their original questions and revamp them into something that is AP Biology-worthy. Groups that do this well will have their questions included on the test.


I noticed three things:

  1. Critical review by individual students. The questions they asked me underscored misconceptions present. I was able to work them through why the right answer was right and where they needed to correct their understanding.

  2. Competition amongst groups to ask better questions was high. I didn’t promise only one question included, so there is a high desire to write really good questions. Group members worked together to revise and strengthen their questions.

  3. Writing questions that really check for understanding is difficult. It’s easy to write a really hard questions. It’s much more difficult to write a question that checks for understanding. Students recognize that the questions I design and ask are very specific for a reason. They’re going through the same process.

In the future, I would build some kind of dashboard to aggregate the questions and look them over as a class, but with time short, I think this is a good first pass.

How would you build or extend this? What am I missing?