Future Ready Schools provide opportunities for teachers to experience professional learning within a digital environment. Since I first launched our digital badge-based professional learning platform back in 2013, using micro-credentials in the form of digital badges for teacher professional learning has gained significant traction. Initiatives such as this have helped us move professional learning beyond just receiving credit for 'seat time' to competency-based systems in which educators receive credit for the skills that they gain. These approaches allow for flexibility for educators to develop professionally at their own pace. Although we even have seen a similar initiative at the national level, my experience and work with digital badges has shown me that the real power of micro-credentials lies at the local/district level.
At a local level, districts can ensure that their micro-credential system directly reflects the needs and wants of their school district. In addition, districts are able to brand their individual platforms, build community, fully customize their badges and personalize learning experiences for their teachers. They are also able to provide face-to-face support for their teachers, if they should need it. Not only can districts create badges that reflect the needs and wants of their school community, but with their teachers' input, they can create professional learning experiences by teachers, for teachers, giving them a shared ownership and responsibility for their professional growth.
As stated in a previous blog post, I bundled my digital badge platform files and gave them away for free. In an attempt to support districts across the country who might want to develop a similar platform, it was my hope that my files could serve as a template, streamlining the whole process for them. I am so thrilled to say that many have done that, such as the MARS Area School District and the Del Norte County Office of Education and Lake County Office of Education, in California. The renowned Cajon Valley School District in El Cajon, California. Cajon Valley's Digital Academy, also inspired by my work, is an excellent example of how educators can not only acquire knowledge and expertise with 21st century skills, but also receive the credit they deserve for integrating these skills into their instruction and professional practice. According to Cajon Valley, they chose such an initiative in order to build their teacher’s confidence as they ignite sparks for learning in their students and prepare them for the world in which they live.
In addition to the different iterations of my platform that have popped up across the country, we have seen other successful district-level digital badged-based professional learning initiatives. One such example is Deerfield University, a platform created by the Deerfield Public School District, in Deerfield, Illinois. Educators participating in Deerfield University can earn a district degree by submitting student evidence of learning and/or evidence of their own learning. This evidence proves how their educators applied their learnings to their professional practice and in improving student learning outcomes. Teachers can work at their own pace, earning their degree over the course of a school year or over the course of several years. In an effort to gamify professional learning, Deerfield University participants earn points for their efforts. Points accrued not only lead to the earning of a degree, but also include opportunities to earn rewards and prizes along the way!
A fantastic example of professional learning by a teacher for teachers is a platform developed for Washington Township Public Schools in Sewell, New Jersey. The creator of this platform, Kathi Kersznowski, explains that her district has taken a progressive approach towards the way it offers professional development. They have moved away from the “Sit & Get” workshop format and have instead explored options that involve choice and the earning of digital badges. Their platform emphasizes that by earning digital badges, you have earned the chance to celebrate yourself, and by sharing them across social media, others have the chance to celebrate you too!
A local/district level micro-credential initiative, can actively engage educators in relevant, authentic uses of 21st century skills while at the same time, allow districts to support their teachers' efforts through coaching and mentoring amongst staff. Teamwork and collaboration in relation to the earning of digital badges at a district level can help to build a culture of recognition that all school districts should want to create. In addition, districts can have full control over monitoring their teachers' progress in implementing digital learning and 21st century skills. The self-direction that a strong digital badging professional learning initiative fosters empowers teachers and allows them to customize their experience to ensure the learning is relevant to them. The strength of digital badging undoubtedly lies a the local level.