Category Archives: Learning Progress Management

Keeping track of what students know and can do, evidence of that learning, and where they are in their learning progression (what are they finishing now and what comes next)

We Don’t Want Just Any PD, and Badges Are More Than Patches

We’re working on a project to get more professional development to more teachers as they need it. Two pieces that we mention frequently are reusable learning objects (including online modules) and digital badges. We do that, in part, because they may be the most interesting aspects, especially when trying to spark other educator’s interest and entice them to join us in the effort.

The Distributed PD Project is so much more than just those two components. But if you’d mostly been involved in brief conversations about the project, you might not think so. So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when colleagues say to me, “We found lots of resources that have badges. Why don’t we just use those?” Or, “Why don’t we just suProfessional Learningbscribe to this service? There are lots of PD modules, and it has badges.”

Now, I know they are well intentioned (these are good people, I like working with), and just trying to help (why reinvent the wheel, right?).

But the suggestions totally miss the point of what we’re trying to achieve with the project.

My first question to them probably should have been, “What are your criteria for selecting these resources?” In all fairness, although familiar with the type of resources, I haven’t spent real time looking at these specific ones, and I haven’t asked my colleagues this question. But I suspect that their answer would be, “They have lots of PD resources that our teachers would like or find useful, and they have badges.” And I’m sure there would be at least some resources there helpful to us and our work. 

But our goal is not simply to provide a buffet of PD, nor is it to simply have a badge at the end

In fact there are three key ways that these resource suggestions misunderstand our work. There are three key, distinguishing criteria we should apply to any resources or services we select to support this project.

1) We don’t want just any PD. We want targeted training aimed at supporting teachers as they work to implement our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc.). We’re building out that professional learning curriculum so that we can be transparent about what we would like teachers to know and be able to do. 

10 Tech Integration Professional Curriculum BucketsSo one criterion we’d want is for a high level of alignment between the training modules and the knowledge and skills needed for our initiatives. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “How does the list of available modules match our professional learning curriculum?” Keep in mind that a subscription service might not meet that criterion, but still have tons of high quality modules, just not the ones that we really need. And that is ok. We are quite happy to build out our own modules and playlists of available reusable learning objects. But those will be targeted directly to our professional learning curriculum.

2) We aren’t looking for badges that show that an educator participated in a training. We’re looking for badges that indicate that the educator is proficient with the professional learning target. If the training module were for something like standards-based grading, for example, we would want the teacher to earn the badge when she demonstrates that she is skilled at analyzing student work for how it demonstrated proficiency, is skilled at providing standards-based feedback to students, and is skilled at rating a student’s level of proficiency in that learning target based on evidence from the student’s work. We are not looking for the badge to be awarded when the educator participated in the training.

So a second criterion we’d want is for badges to be awarded only when a teacher can show that she is skilled at or understands a particular professional learning target. A question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Are badges awarded for demonstrated proficiency?” This is why, in some ways, the professional learning curriculum and having a cohort of qualified certifiers to examine the teacher’s evidence and determine when she has earned a badge may be more important than finding good training materials.

3) We don’t want badges just so we have an icon to show that we did something. The image or patch of the earned badge OpenBadgesmay be the least important aspect. As I mentioned in notes from a forum on digital badges, badging is about credentialling. It’s about recognition, knowing something about someone in a verified way (evidence-based way), and represents an individual’s skills and achievements. Badges travel with the individual (do not reside solely within a single platform or system) and can come from a variety of sources – a badge needs transportability and interoperability. As such, badges need a standard. Such a standard supports their use by the folks who issue them, the folks who earn them, and the folks who are interested in which badges you have.

So a third criterion is that the badges meet the badging standard. provides that standardA question I could ask about the suggested products is, “Is the badging OpenBadges compliant?

So, what we’re looking for are professional learning resources that meet some specific criteria: 

  • They are highly aligned with our professional curriculum and strategic initiatives
  • They offer acknowledgement only upon demonstrated proficiency
  • They are OpenBadges compliant (if they use badges)


Not All at Once – Phases of Implementing Technology for Learning

When working to implement complex initiatives (like technology integration, or Customized Learning), we want to support our educators by not dropping it  on them all at once.  Toward that end, we try to define a productive sequence or set of phases of implementation.

