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How digital badges are shaking up teacher PD

Examining the future of digital credentials and badges for K-12 professional development and professional pathways for teachers.

The topic of teacher professional development has dominated discussions about teacher quality and retention for years. While some progress has been made, there is still no standardized means for teachers to develop a portfolio of credentials aligned with the always-evolving set of skills and strategies they bring to their classrooms.

Digital badging has arrived on the scene as a leading contender to close this gap and help provide teachers with a clear path to professional growth, and the micro-credentials to prove it. This is an important breakthrough for a profession in which a lack of career mobility too often leads to top talent leaving for administration roles or private sector jobs.

The Badging Benefit

Badges provide a unique opportunity to allow teachers to expand their professional knowledge in ways that are relevant, valuable and engaging.

Badges help teachers focus on relevant professional developments opportunities because they support personalized learning. Rather than the old model in which professional development is offered in a seminar or lecture setting, teachers can choose the learning they want to pursue based on what will be most relevant to them and their students.

Moving beyond the traditional credit-hour model of professional development to a competency-based system is another benefit of badge systems. Badges are earned based on learning evidence rather than just seat time. This means that teachers can display the competencies that they have developed throughout their professional careers. Should a teacher choose to move to another teaching opportunity, their badge profile will follow them and help demonstrate their value and abilities as their career progresses.

Badges are engaging in part because they employ game mechanics to inspire collaborative competition. When teachers are able to track their progress, and celebrate the work of their colleagues, excitement levels build to help generate enthusiasm around professional learning. In the Open Badges community at Badge List, we’ve seen many districts reach tremendous levels of excitement because teachers are able to share their experiences and get inspired by the projects and learning evidence of colleagues.

(Next page: Edtech as a starting point; looking ahead at digital badges for PD)

Edtech as a Starting Point

As the average teacher’s technology toolkit continues to expand, edtech has become a natural starting point for the introduction of digital badging into school culture. It’s no secret that the success of any rollout or implementation is more dependent on teacher buy-in than almost any other factor. Strong leadership in the administrative ranks can be a difference-maker, but even the most proficient tech departments are turning to vendors for help.

That’s why the e-Learning team at Skyward decided to make digital badging a core element of their online training platform.

Skyward’s decision to adhere to Open Badges (as opposed to taking a more proprietary approach), is indicative of a larger push to provide teachers with a consistent, living portfolio of professional skills, specialties, and achievements. It will increasingly fall on technology companies to support school- and district-wide badging initiatives by moving away from the traditional, classroom or webinar-based training approach in favor of a rich, authenticated learning experience.

As with many other edtech initiatives, interoperability will be critical as badging continues to thrive. In light of the recent announcement that the IMS Global Learning Consortium is now managing the Open Badges Specification, it’s clear that this is one standard with serious staying power.

One of the great benefits of the interoperability of Open Badges is that badges can be shared across multiple platforms. For instance, badges than are earned on the Badge List platform can also be hosted on other platforms such as Badgr. This means that badges are portable and owned by the earner of the badge, not the hosting platform.

Looking Ahead

Badges are on the path to becoming the new standard in professional learning. Some experts have suggested that badges will drastically alter or even replace the traditional resume in the coming decades. The great thing about badges is that they provide so much value beyond the obvious point that paper certificates will soon be irrelevant.

Adoption of a badge-based PD system will put your school or district at the forefront the professional learning movement, inspiring teachers to own and celebrate their developments. Whether you are using badges to help train teachers on software platforms or other skills, digital badges provide a great way to track achievement and recognize success.

To learn more about what it takes to launch a digital badging program, check out the Advancing K12 EdTech Digital Badging Playbook, featuring a four-part video series and downloadable badge resources. To learn how you can develop your own badging program for professional development, check out the Badge List Blog and Badge List YouTube Channel for more.

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