Digital Badges Coming to a VR Theater Near You

If I could be transported to the future, let say 10 to 15 years from now, what would I see? What would learning look like? These are definitely open-ended questions for which the answers would encompass many of the topics visited during my COETAIL journey.  I could write endlessly about how technology, with the guidance of a teacher as a facilitator, will redefine education by allowing personalized learning in which students collaboratively solve authentic problems that have a real impact in their lives and their communities.  I could write about how learning would not be limited to classroom walls but will be virtually connected to learning environments around the world.  However, for the sake of a more focused blog, let’s dwell on the impact that digital badges and virtual reality (VR) may have in the future of learning.

At the moment, I am looking for a job in the US.  I updated my resume and I created my LinkedIn profile, but how can I prove that I am a qualified educator?   It is easy to verify the authenticity of my university diplomas, but what about the skills that I have acquired throughout my career?  Personal references are important, but are they enough?  Dough Belshaw, in the podcast “Shifting our Schools” (embedded below), affirms that a system of digital badges may be one way to standardize and level the field in the global job market.

Let me give you a more concrete example of how badges could benefit all. The majority of my professional experience as a teacher and, later on as technology instructional facilitator, has been mainly in Ecuador.  So, to someone here in Houston who reads my resume, they really don’t have a significant context to understand what I have done abroad.  However, as soon as I mention that I am a recent Level 2 Google Certified Educator, their eyes light up as though we are finally speaking the same language.  The certification that Google provides is becoming well known within the educational context.  People know that in order to receive a certificate (or a digital badge) the candidate needs to complete a series of courses and demonstrate knowledge and proficiency.

What exactly is a digital badge?

“Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.”—MacArthur Foundation

In addition, the use of badges has the potential of replacing the letter-grade system in education. At the moment, an A obtained at the end of fourth grade in Ms. Chiriboga’s math class in Quito isn’t the same A obtained by another student in Ms. Long’s class in Houston.  Letter grades don’t mean much because they can’t be transferred easily to different contexts; they are nondescriptive as to what students know or are able to do.  Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts invented this system 121 years ago, and it is what we are used to, but it is greatly subjective and lacks inter-rater reliability.

Therefore, I envision a future—as mentioned in the video above— where earning digital badges have gone mainstream and letter grading or GPAs are things of the past.  Many institutions, after-school programs, and organizations are already issuing open badges to validate the knowledge and skills of thousands of learners across the globe.  In addition, Google Classroom and other Learning Management Systems (LMS) have implemented digital badges so teachers can issue them to students within the platforms. However, in the future, we need a globally standardized way to verify and validate the badges displayed in our digital profiles.

Keeping the future of learning in mind, what about Virtual Reality?

In January, I attended a STEAM Summit in Houston, and I had the privilege of meeting Danielle Olson, a virtual reality researcher and doctoral student at MIT.


She is the founder of the non-profit organization called Gique, whose mission is to expose students to STEAM experiences in after-school programs.  During her summit session, “Designing for Virtual Reality” I learned about the online platform CoSpaces Edu. It allows students to create their own virtual reality environments when they use the mobile app and a headset. I was blown away by the numerous applications this platform could have in the learning process, and I decided to give it a try for the sake of this week’s focus. (See my first project below).  If you view it on your computer, use the arrow keys to move around, or, if you are using your phone, you must have the app downloaded, and a VR headset to view it.  I am excited about using this platform in the classroom because it also incorporates block-programming for beginning coders; every element in the environment could be animated. I used this playlist with tutorials to learn the basics; however, there aren’t many comprehensive tutorials to understand block-based programming. They’ve assumed you already have the basic knowledge to do so.

Moreover, Danielle Olson is currently working on creating fully immersive media experiences that will build more empathy in interpersonal relationships. She is involved in a project called “The Enemy”, which will allow the public to experience with multiple senses both sides of a war conflict and discover that opposing sides are more similar than different.

Danielle also sees the potential of these new technological systems in helping build empathy in schools.  Here is what Rachel Gordon in her article, “Danielle Olson: Building empathy through computer science and art says about her research:

“She’s working on developing interactive narrative experiences to help kids practice dealing with social identity issues. For example, one game might involve an elf trying to get past a gatekeeper from a different clan, who may try fitting in by downplaying parts of their identity to get past the gate.”

While we could debate which tools will be the most prominent in future learning, I am certain that badges and VR will definitely play an important role in deepening understanding, validating and sharing our experiences.

Looking forward to your comments,

@carolin_escobar

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6 Responses

  1. Megan Looney says:

    Carolin,

    Prior to reading this post, I’d rolled my eyed at the thought of digital badges being something that as an adult I’d need to earn. Earning badges was something I’d done as a Girl Scout in my youth. At that time I took great pride in adding each badge onto my Brownie sash. When reflecting on your post, and I think a large part of that is like you I have an upcoming transition back to the U.S., is that you’re right, digital badges ensure that we all speak the same language. That all educators or even professionals in other fields can understand the skill sets that potential and current employees possess. If badges were more widely used in education, I wonder if schools could current use it as a way to flip more professional development as the teacher experts on particular topics within a school would be more well known as well.

    I did a bit of reading using COETAIL’s resources but then I watched Joyce Seitzinger’s Tedx talk and found that it was quite helpful for both me as a badge earner and also a potential badge issuer. Things finally “baked,” as the open badge community likes to say, with my understanding of badge earning and providing. In particular the idea of having a place for all learners to make our learning pathway visible for my students, their families, colleagues and other educators.

    This made me wonder have you collected any digital badges? If you have, will you display those and if so how? Using an open backpack?

    Thanks for opening my thinking around this topic!

    • Dear Megan,
      Thank you for reading. I was also hesitant about the use of badges as an extrinsic motivator to learn. However, as you read, I am in a situation here in Houston where employers are having a difficult time relating to my experience in South America. The only experience with digital badges that I’ve had has been at the school where I used to work before. When we launched the G Suite, we needed to have about 300 students up to speed with the tools. So we created an online course where students had a bunch of tutorials, and then they had to pass an evaluation. We created and issued badges within Schoology to those students that completed the courses. These badges were displayed in their Schoology’s profiles.
      Have a great weekend!
      Carolin E.

  2. Rory Bell says:

    Hi Carolin,

    Thank you once again for another brilliant post and ideas about both badges and VR.

    Regarding badges, I was very similar to Megan in that I met the idea with a somewhat dubious mindset. Though clearly utilised in video games, I did not see the possibilities for application in the ‘real world’. You make a really clear case for the use of badges in terms of professional development and when looking for employment. I see that this could work now. Yet, it is also really clear that the same system would need to be used across countries, continents and job fields. This is certainly a challenge for all badge creators/coordinators and is something that I will follow with interest. But, thank you for showing me the positive possibilities of this concept.

    With regards to badges for children, I must say that I am still unsure about their use. It seems to me that badges would be just the same as grades or like many of the systems out there. My personal opinion is that grades and over-examination of children is something that needs to change in our current systems, and I would hate for badges to be the same thing but dressed up a different way.

    In the past, I have used ‘points’ systems for behaviour in the primary school, where my favourite was definitely link to classdojo.com. I also like the premise and points system on link to gonoodle.com. Again, in my eyes, badges would be pretty similar to these, but again would draw the line so that those points are for something other than academic achievement (and the effort put into achieving this). For me, these are a given and a part of an enjoyable process which does not need to be rewarded, as the journey and achievement IS the reward.

    Clearly, there would be a benefit for all to have a badge system which is consistent, for both adults and children. This would provide universities and job providers with a lot of guidance. But, I feel that we have to be really careful to avoid making the whole of learning about badges and just about getting that kind of reward/endorphin rush. For me, learning should be enjoyable in and of itself, and not just for a grade…or a badge.

    Thank you for presenting these ideas to us so wonderfully, and for providing substantial food for thought. I shall look more into the badges idea and the positive ways in which they could be used.

    Rory.

    • HI Rory,
      I have also been critical of extrinsic motivation to encourage learning. I am sure you are familiar with the work of Alfie Kohn: link to alfiekohn.org. Years ago, I read his book “Punished by Rewards”, where the author gives ample evidence of how letter grading has taken away the love of learning for the sake of it. In the present, I am living the consequences of the excessive evaluative and anxiety-inducing educational system with my own teenage girls. They are overwhelmed with homework and overly focused on grades due the to college application process. and However, I see the use of badges a bit different than the use of letter grades. Badges, if managed well, should encompass a description of what the student knows and is able to do (more standard-based.) Of course, every system has the potential of becoming a competitive and non-collaborative one.
      Thank you for reading,
      Carolin E.

  3. Hi Carolin!

    I enjoyed the video you shared about badges… I knew little of them; but, upon reflection, we have something similar in the music context. Music K-8 (link to musick8.com) is a website by Plank Road Publishing that provides a ton of music literature. One of their most popular publications is Recorder Karate (link to musick8.com). Students earn their recorder belts (in various colors) when they have mastered certain pieces based on difficulty level. The students then recognize each other’s efforts based on which color belt they have acquired.

    As adults, don’t we, too, work for badges? We’re currently working on our coetail badge. I earned my Orff Level III badge last summer. I can also say that earning my master’s degree can also be a badge. A badge I certainly enjoy is the one that goes to my bank account at the end of the month! 🙂

    I liked this quote from your video: “Badges capture knowledge, skills and accomplishments not found on resumes. This helps workers transfer learning across different industries and employers find the unique talents and skills sets in demand.”

    I wonder if taking this concept and merging it to the school setting would be successful. Humor me and pretend that the students earned their badges based on the IB PYP Transdisciplinary Skills (link to westvancouverschools.ca) . Transdisciplinary MEANS across all subjects, right? A younger student can earn their “Level 1 Research Skills Badge” but since these transdisciplinary skills have a length definition, they can earn the different levels as they are promoted to the next grade. Maybe the following year they can earn their “Level 2 Research Skills Badge.” Hmm…I think we’re on to something! What do you think?

    Have a great weekend!

    • Dear Kehri,
      Thank you for reading! I completely agree with you. I think we are earning badges all the time. I usually advocate for encouraging intrinsic motivation for learning in my students and I was the kind of teacher that avoided rewards at all cost. However, I think the use of badges ( and if the criteria are clear about how students got it, and it is accompanied by a description of what students know and are able to do) is by far better than letter grades. I love your idea of IB PYP Transdisciplinary Skills, especially within the IB context with more than 4,000 schools around the world offering IB programs.

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