We Don’t Want Just Any PD, and Badges Are More Than Patches

We’re working on a project to get more professional development to more teachers as they need it. Two pieces that we mention frequently are reusable learning objects (including online modules) and digital badges. We do that, in part, because they may be the most interesting aspects, especially when trying to spark other educator’s interest and entice them to join us in the effort.

The Distributed PD Project is so much more than just those two components. But if you’d mostly been involved in brief conversations about the project, you might not think so. So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when colleagues say to me, “We found lots of resources that have badges. Why don’t we just use those?” Or, “Why don’t we just suProfessional Learningbscribe to this service? There are lots of PD modules, and it has badges.”

Now, I know they are well intentioned (these are good people, I like working with), and just trying to help (why reinvent the wheel, right?).

But the suggestions totally miss the point of what we’re trying to achieve with the project.

My first question to them probably should have been, “What are your criteria for selecting these resources?” In all fairness, although familiar with the type of resources, I haven’t spent real time looking at these specific ones, and I haven’t asked my colleagues this question. But I suspect that their answer would be, “They have lots of PD resources that our teachers would like or find useful, and they have badges.” And I’m sure there would be at least some resources there helpful to us and our work. 

But our goal is not simply to provide a buffet of PD, nor is it to simply have a badge at the end

In fact there are three key ways that these resource suggestions misunderstand our work. There are three key, distinguishing criteria we should apply to any resources or services we select to support this project.

1) We don’t want just any PD. We want targeted training aimed at supporting teachers as they work to implement our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc.). We’re building out that professional learning curriculum so that we can be transparent about what we would like teachers to know and be able to do. 

10 Tech Integration Professional Curriculum BucketsSo one criterion we’d want is for a high level of alignment between the training modules and the knowledge and skills needed for our initiatives. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “How does the list of available modules match our professional learning curriculum?” Keep in mind that a subscription service might not meet that criterion, but still have tons of high quality modules, just not the ones that we really need. And that is ok. We are quite happy to build out our own modules and playlists of available reusable learning objects. But those will be targeted directly to our professional learning curriculum.

2) We aren’t looking for badges that show that an educator participated in a training. We’re looking for badges that indicate that the educator is proficient with the professional learning target. If the training module were for something like standards-based grading, for example, we would want the teacher to earn the badge when she demonstrates that she is skilled at analyzing student work for how it demonstrated proficiency, is skilled at providing standards-based feedback to students, and is skilled at rating a student’s level of proficiency in that learning target based on evidence from the student’s work. We are not looking for the badge to be awarded when the educator participated in the training.

So a second criterion we’d want is for badges to be awarded only when a teacher can show that she is skilled at or understands a particular professional learning target. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Are badges awarded for demonstrated proficiency?” This is why, in some ways, the professional learning curriculum and having a cohort of qualified certifiers to examine the teacher’s evidence and determine when she has earned a badge may be more important than finding good training materials.

3) We don’t want badges just so we have an icon to show that we did something. The image or patch of the earned badge OpenBadgesmay be the least important aspect. As I mentioned in notes from a forum on digital badges, badging is about credentialling. It’s about recognition, knowing something about someone in a verified way (evidence-based way), and represents an individual’s skills and achievements. Badges travel with the individual (do not reside solely within a single platform or system) and can come from a variety of sources – a badge needs transportability and interoperability. As such, badges need a standard. Such a standard supports their use by the folks who issue them, the folks who earn them, and the folks who are interested in which badges you have.

So a third criterion is that the badges meet the badging standard. OpenBadges.org provides that standardA question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Is the badging OpenBadges compliant?

So, what we’re looking for are professional learning resources that meet some specific criteria: 

  • They are highly aligned with our professional curriculum and strategic initiatives
  • They offer acknowledgement only upon demonstrated proficiency
  • They are OpenBadges compliant (if they use badges)


About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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