As part of the Distributed PD Project, a Auburn-and-friends work group developed a wpid-Photo-Jan-24-2014-601-PM.jpgdraft Phases of Tech integration document. It is a draft, but we want to live with it and use it for a while before working to revise and update it. (Practice provides better feedback for revision than theory!)

We wanted to think about developing teachers’ skills at leveraging iPads for teaching and learning beyond just googling topics and word processing. Beyond just projecting material. Beyond just thinking about getting good at various tools. Beyond just using apps connected to the curriculum.

We wanted to think about technology as a tool to help us customize learning. We wanted to focus more on pedagogical goals than technological goals. And we wanted to think about where technology could take us that we couldn’t easily go without technology.

So we set up our professional learning continuum, our phases of implementing technology integration, to be similar to our Phases of Implementing Customized Learning, and how such a structure helps support plementation and teachers. (Driver 1)

And we based it on our current thinking about powerful uses of technology for learning.(Driver 2)

And we tried to think about how the SAMR Model might inform our work. (Driver 3)

Notes from Open Badge Forum

One aspect of our Distributed PD Project is credentialing: thinking about how we might acknowledge what teachers know and can do and giving them “credit” for the new things they are learning. One way we’re looking to do this is through digital badges.

On April 30, 2014, I attended Open Badges: Re-imagining Credentials for the Digital Age at the University of Southern Maine. The session featured Erin Knight, the Executive Director of the Badge Alliance.

Below are my notes from that session (Apologies if they seem cryptic.  I just copied them here and didn’t enhance or clarify them much…).


  • It’s about recognition
  • Knowing something about someone in a verified way (evidence-based way)
  • Represents skills and achievements
  • One can unlock the way to the next one
  • Also about the information that is now available on the “back” of the badge
  • Also design (social) badges to drive the behaviors we desire


  • Are the commercial providers (Blackboald, moodel, etc.) building their badges in such a way that folks can use them in other platforms/ecosystems?
    • Some yes, others no.
  • Why badges?
    • Capture a complete learning path
    • Signal that learning to key stakeholders
    • Build and communicate reputation and identity (data about learning for the learner)
    • Build maps of learning pathways and opportunities for more learning
    • Foster an ecosystem where learning is connected across contexts, across lifetimes
  • How badges?
    • What does it mean to work at an ecosystem level (not just our org but learners can earn badges across many organizations and experiences)****
    • Software – e.g. open badges backpack
    • Open badges standard – for info, but also for structure so the info is accessible and examinable
    • Validation –
      • the badge has a lot of info;
      • next level is “Endorsements” which is outside people who review the standards and work and then endorse the badge;
      • Usage – how is it being used in the market (if 10 poeple got the badge and the employers like those employees, that says something about the badges)
  • Currency – you need both the assurance of value and the acceptance by society



  • Think of the large badges as “Paths” (code school or P2PU). Or would this be the Phases of Implementation?
  • DePaul U is accepting badges in the application process
  • This is an evidence based credentialling system
  • Can be used in a “granular” and “stackable” way
  • Works through working groups
  • Defining the skills and the outcomes of those schools
  • Levels of badges: participation, skill, achievement/certification
  • Making badges for what’s meaningful for you, not just every badge you can
  • Backpack Federation allows badges to be stored many different places but still findable
  • The learner owns the badges (eg, they can make choose which badges they would like to keep and which they would like to get rid of)


  • What does the ecosystem idea tell us about how we define our system? The ecosystem ideas means that teachers should be able to earn their badges anywhere… Does that mean that we should define our medium and large badge requirements generically and point to our own badges that might fulfil that requirement???


