Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What badges taught me ... so far

My first open badge
Mozilla's Open Badges project has implications for how K-12 classroom teachers like me think about our students' online compositions. In my pre-internet teaching days, for example, assessment was more of an individual thing – writers' were formatively and summatively evaluated on their own work. But now that students are composing in online spaces like Youth Voices, composition is more social. With this in mind, I've read a number of instructive conversations that have sprung up after the announcement of the Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition winners.

One of the biggest things I learned is that there are a lot of ways people are approaching badging systems, and Barry Joseph's document provides a helpful overview. If you're not up to speed on the whole badges movement, I recommend the Mozilla badges wiki. I should also note that many have cautioned that badges aren't for everyone and that there are other types of legitimate assessments that still need to be explored regarding participatory learning. That said, here's my first take on how reading about badges has helped my thinking about my students' online compositions.

1. Badges can help distribute assessment. Sure, I'm a classroom teacher, and I still have to assign grades at the end of the course. However I shouldn't be the sole issuer of badges. One of the things that underpins a lot of the badges movement is that some assessment should be done by peers, and this seems especially appropriate in online communites. Cathy Davidson expresses her enthusiasm for "peer-driven systems as an alternative to some of the rigid, limited, standardized forms of evaluation." Henry Jenkins is "deeply skeptical" of the massive push for badges going on right now because, among other things, "many young people have deep ambivalences about the kinds of 'credit' adults choose to give (or withhold) around their activities." Still, I can't help thinking that with some peer-driven systems, we could see, as Dan Hickey describes,"self-evident examples of learning ecosystems that have been fundamentally transformed or entirely created by digital badges." My challenge: handing over some of the assessments to the peer community of students.

2. Badges can recognize individual and social achievements.  For example on the individual level I think there's something valuable when a student posts a discussion that is well-crafted and results in a meaningful conversation, even if it's only with one other person. But just as valuable is a discussion post that results in a robust conversation among many members of the community, even if the original post is not all that well crafted.  David Theo Goldberg writes that badges work "within contexts that socially support them and where their users are invested in their significance." Andrea Zellner says that badges "should be operationalized in a way that incentivizes social learning and community involvement." My challenge: finding the balance between recognizing individual contribution and significance to the community.

3. Badges can make learning objectives visible. John Martin comments that "many of the standards we follow are rather nebulous and abstract for learners, particularly in the younger levels. With badges we can track and reward achievement as a progression rather than having students wait until something big like a report card to identify how they are performing." Barry Joseph, who through Global Kids and other programs has implemented badges for a number of years now, feels that if we offer badges to learners we have to be clear about how to earn them. Barry writes, "Our learning objectives, previously invisible within our lesson plans, are now made visible, empowering the youth to hold us accountable." My challenge: being more explicit about the steps students can take to becoming more effective communicators.

My web navigator badge
Henry Jenkins warns us that if we decide to adopt badges we need to do so only if "it's the right thing for your group." So with Youth Voices in mind and as a way to address each of the challenges I laid out above, I have a few initial thoughts about experimenting with badges.

  1. Students could be involved in the distribution of assessment through something as simple as a "Like" feature for discussion posts and comments. But in addition to a simple "Like" or "Thumbs up" icon, I'd like to see an accompanying text box where the user gives a quick explanation as to why they like or don't like a post, comment, or reply. Archived, these rationales could be used for more reflective writing later on.... I also think judicious use of user stats could help distribute assessment too.
  2. Base some badges on roles like the curator and moderator roles in the Scratch community Mitchel Resnick writes about. I could see additional roles like mentor and editor working in the Youth Voices community.
  3. How can I make learning objectives more visible? (to illustrate I'll use something from Paul Allison's "Youth Voices Badges and Quests" document). One of the learning objectives I have for my students is that they become effective at collaborative argumentation, but how might I make this more visible to students? Example: here's some text from the Common Core about argumentative writing that speaks to this learning objective: "Engage in authentic conversations using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence" (second part of EA Writing 12.1). One way to do that is to "reply to other people's comments on a discussion that you started on Youth Voices or one that you commented on earlier." But even here, there are different ways to "level up." For example, a student might directly quote from another so that it's clear what they're commenting on; I think directly quoting another is important because oftentimes writers aren't sure what it is exactly in their discussion post that people are commenting on. However directly quoting another writer may or may not further the conversation. If I just agree with you by repeating what you wrote, there's not much more to say – end of conversation. But if I agree (or disagree) with you and provide new evidence to support my point of view, we are likely to enter into a robust conversation.

Thanks to +Sheryl Grant for sharing the reading list below with me to get me started:

No comments: