Even teachers need a little acknowledgment for learning new skills, according to Laura Fleming, a school library media specialist at New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ.
Through her site, Worlds of Learning, Fleming is offering teachers at her school and beyond the opportunity to earn digital badges—indicators of accomplishment that can be posted online—for mastering digital literacy in a number of areas, from QR codes to video editing.
Fleming says that her site, launched in October, provides a fun way for educators to motivate themselves and be rewarded for their efforts. “This is supposed to be informal learning,” says Fleming, who joined New Milford this year but has been a school librarian for a decade. “I really want to keep it that way. I want them to feel this is a safe place and at the same time be challenged.”
Fleming built the site for about $300 with open software, paying for a screencast program and hosting costs. She doesn’t yet know how many badges her site has granted. But teachers and other aspiring badge earners have accessed Worlds of Learning from far and wide, she says. One educator from California State University requested permission to adopt the site for their own use, which Fleming allowed.
To date, Fleming has laid out very specific skill sets for which teachers at her school can earn badges. They include becoming proficient in WeVideo, an online video editor, ThingLink, a graphics generator, and AnswerGarden, a polling tool, along with Wordle, a word cloud program, and QR Code Generator. Fleming now adds a new badge “each week or so,” she says, and she thinks carefully about what skills they will cover. She wants to be sure that the apps she recommends teachers learn will also be useful to students.
Digital badges have been around for a while. Fleming, however, became excited about tailoring them for New Milford’s teachers when badge-making tools made it easier to display information. So now, digital badges clearly reveal the date that they were issued and the skill they connote—an easy, concise way of explaining an earner’s accreditation.
All the badge-earning apps Fleming suggests are free, and Worlds of Learning provides screencasts describing the tools and how to use them. The badges can then be displayed on sites through Credly, a service that issues and shares badges, as well as Mozilla OpenBadges.
Fleming states that the “majority of the staff at New Milford High has joined” her site. “I don’t want them using any tool because it’s cool,” she says. “I only want them using tools…that will help kids’ learning.”
“I think it’s huge,” says New Milford’s principal, Eric Sheninger. “I’m a big proponent of informal learning. I didn’t hire Laura until the midsummer, and [I] empowered her to be really creative with her position. I said, ‘Just run with it.’”
Fleming hopes that New Milford teachers will share and incorporate their newfound skills into lessons. Her students have begun earning badges on the site as well, a trend she hopes will continue.
In the meantime, Fleming stresses the importance of teachers honing their technical expertise. “If [you’re] going to teach kids how to write, you have to write yourself,” she says, noting that digital technology is included in the Common Core State Standards. “My goal is to have teachers incorporate digital badging into their instruction.”