Meet Tania. She is Abbi's Spanish teacher. Tania is in her early 30s and likes her job. The school environment is pleasant, she has been here for three years now and has built a good rapport with her colleagues and her students, who respect her. She likes the area, her young family and partner live nearby, and they can enjoy the proximity of the ocean year long. Tania has had to change a lot to her teaching since she started ten years ago. The New Zealand Curriculum was implemented in 2007, and was quite a departure from the previous documents. This fairly slim document intends to be a holistic guide to all New Zealand schools to review their own curriculum and align it with the firmly student centered vision of the National document. Tania has been involved from the outset to grasp all of its intent, based on community engagement, learning to learn, and future focus. She is experimenting with her teaching, and has moved away from the painstakingly crafted units of work she used to base all her teaching on. She is making some use of the School Moodle where she posts resources for her students to access. She'd like to use it more as she sees the potential but she has also undertaken a year long Professional Learning course which aims to accompany her pedagogical evolution towards a task based approach to teaching and learning. Tania uses the teaching as inquiry cycle to ensure her teaching meets the learning needs of her students. Tania is busy. She has a range of classes and responsibility for her learning area. She knows she could engage in her inquiry with more depth. Tania does not actually have neither the time, nor is she offered the incentive to step back and consider and reflect on her learning as a teacher. She also knows that deadlines for the high stake NCEA assessment are always looming. Despite having been aligned to the New Zealand Curriculum, offering students a more personalized and individualized pathway to achievement, the managing of portfolio of evidence proves very tricky and imply students taking "more ownership of their learning". Tania witnesses that all of her students are also getting to grip with their new responsibility, and the response varies greatly according to their level of engagement. Plus, Tania is intent on getting good grades, as the overall image of her Faculty and of her school, will be reflected on the results. To maintain her students' level of success, as measured by the tests, she is putting on the back burner discovering with them what online tools they could use to produce work, and her students, while they BYOD, use their device mainly for research, word-processing or sharing a googledoc and sometime use language learning apps. Tania feels she "does" teaching to her students while she wishes she could do more to get them to make sense of their own learning, as intended by the NZC. She also knows that the Key Competencies too often slips under her and her students' radar. When she stops and considers, she knows they ought to be the common language across all learning areas, as they encompass knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. Tania knows too that these competencies are for teachers, learners and anyone beyond the school community.
Meet Greg. Greg owns a medium size business, based on hydraulic engineering. He still drops his daughter Abbi at school in the morning: she can sleep in a bit longer if she rides with him rather than bus it. He has an engineering qualification and his business, thanks to a recent contract with a Chinese manufacturer, is doing quite well. Greg has been in the area for twenty years and benefits from the import/export activity generated by the Port of Auckland, the most active in the country. Greg typically employs between 25 to 30 people. He would like this to stabilize but the lower skill employees come and go, often at the drop of a hat. He has also found it hard to find suitable match to join his management team, as he is often left disappointed that the qualification and veneer presented on the resumé does not convert into workplace skills once hired. Overall, he finds critical thinking and problem solving skills, often coupled with below par communication skills, are sorely missing. Greg is busy. He needs to travel to get more work. Competition from cheaper countries is a constant threat. While he knows he ought to do something to invest in the professional development of his employees to retain them and also to support them gain more quickly the skills he views are essential, he needs to invest in other areas first. Greg always wonders what the kids really learn at school.
These descriptions showcase there are some good bases on which to dream a badge system development in New Zealand.
Here comes the not so distant future:
Abbi will start gaining badges, hopefully Openbadges, identifying and showcasing her sporting and community engagements and successes, issued by the reliable institutions that are offering these opportunities. Those institutions will find badges a natural digital extension to the cups, badges and certificates they already issue. She will display them on her ePortfolio (MyPortfolio powered by Mahara, available to all New Zealand schools as SaaS) which won't be the rather dry venue where she has only been collected her speaking and writing evidence for Spanish. She will see her achievements accumulate. Abbi will start to engage in keeping a more consistent record of her learning, and possibly seek more opportunities to earn badges. Or, why not, start issuing some to her friends when they achieve the Canteen challenge?
Through seeing the badges displayed on Abbi's portfolio profile, and engaging in conversation with her about their significance, not only will Tania get to know her student just that little bit more, but also will start thinking how she will herself issue badges. Not only it would get her to look more deeply into Moodle functionalities, she has always wanted to do to spend more time on that, but it will also be a way to finally evidence the Key Competencies in a concrete, visible, understandable manner: students getting expandable badges for essentials skills they progress on, but also for the aptitudes and competences they develop. Issuing badges credentialing time management, intercultural competence, communication skills... Tania is getting very exciting at the prospect! The visual badge would go a long way in materializing the complexity of each of these concepts, the task is now to be break them down in simple manageable steps.
When Greg reads Abbi's report inviting him to view Abbi's eportfolio, as she has not had the time to show him her badges, he will discover the Openbadges Abbi has been collecting and the competencies she has developed. Greg will relate to the vocabulary being used in the description, as these are the very things he wishes to see his employees develop or at least articulate. Short of thinking he could build badge issuing into the professional development plan he is currently considering to offer to retain his employees, he understands the value the Openbadges would bring to the interview table, or better still, prior to that as he selects the resumés. Greg will start to see that kids in New Zealand schools really learn to learn at school.
I would argue that the New Zealand strong sport and service community coupled with a forward thinking education system offers, in appearance, a fertile ecosystem where there could be a multitude of opportunities to try and build a Badge System with a concerted approach. The next challenges will definitely allow to dive more deeply in the complexity of what it entails.
20th September 2013