Rewarding Learning with Badges

Digital Badges Forum for Pittsburgh Employers 2015 from Sprout on Vimeo.

There’s a great writeup today on the Remake Learning blog about Digital Badges and their potential to unlock opportunities for youth. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m especially drawn to digital badges’ potential to recognize and reward learning with something more nuanced than a letter grade. There’s a wealth of research around connected learning that captures the power of “anytime, anywhere” learning and its positive impact on educational outcomes. There’s great potential for kids who learn differently, and there’s particular promise for at-risk kids who are otherwise marginalized by the traditional educational system.

The key missing piece with digital badging is employers. Some people argue that, in order for these alternative credentials to be really worthwhile, they need to be accepted by employers — that is, this idea of validating out-of-school learning with a badge only matters if there’s a meaningful reward or unlocked opportunity on the other side.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the last nineteen months that I’ve lived here, it should be no surprise that Pittsburgh is leading the way in this conversation about education innovation. Last summer, I was a facilitator at the event featured in the video above. Cathy Lewis Long, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Sprout Fund (my new employer), is featured at length in the video, and she eloquently sums up the stakes of this work and its promise for the future. Digital badging is new and it’s unfamiliar to most big employers, but it also might be just what they’re looking for as they try to seek out the best and brightest employees. The world is changing and the workforce is changing, and digital badges might just be the outward sign of learning and achievement that twenty-first century employers are looking for.

Watch the video above. Then read the blog post. Then get yourself to Pittsburgh as fast as you can: This is a crazy-exciting place to work in education.

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New on iQ: smartparent: Girls & Media

This week on iQ: smartparent, we’re airing the final episode of our third season. It’s called “Girls & Media,” and it explores how girls can take control of the narrative about what’s possible for girls to see, be, and achieve. I was so grateful for the great conversation our three guests shared: It’s hopeful and exciting to see the opportunities and tools that young women can use to tell a new story about the limitless possibilities for the lives they lead.

You can learn more about each of these guests here:

Plus, here’s a special Show After The Show with these same guests!

Updates from the ‘Burgh: A new adventure beckons

Sprout-Fund_green.pngI’m delighted to announce that I’ve started a new job here in Pittsburgh: Effective this month, I’m the new Program Associate for Community Building at The Sprout Fund. I’m humbled and excited to join this team of dedicated, creative people who work tirelessly to bring innovative projects to the Pittsburgh region. I’m especially excited to be part of Sprout’s stewardship of the Remake Learning Network, which helped me get involved in the education community when I moved to Pittsburgh back in 2014.

Here’s the short version of what Sprout does:

The Sprout Fund enriches the Pittsburgh region’s vitality by engaging citizens, amplifying voices, supporting creativity and innovation, and cultivating connected communities.

You can learn more about Sprout’s work on its website here, and you can see Sprout’s excellent storytelling, community building, and catalytic funding in action through this amazing document: The Remake Learning Playbook.

This Month’s Adventure: LRNG Summits

Back in November, I started working on a project with The Sprout Fund to help produce three regional summits for LRNG, the new national nonprofit that’s taking digital badging and connected learning to the next level across the country. It’s a great way for Sprout and Pittsburgh to share the work we’ve done with Pittsburgh City of Learning with a national audience, and it’s also a great way for us to connect with people across the country so we can make connected learning even stronger in our community back here in Western Pennsylvania.

To spread the word, we’re facilitating three events in five weeks: in Philadelphia last week, in San Francisco next week, and in Chicago in the beginning of February. The video above captures some highlights from the event in Philly, which we hosted at WHYY. It was a great opportunity to catch up with the always-energetic, endlessly amazing Dave Crusoe, my classmate and former co-conspirator in the world of MBE back at HGSE. He’s now doing great work down in Atlanta with the Boys and Girls Club of America; it was terrific to hear what he’s up to, and to see a tangible example of an organization that could benefit from LRNG’s model and efforts.

You can learn more about LRNG on their website here, and you can find out about how to apply to be a program partner or LRNG city on the application website here.

iQ:smartparent: Best of the Web

One of the coolest things we did with season three of iQ: smartparent was film a series of segments we called “Show After the Show.” This allowed us to ask each group of guests the same series of broad questions about parenting in the digital age. We also got to host conversations with local Pittsburgh leaders — like Jane Werner of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh — with national educational figures — like Lisa Regalla of MakerEd. These clips were so good that we put them together into an episode that we’ll air this week.

Also, as a bonus: Here’s Jane Werner telling my very favorite story about making as an act of love. Fred Rogers fans, be warned: This will make you love him even more.

New on iQ: smartparent! “The Maker Movement in Schools”

Visit the episode page here! 

