Thursday, March 29, 2012

Encouraging reflection on practice while grading an artifact: A thought on badges

When I started teaching I thought back to all of those teachers who made me write meaningless papers into which I put little effort and received stellar grades, and I vowed not to be that teacher. I promised myself and my future students that we – as equals – would discuss the literature as relevant historical artifacts that are still being read because the authors still have something to comment on in today’s society.
But then I stepped into the classroom and faced opposition from my colleagues who thought my methods would not provide students with the opportunities to master the knowledge of the standards. Worst of all, some teachers actually punished students who came from my class because they “knew” the students had not learned how to write or analyze since I did not give traditional tests or grade in a traditional way. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flipping Classrooms or Transforming Education?

Dan Hickey and John Walsh
Surely you have heard about it by now.  Find (or make) the perfect online video lecture for teaching particular concepts and have students watch it before class.  Then use the class for more interactive discussion.  In advance of presenting at Ben Motz’ Pedagogy Seminar at Indiana University on March 22, we are going to raise some questions about this practice.  We will then describe a comprehensive alternative that leads to a rather different way of using online videos, while still accommodating prevailing expectations for coverage, class structure, and accountability.

Compared to What?
A March 21 webinar by Jonathan Bergman that was hosted by e-School News (and sponsored by Camtasia web-capture software) described flipped classrooms as a place where “educators are actively transferring the responsibility and ownership of learning from the teacher to the students.”  That sounds pretty appealing when Bergman compares it to “teachers as dispensers of facts” and students as “receptacles of information.”

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Some Things about Assessment that Badge Developers Might Find Helpful

Erin Knight, Director of Learning at the Mozilla Foundation, was kind enough to introduce me to Greg Wilson, the founder of the non-profit Software Carpentry. Mozilla is supporting their efforts to teach basic computer skills to scientists to help them manage their data and be more productive. Greg and I discussed the challenges and opportunities in assessing the impact of their hybrid mix of face-to-face workshops and online courses. More about that later.
Greg is as passionate about education as he is about programming. We discussed Audrey Watters recent tweet regarding “things every techie should know about education.” But the subject of “education” seemed too vast for me right now. Watching the debate unfold around the DML badges competition suggested something more modest and tentative. I have been trying to figure out how existing research literature on assessment, accountability, and validity is (and is not) relevant to the funded and unfunded badge development proposals. In particular I want to explore whether distinctions that are widely held in the assessment community can help show some of the concerns that people have raised about badges (nicely captured at David Theo Goldberg’s “Threading the Needle…” DML post). Greg’s inspiration resulted in six pages, which I managed to trim (!) back to the following with a focus on badges. (An abbreviated version is posted at the HASTAC blog)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Initial Consequences of the DML 2012 Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition

Daniel T. Hickey

The announcement of the final awards in MacArthur’s Badges for Lifelong Learning competition on March 2 was quite exciting. It concluded one of the most innovative (and complicated) research competitions ever seen in education-related research. Of course there was some grumbling about the complexity and the reviewing process. And of course the finalists who did not come away with awards were disappointed. But has there ever been a competition without grumbling about the process or the outcome?

A Complicated Competition
The competition was complicated. There were over 300 initial submissions a few months back; a Teacher Mastery category was added at the last minute. Dozens of winners of Stage 1 (Content and Program) and Stage 2 (Design and Tech) went to San Francisco before the DML conference to pitch their ideas to a panel of esteemed judges.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Open Badges and the Future of Assessment

Of course I followed the roll out of MacArthur’s Badges for Lifelong Learning competition quite closely. I have studied participatory approaches to assessment and motivation for many years.  

While the Digital Media and Learning program committed a relatively modest sum (initially $2M), it generated massive attention and energy.  I was not the only one who was surprised by the scope of the Badges initiative.  In September 2011, one week before the launch of the competition, I was meeting with an education program officer at the National Science Foundation.  I asked her if she had heard about the upcoming press conference/webinar.  Turns out she had been reading the press release just before our meeting.  She indicated that the NSF had learned about the competition and many of the program officers were asking about it.  Like me, many of them were impressed that Education Secretary Duncan and the heads of several other federal agencies were scheduled to speak at the launch event at the Hirshhorn museum,

As the competition unfolded, I followed the inevitable debate over the consequences of “extrinsic rewards” like badges on student motivation.  Thanks in part to Daniel Pink’s widely read book Drive, many worried that badges would trivialize deep learning and leave learners with decreased intrinsic motivation to learn. The debate was played out nicely (and objectively) at the HASTAC blog via posts from Mitch Resnick and Cathy Davidson .   I have been arguing in obscure academic journals for years that sociocultural views of learning call for an agnostic stance towards incentives.  In particular I believe that the negative impact of rewards and competition says more about the lack of feedback and opportunity to improve in traditional classrooms.  There is a brief summary of these issues in a chapter on sociocultural and situative theories of motivation that commissioned me to write a few years ago.  One of the things I tried to do in that article and the other articles it references is show why rewards like badges are fundamentally problematic for  constructionists like Mitch, and how newer situative theories of motivation promise to resolve that tension.  One of the things that has been overlooked in the debate is that situative theories reveal the value of rewards without resorting to simplistic behaviorist theories of reinforcing and punishing desired behaviors.