Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Digital Badges and Trade School - One Year On

Introduction

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 OpenBadges.me 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











Thursday, 16 January 2014

Open Badges and Trade School

Introduction

This blog is an attempt to see how two initiatives in learning that I have been involved in might come together. The first initiative concerns Open Badges, a new way of recognising, rewarding and accrediting learning. The second initiative is Trade School which is a way of offering learning opportunities through the ancient system of barter.

It strikes me that people reading this blog will either come from the world of Open Badges or from the Trade School community and may not be aware of what the other actually is and how they work. I'll start by explaining as best I can what each of these are and then finish with some thoughts on how Trade School could begin to exploit the potential of Open Badges.

Open Badges: An Explanation

The concept of Open Badges is easy to explain and to understand. When I tell people what they are I always ask them to refer back to their days in the Scouts or Guides (although for me these memories are quite painful). Scouts and Guides earn badges. These badges are recognitions of a particular achievement or endeavour. They have identified the tracks left by a wild animal or learnt how to orientate themselves with a map and compass or successfully baked a cake all by themselves. The badges awarded are then faithfully sewn onto the uniform sleeve or sash so that they are able to publicly display what their achievements are. In the educational field these narrow and specific achievements are known as granular.

All you have to do is to transfer those badges to an online environment and you have entered the world of Open Badges. Of course it's a little bit more complicated than that but it is a good way to understand what Open Badges are. They are a way of recognising a granular achievement and just like on the sleeve or sash, Open Badges can be displayed on a 'Digital Backpack' where any badges earned can be displayed for all to see.


An example of a 'Digital Backpack'

Broadly speaking, Open Badges can be awarded for three things: skills, participation and achievements.

A skills badge is awarded after a particular skill has been learnt and the learner has demonstrated that he or she can use that skill. As an example from my own backpack, this badge that was awarded after I successfully completing assignments on an online course with the Open University.



A participation badge is awarded for taking part in, or hosting, an event such as a conference, seminar or any gathering where ideas and learning are exchanged. Again from my backpack, I was awarded this badge after taking part in a webinar on mobile devices in informal learning environments.



An achievement badge is awarded to recognise that the learner has created something using new skills, tools or ideas. As a last example from my backpack, here is a badge that recognises that I built a webpage using Mozilla's Thimble tool.


Of course the boundaries between these three areas are by necessity blurred so an Open Badge that is awarded could recognise any combination of these three areas.

Open Badges are increasingly taken up within schools, colleges, universities and other centres of formal learning. In the same way that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) should not be perceived as a replacement for traditional university qualifications so Open Badges are not seen as taking over from formal qualifications at high school or college. Open Badges are acknowledgements of achievement and not a qualification.

My interest is not in the field of formal education but in the looser world of informal education. Here Open Badges are also beginning to make an impact. Informal learning spaces such as museums, libraries, science centres etc. can award Open Badges in recognition of learning within their environment. For example, the Smithsonian Institution runs a program called "Smithsonian Quests" in which children can earn badges by completing tasks that utilise the collections within the Smithsonian museums. As another example, the Museum of Modern Art in New York ran a six-week online course for adults on the use of multimedia in art. Participants who completed the course were awarded a badge. 


Trade School: An Explanation

Like Open Badges, the idea of Trade School is very easy to understand. Anybody with a particular skill or passion (and who wishes to do so) can teach. They run a class through their local Trade School and ask their students for bartered items in exchange. Students book for a course online and indicate which of the bartered items they will bring with them. As an example, there is a Trade School course being run in Indianapolis on CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). In exchange the tutor has asked for treats for his cat, colouring books, pieces of Lego or rechargeable batteries.  The bartered item does not have to be an object but could be advice on organic gardening or a promise to smile at strangers in the street. 

At no point does money ever exchange hands. 

Classes normally last for about one hour and usually focus on a very particular skill or achievement. In other words, courses on Trade School tend to be granular. On top of that, the kinds of skills and achievements being taught in Trade School are pretty wide. A quick look at courses that have been taught at Trade School London includes knitting for beginners, bicycle maintenance, Irish dancing, an introduction to Photoshop and how to create consensus in groups. What these courses have in common is that they are introductory and they do not assume any prior knowledge or skills on the part of the student.

Trade School began in New York in February 2010 when an empty shop on Lower East Side hosted 76 classes over 35 days with over 800 students participating.

Trade School New York

It was such a success that Trade School New York has continued to run and is spreading to cities around the world.





Trade School and Open Badges

It seems to me that there are several areas of cross-over between Trade School and Open Badges.
  • they both help with the acquisition of skills and knowledge
  • they are both 'open' in that they are available to all and can be freely shared
  • they are both concerned with granular learning
  • both of them encourage the development of further learning
  • they both encourage informal learning

Let's imagine that a Trade School course offers an Open Badge to those students who take part in the course. As an example, I will be running a course with Trade School Norwich on playing and making Medieval Board Games. At the end of the course students could have the option to be awarded an Open Badge which would acknowledge their participation, skills and achievements. They would be emailed a link to the webpage which holds the badge which they can then download and display on their "digital backpack". It could look something like this:


The awarding of an Open Badge such as this would show that the local Trade School is publicly acknowledging the efforts of their students. For students they can show they have a new set of skills and knowledge and may act as an incentive to continue learning through their local Trade School.

Open Badges can also be given to Trade School teachers. It acknowledges their contribution to Trade School; it could show future employers that they have teaching skills and again may act as an incentive for them to carry on as a Trade School teacher. Here's a mock-up of what this badge might look like:



Find Out More

If you want to know more about Trade School and to see if there is a Trade School close to you then follow this link. Why not sign up for a course or even become a teacher?

If you want to know more about Open Badges then there is a lot of material here

The two mocked-up badges above were made here. If they are to be used then they will be awarded via the Credly website. 


Any Thoughts?

I am open to thoughts and comments from people from both the Trade School and the Open Badge communities. It would be great if a discussion could be started to see whether Trade Schools around the world could benefit from becoming an issuer of Open Badges.