Our FIFTH new episode of this season of iQ: smartparent will air on Thursday 11/19 and it’s a doozy: it features Lisa Regalla, a national leader in maker education who currently serves as Deputy Director of Bay Area-based MakerEd, and three faculty members from Pittsburgh’s own Winchester Thurston School. We were delighted to highlight their innovative, inspiring work on the show!

The thing I loved most about this episode is how much it speaks to teachers. The tagline for iQ: smartparent is that it’s WQED’s (Emmy Award-winning!show about parenting in the digital age, but I also think of our show as a steward of thoughtful, responsible information for all caregivers, teachers, and parents. The info in this episode absolutely informs parents about what this whole “maker movement” thing is in their children’s school; it’s also a helpful glimpse for teachers into how they might integrate making and the maker mindset into their classrooms. I especially love the Remake Learning videos that make it into this episode: one of them features an innovative middle school ELA classroom in Allegheny Valley School District and the other features the “Dream Factory” in the Elizabeth Forward School District. Both of these Pittsburgh-area schools have found thoughtful, rich ways to integrate making into their classrooms. This isn’t some goofy diorama project that doesn’t relate to learning; instead, these are projects that demand students to think critically and creatively as they build something new that deepens their learning. I love that making means critical thinking plus something artistic. It’s as much about individual expression and empathy as it is about analysis. And teachers can take heart: Making in the classroom doesn’t mean you have to have an expensive 3D printer or serious electronics expertise. It means giving students some materials but mostly the space and flexibility to be creative and think expansively.

For more resources on the maker movement in schools, check out the innovative work of my former colleagues at Schools of the Sacred Heart San Francisco, who have transformed a former computer lab into a great maker space, the Unkefer Spark Studio. Fred Jaravata (whose work I admire so much!) also wrote a great post on this work on his own blog here. You can also find great info from MakerEd on their resources page here.

New on iQ: smartparent! “Learning With Games”

Visit the episode page here!

This week’s iQ: smartparent was many months in the making. In addition to a great in-studio interview with Jessica Trybus, we filmed a ton of footage at WQED’s Family Game Day and the National STEM Video Game Challenge winners’ event back in June. It was so exciting to see all of these elements come together for this episode.

Personally, this episode was a great learning experience. I was a kid who didn’t grow up with console games, and — with the very notable exception of my beloved Oregon Trail — “winning” at a digital game or reaching its endpoint was something I thought only other people did. My main experiences with console games came at my orthodontist’s office, where the (very smart) staff had set up a slim waiting room with four monitors connected with four different gaming systems. I’d gravitate toward Super Mario Brothers 1 or 2, and I’d play for 15 minutes or so and try to keep my mind off of whatever fresh hell my poor mouth would meet a few minutes later. Since I only played for a few minutes at a time — and was usually preoccupied with dread — I never really did well, and I never really improved.

When I was in middle school, I remember my friend Rosie obsessively playing one of the Sonic the Hedgehog games on her Sega. For a solid week she’d get up in the morning, play the game, pause the game, go to school, come home from school, un-pause the game, play until dinner, then pause the game and start all over the next morning. She beat the game a few days later. Since I wasn’t much of a gamer myself, I imagined that this was what it took to win something: Total dedication, and total absorption in the task. I could barely get past the first two levels of Sonic, let alone beat a boss level. Between my lack of experience and my certainty that I’d never have the time or ability to actually be any good at these games, I’ve mostly stayed away.

Interestingly, my work with Common Sense Media forced me to re-evaluate my idea of myself as a gamer. Last year, I reviewed a really neat game called Spirits of Spring, and this year I reviewed Stephen Universe: Attack the Light, and (unbeknownst to my colleagues) these two experiences offered me the first time I’d ever beaten a boss in a video game. Heck, Spirits of Spring is the first game I’ve ever played where I reached the end. I was terrified when I got these assignments. I’m not a gamer! I thought. How can I review this if I can’t get past the first level? But I did get past the first level; these games were each scaffolded and organized well enough to help me ramp up my skills and progressively get better. If I’d played Mario or Sonic with more consistency — or at least a little more concentration — I probably would have caught on to the same kind of building complexity.

Plus, each of those games had some pretty thoughtful messages baked in about empathy (in Spirits of Spring) and teamwork (in both). I’ve long heard that MMORPGs and console-based RPGs can be imbued with deep insights and great messages, and I believe it: In fact, I’m much more convinced of the value of those gaming experience than I was by that late-eighties, early-nineties refrain that gaming systems were great for learning because they help kids develop hand-eye coordination. I think I’ve always believed that gamers could derive great value, insight, and pleasure from gaming; the difference is that now I realize I could be a gamer too.

I think that’s the thing I find most empowering, joyful, and exciting about this episode of iQ: smartparent. This show’s message is that anyone can admire, design, and play games, and we’re not kidding: There are tons of flexible tools out there for programming and prototyping that can help anyone create a game that explores themes and game mechanics that excite or interest them. Gaming is for everybody — everybody, it turns out, including me.