Chapter 6: Building a Badge- and Portfolio-Friendly Culture

This post is part of the online study group and discusses Chapter 6 of David Niguidula’s book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, published by ASCD.

Essential Questions:

  • How do we make sure the portfolios are valued?
  • How do we build on what we already have?
  • What else has to change?

Schools have lots of moving parts. Every student, teacher, administrator and stakeholder in the school can have an effect on the community as a whole. For your digital badge program to be successful, it has to eventually become a part of that community.

It’s easy enough to look at starting with digital badges and portfolios as its own thing – a separate initiative. In the real world, though, any initiative is being put into a school environment that already has its own way of doing things. Thus, it’s important for a school community to consider the essential question, “What else has to change?”

Chapter 6 suggests that schools establish a larger purpose for the digital badges. There are many good reasons to pursue badging and portfolios, from documenting student growth to establishing a school’s vision of what each graduate should know and be able to do. We’ve also seen that some purposes do not work as well; for example, thinking of this work primary as a technology initiative isn’t nearly as effective as focusing on the educational needs.

By putting the badges and portfolios into this larger context, it then becomes easier to determine what else has to change. If there’s a collective understanding that the purpose is important, then the faculty and students are more likely to put in the necessary energy to make the badges and portfolios worthwhile.

Let’s consider one specific purpose: badges and portfolios offer the opportunity for schools to truly personalize. Students certainly will be collecting their best work; in some cases, students are able to set up their own badges, and therefore establish the direction of their learning. In their tours, students can show that they have met standards – but can also show who they are as individual learners.

In order for this personalization to happen, the adults in the school need to encourage it. Teachers can go a long way simply by asking students to reflect on their work – and paying attention to the answers. As mentioned in Chapter 4, the role of feedback is critical – students want to know what the teachers think about their performance, both what went well and what needs to be improved.

While the larger purpose is important to keep in mind, it’s also important to start with what’s at hand. What are the interesting tasks and projects that your teachers are already providing? What types of advisory / conferencing is already in place? Where do teachers and students get to know each other best right now? In every school, there are solid approaches to teaching and learning happening every day. A digital badge and portfolio initiative can build on that good work, and amplify it into something better for all students.

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