Reimagining credentials for a transformed culture of learning.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM
215 Abromson Center, USM Portland Campus
CTEL Speaker Series

Guest Speaker: Erin Knight, Executive Director, Badge Alliance
Lives in Portland, Colby grad

Open Badges are a new way to think about recognizing and connecting learning and skill development. Digital, information-based, and stackable badges are becoming a new currency for skills, identity, and jobs. In this presentation, Erin Knight, Executive Director of Badge Alliance, will explore the state of the work so far, with examples of where badging is being successfully used across the ecosystem, as well as opportunities for higher education institutions to leverage badging within their own systems for their own benefit.

Starting to Design a Distributed PD System

A while back, I described our need for a distributed system of professional development (as part of our comprehensive plan to support professional learning, including: workshops and trainings; coaching and formative feedback; educator lesson invention and tryouts; and opportunities for educators to get together to share successes and trouble shoot challenges).

So, we've put together a work group to start designing. We will focus first on building a system that will support educators learning to better integrate iPads into teaching and learning. Frankly, we could use the same kind of distributed PD system for our Customized Learning work, as well, but we'll work out the bugs on our iPad work first.

We have 1to1 iPads in K-2 and 7-12, and various clusters of iPads in between. Our work group has K-12 representation. But we know others are interested in this work and we often partner with folks from other districts, and several are participating in the workgroup. We love it when others come to play with us!

Distributed PD Website

And, if you're interested, there is an opportunity for you to lurk, or even participate.

We have created a Distributed PD website to help organize our work. We have pages for each key component of the design work and the Updates & Activities is our blog where we'll regularly publish (yes) activities and updates.

So if you want to lurk, check back at the site periodically to see what we've been up to (and I'll occasionally cross post or post updates to this blog, too).

If you want to participate, you can leverage the comments section of any of our posts or pages.

And if you're REALLY interested in rolling up your selves and being part of the work group, shoot me an email.


Moving Towards Standards-Based Grading

One aspect of transitioning to Customized Learning is finding systems for tracking and monitoring student learning, as well as, ways to report learning progress, especially to parents. One piece of this is some sort of standards-based grading system.

But moving too quickly to a new system of grading (and report cards) can be problematic. For example, it takes time for parents to be ready for iconic changes like approaches to grading. They might need to see other Customized Learning changes work first (like student pacing, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, etc.) before they believe that a new grading system is needed. In fact, we put making structural changes to school one of the last steps of transitioning to Customized Learning.

(Note: a colleague in another district believes that moving early to a new grading system forces important community dialog about the changes toward customizing learning. I think there is much to learn about doing school change work well by following the multiple approaches and how they evolve over time. I may write about how we are approaching school change, but that doesn't mean I believe it is the only effective way to do the work.)

Saving large scale change in grading practices until late in the Customized Learning implementation process that doesn't mean in the meantime teachers shouldn't find ways to move toward standards-based grading practices. There are a couple key intermediate steps that can be pursued:

  • Trying standards-based grading-like practices within the traditional system
  • Looking for models and examples of how others are doing standards-based grading practices
  • Getting feedback from the students on how it is going (to let you know when you are on track, or what course corrections need to be made)

I recently came across Frank Noschese's blog, Action-Reaction. Clearly, he is not only working on standards-based grading in his classroom (among other things), but he is sharing what he is learning via his blog. He may not know it, but he is addressing the three intermediate steps above:


Capacity Matrices: Examples & Overview

As Quality Learning Australia points out:

A Capacity Matrix is a tool to describe, document and monitor our learning. It allows us to clearly identify what is it we wish to learn, derived from the curriculum and student interests, and then track learning over time. It can be very effectively used with the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycle and supported with a portfolio that provides evidence of our learning. Capacity Matrices are also used for self-assessment as well as peer assessment.

In Auburn, we are starting to use Capacity Matrices in this way. Our teachers are wondering where they can see examples and where they can learn more. Below are a handful of resources to help address that need.

General Information about and Examples of Capacity Matrices:

The Curriculum and Customized Learning Series

When you start changing how you organize school for performance-based learning and recognizing that people learn in different ways and in different time frames, you quickly realize that the center of school shifts from courses to the curriculum and where students are within the curriculum.

How you organize the curriculum and then make it transparent to students becomes critically important.

Here is the whole recent series of posts related to curriculum organization and learning progress management within customized learning: