Monday, August 29, 2011

A Shakespeare Badge System

Have you earned your Hamlet badge yet? What about your Globe Theatre Badge for attending and reviewing stage productions of Shakespeare's plays? Or maybe you'd like to earn your Horatio Badge, for demonstrating "thou art a scholar" of Shakespeare?

After brainstorming ideas about open accreditation with open content advocate David Wiley recently, I have been playing with the idea of developing an open learning credential system for my Shakespeare course through which badges would be used to represent achieving learning outcomes. Such a system would not simply be a way for my students to demonstrate their learning to me or get a grade; it would provide a prototype for open credentialing -- a concept that will do much, I believe, to advance current educational reform. If a badge system can work with a common subject like Shakespeare, perhaps it could be adapted more broadly.

This is how I foresee it working:
Rather than just being given a syllabus, students are challenged to earn, vet, and create badges linked to specific learning outcomes. Once earned, the badges can be displayed and shared online as part of student identity -- evidence of experience, expertise, and interests. Such badges can also serve as open credentials that may end up meaning far more than just "Ryan earned an A- in English 382" or "Caroline earned a B.A. in English" because the badges will be linked directly to informal and formal evidence of students reaching very specific learning outcomes. This is a way of getting both standards and evidence of student learning circulating in social and professional networks, which can in turn promote both the pursuit and refinement of highly specific learning objectives and assessment criteria.

For example, a student earns a "Breadth Badge" in Shakespeare and displays this on her blog. The badge is linked to a wiki that lists the learning outcome associated with that badge. In this case, perhaps, "The Breadth Badge requires students  to demonstrate familiarity with multiple works by Shakespeare across all dramatic genres." That outcome is linked to associated criteria for achieving it. In this case, perhaps, "Students read two tragedies, two comedies, one history play, and one romance play and publish reviews of these plays on a socially  mediated platform such as Students also explain or teach core concepts from these plays in a social setting which is documented on a public blog." When students earn a specific badge (which requires being vetted by someone else, and not the teacher), it is not valid for him or her unless they link both to the open standard and to their work that documents their learning -- an ePortfolio or blog which narrates their learning and links to projects or products that demonstrate how the students met criteria.

I am thinking of having students be part of designing the badges and drafting the criteria for specific badges. They would also be involved in the vetting process by which both standards and achievement of standards would give objectivity and validity to the badge system. I think this would be the only way to do this sort of thing: students must understand and buy into a process that is easy to understand and deploy, and one that has built into it ways for dealing with the ongoing need for revision, critique, and reformulation of learning outcomes.

The system has all kinds of holes in it, of course. But I think most of those can be solved by pinning down the purpose and function of open credentialing, which I will need to outline in more detail.

Update: August 31, 2011
Although I'd hoped to get this going for Fall, 2011, I've decided to defer to January, 2012 before trying to implement this system in my Shakespeare course. I tend to give my students a steep learning curve with new media (and myself) and I feel this needs to be worked out better before trying it out. But I plan to keep developing the idea.