By Janie Rosman
Remember when you were a Girl Scout or a Boy Scout and earned merit badges by completing a specific set of tasks for each badge?
Two educators at Roxbury Public Schools — Michael Mitchell, Director of Instructional Innovation and Planning, and Teresa Rehman, Director of Technology — are taking that concept to another level for teachers and students through a new experimental initiative that assesses skills in addition to what traditional professional development offers and transcripts measure.
What began last August as a professional development incentive for teachers is now being developed as a way for students to show what they learn and skills they acquire — soft skills for the 21st century — via digital badges and micro credentials. These skills can be displayed as digital resumes that indicate various 21st century skillsets such as resilience, negotiation skills, creativity and critical thinking, which are more challenging to measure and assess with traditional methods we all experienced in school.
“When teachers learn a new skill, they receive a certificate from a conference and professional development hours,” Mitchell explained. While applying the idea to teachers is easier, he said, “the student part has been more challenging. ‘How do we fit this kind of learning into our curriculum and learning experiences?”
Rehman cited a program she, Mitchell, and the Technology Integration Specialist, Ruth Davis, wrote for 26 students who wanted Google Certifications and created a digital badge with specific activities; all badge work was voluntary and on their own. “The data showed that students who completed Level 1 and Level 2 in the GSuite game were the ones that successfully passed the test,” Rehman said, adding a subsequent survey yielded “mixed feedback. Many felt completing work for the badge helped prepare them for the exam, and others felt it was too much work.”
Students’ badges are stored online at Alludo (www.alludolearning.com/) and can be transferred to other platforms after graduation. “When you see a student’s badges, you see an analysis of the skills he or she needed (and the work he or she completed) to earn that badge,” Rehman said. Students can also store their work in digital lockers provided by the Coalition for College Access, whose nearly 140 member schools can view their online badges and their traditional school work.
One challenge with digital badges is the belief that equates learning with seat time in the classroom. Another obstacle is anticipating unknown and future business needs. “Some organizations may say test scores don’t matter like they used to and SAT scores may not be as significant as they once were,” Mitchell said.
While schools in K-12 and higher ed are moving toward digital badging, many “still rely solely on using the traditional transcript that record SAT scores and grades,” he said. While there are no standards for badges yet, companies like LRNG — a network connecting learning experiences to career opportunities — expressed interest in partnering with Southern New Hampshire University, the largest nonprofit online college), to create digital badges for that particular region.
In April, 260 sixth graders will begin working on their digital driver’s license (DDL) so they can receive their Chromebooks in June. Mitchell likened the preparation to taking the required driver’s education and passing a state licensing test before operating a motor vehicle. Completing DDLs will demonstrate “their understanding of the essentials in owning a device such as care and use, digital citizenship and acceptable use policy,” he said. Students who don’t finish in two months can work on it during the summer and get their Chromebooks in September.
Next year the school will offer a Social Media Marketing dual-enrollment course with Centenary University in Hackettstown leading to a digital badge for students who complete it. Mitchell is creating a Design-Thinking course inspired by Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school for short), where students use the design thinking framework to solve real world problems and challenges.
“We see the benefit for teachers as they continue to expand their knowledge, and this benefits their students, who take their learning into their lives beyond school,” Rehman said.
Mitchell and Rehman are looking in and outside the community for co-creators and co-endorsers to write requirements for badges and/or endorse relevant student experiences for college and future employment. Schools and the communities outside and around them benefit with partnerships Roxbury Public Schools is seeking to provide for their students. Reach out to Michael Mitchell firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being a co-creator or co-endorser for their digital badge program.