Wherever you go in life, you should always be learning. If not, I can almost guarantee you that the people around you will be. As you know, in the teaching profession, continuous learning and innovation is a key ingredient to success.
However, the issue with the traditional teaching method is that it focuses on the content and the formal learning paradigm. Things that a student might learn informally, such as painting, animation, playing guitar – are usually done outside of school hours. Learning does not always mean you are sitting in a classroom. We learn everywhere, throughout our lives.
At the end of every school year, the student gets a report card from the teachers, which shows the performance of the student against each subject. This is how schools communicate the progress of learning to students and parents.
But does a report card tell everything about a student’s performance? Does it highlight their skills? Does it highlight what they are really good at? The answer is it falls short of representing the whole child. Students know a lot of amazing stuff over and above their report card. The report card does not show how good a student is at digital music creation. It does not show the cool video animation trick a student has just learned or that they were able to create a creative clay animation for their friend’s birthday.
Where are those skills recorded?
Let us take a step back and talk about the scouting world. When scouts learn new skills or complete projects, they earn merit badges and patches.
The illustration above is a classic example of how badges work in the scouting world. You can see the troop number. You can also see that the scout went to a space camp. You can also see that the scout likes to read by looking at the badge with books. By looking at these, you can tell the strengths of the scout.
Scout badges and report cards are just some of the ways to show someone’s skills. People have come up with new ways to show skills and out-of-school achievements. For example, passport stamps and bumper stickers show how much you have traveled.
Each of these symbols highlights an accomplishment you should be proud of; however, our knowledge, out-of-school experiences, and skills go unnoticed due to the traditional teaching ways of reporting learning. Wouldn’t it be great if all your accomplishments were put together in a single place? Many game designers, teachers, and hobbyists have been wondering the same thing. Even organizations are thinking about the same.
Some smart programmers have taken this concept and turned it into what is called as digital badging on the Internet.
Slowly but steadily, kids are more than grades on their report card. With digital badges, they have a way to show their skills to the world.
Time and technology have changed! And so have the kids!
Today, children have a mindset hardwired towards technology. You must have had started operating an iPad in your twenties or probably thirties. However, I have seen kids who know how to operate an iPad effectively at the age of two.
Let me narrate an incident to you: As a part of the school’s curriculum, I had to teach the kids how to operate a desktop computer and as an advocate of the traditional classroom teaching, I started the session by sitting the students in front of desktop computers. What followed changed the way I think.
Most of the kids did not even touch the mouse; they started swiping the computer screen. Few of them already knew what a mouse and desktop are and they found the activity boring. Essentially, kids know most of the things these days. They love technology and they love coming to technology classes, but not if they have to travel back in time to learn something that is outdated.
That is when it hit me; I had to find new ways of connecting with kids. I had to find different ways to learn. So I made my mind to try something new.
One day I decided to take all the instructions and flip it. I made a video on a specific topic, asked the kids to watch the video, and told them that they should ask me questions if any should come up. I effectively flipped my teaching style since typically the kids come to my class and learn at the rate of their classmates, now they could learn as fast or as slow as they wanted.
The rise of gamification
Gamification has been around as a concept for a long time. But the word was not largely used until in 2002 when Nick Pelling started giving it some traction. Over the last few years, it has really picked up as a concept. I think it is because video games have really started to get public attention.
From the educational standpoint, gamification is all about kids earning points and levels. Kids these days have a hacker mindset. This means that if I tell a kid to play a C-chord on a guitar, he or she will go to YouTube and search “How to play a C-chord on a guitar.” Watch a 3-minute video and within minutes, they are playing a C-chord. So, kids know how to hack education today to gain the skills they want when they want them.
Digital badges have become an important learning tool everywhere. This is largely because of the Mozilla foundation, which started an interesting project called “Open Badges.” Essentially Mozilla maintains a software for anyone to use online. It has created a standard to create digital badges, which has opened a global community of learners. Thanks to Mozilla, anyone can earn a badge and share it with others. You can check out http://openbadges.org to learn more.
So rather than going by the traditional way, i.e. you give a test and get a transcript, you can simply prove your competency for which you do not need to do the seat time. For example, if you are interested in filmmaking and if you are good at making movies prove your competency and get a badge for it.
An open badge concept is not about giving a physical badge against a competency. Rather, it is all about giving a virtual badge; sharing this achievement on your resume or social media results in positive reinforcement.
Brad Flickinger is the Technology Resource Facilitator for The Metropolitan School of Panama in Panama City, Panama.