A simple, colorful image can say a lot about one's achievements.
That's part of the theory behind digital badges, an online recognition system that awards virtual stamps of approval to celebrate and commemorate achievements. The general approach has taken hold with users across a wide range of online platforms – digital badges have become a go-to element on everything from social networking hubs to online sites dedicated to fitness goals. The 21st-century version of Boy Scout Merit Badges has taken hold on platforms across the web.
But the system is about much more than celebrating an impressive run or commemorating weight loss. Digital badges are also making a difference in how students of all ages learn and improve in the Cherry Creek School District.
District Instructional Technology Coordinator Kellie Ady and Technology and Learning Coaches Amber Paynter and Keli Kinsella detail the potential and promise of the system in an article recently published in JSD, the quarterly journal published by the international education association Learning Forward. The article highlights the value of the digital badge system in Cherry Creek, where it's implemented for students and staff alike. The trio out of the Office of Instructional Technology has worked hard to offer teachers a fun and rewarding system of recognition.
"We're seeing it blow up right now," Paynter said. "It's in our pop culture, and we're working to tap into that and recognize teachers. As we're providing opportunities to teachers, we're able to recognize what they're doing with these badges."
Specifically, the article draws insights from the use of digital badges at Cherokee Trail High School during the 2014-15 school year, when professional development leaders collaborated and planned with their feeder's Technology and Learning Coaches to reward and recognize teachers for professional development. As soon as they're earned, the digital badges show up in the Schoology website, where teachers have personalized profiles that can be shared with professional peers. The online badges serve as an online, portable record of one's progress in a specific program.
"To have that displayed in some kind of public way honors the teachers as professionals," Paynter said. "There are also motivational components to it."
Specifically, the system offers participants autonomy, mastery, and purpose when it comes to learning. Those factors are key to motivating students of all ages, according to scholarly research. For Ady, who was honored earlier this year with the Schoology Ambassador of the Year Award, the concept offers participants of all learning styles the opportunity to feel recognized and inspired.
"It's akin to the Boy and Girl Scouts, where badges are pinned onto clothing that can be seen by anybody they encounter," Ady said. "This is that same idea. It's recognizing work in a digital format."
It's also a format that can be fun. For example, a group of badges designating achievements in the online Schoology system carries a Harry Potter theme. Paynter's collection of badges on her profile page includes an animated icon of Professor Dumbledore smiling coyly and raising his goblet in a gesture of recognition.
"We've used simple, 'you showed up' badges to whet the appetite and get people excited about the system," Kinsella said. "When they enter into this course, there is a defined set of expectations that they go through. Someone has to grade their work, and as soon as it's approved, they get a badge and it's immediate."
Ady, Paynter and Kinsella started working on the article in JSD (short for the Journal of Staff Development) after they successfully submitted a proposal to lead a detailed presentation on digital badges during Learning Forward's winter conference to be held in December in Washington, D.C. The article will serve as a complement to the presentation, where the trio will have the opportunity to lead participants through firsthand activities.
As far as digital badges go, they're currently in use in schools and programs across the district. While there's value for the entire Cherry Creek community in the system, there's also room to tailor the recognition to each classroom and every learner.
"We're looking forward to continuing to meet the needs of all of our buildings," Kinsella said. "We want to make the system fit to individuals' needs. That is doable."