Friday, November 9, 2012

Student-created badges for milestone presentation evaluation

The students in my advanced programming class have their Milestone 1 presentations coming up next Wednesday. It's a three week increment, and so most of their attention the last two weeks has been on their projects. I was going to publish a rubric for the Milestone 1 presentations, but then I realized that it would be far more interesting for the students to come up with the assessment plan. It turns out that all three of my teams are making simple games as their projects—a fluke that's not happened in this class before—and so I decided to dovetail on that and work with them to do achievement-based assessment.

Normally, I spend the few minutes before 1PM setting up my laptop. I knew I wouldn't need it today, so at 12:55, I was standing at the podium and ready to begin. All but one of the students were already there, so I started an informal discussion about why classes are so tightly tied to time. It was just passing thought to me, the relationship of time-locked learning to the educational needs of the industrial revolution, when I realized that there was a path to achievements from here.

I challenged them to think about what education might look like if we weren't slaves to the clock. A student mentioned that he had a class where they covered a chapter per three-hour meeting, and if they got done early, they just went home. I noted that textbook-oriented learning is part of the same phenomenon, having emerged from a time when information was scarce and structured, but that this generation of undergraduates has lived through the transition to information's being abundant and unstructured. One of the students had been homeschooled in his earlier years, and he described how he had content-oriented tasks, and he could play whenever he was done with them. We agreed this was still basically the same as chapter-per-meeting, "content"-based design, but with more scheduling freedom.

When I challenged them to think about how learning was authenticated, a student mentioned portfolios as an alternative to transcripts, which I agreed was a good idea. Another mentioned that one way to demonstrate knowledge is to teach it. Aha! From there, I explained how there was a peer-to-peer connection here: the one teaching the material could verify that the learner had learned it, but the learner could also verify that the teacher knew it. How a third party would interpret such peer-oriented credentialing would depend on how much they trusted the person who signed it. That is, a network of trust supplants the hierarchy—an idea that was certainly inspired by my recent watching of Manuel Lima's RSA Animate talk.

This got us into a discussion of the Badges for Lifelong Learning initiative, as well as a brief overview of the idea of badge-creation as a form of reflective practice. This latter idea came directly from my discussions with Lucas Blair at MeaningfulPlay. I challenged the students to think of badges that we could use for the Milestone 1 presentations. There were some thoughtful looks but mostly confusion, so I led with an example, starting with the criteria, then polling for what to title it, and finally, plying my incredible chalk-art skills to make an icon—a sequence of development I encouraged them to follow.

I got the students into cross-team groups to come up with some of their own, inviting them to share their badges on the board. As they got started, I reminded them that I didn't care if one person gave the milestone presentation or if they all rotated speakers. Personally, I think speaker rotation is silly—and I told them this—but it seems someone has convinced them before coming into my class that speaker rotation is good.

Here's what we designed for achievements, in the sequence we discussed them.

Those icons are all student-created, except for the bald Mr. Clean guy. I can't believe they used a broom and not the iconic strong cross-armed bald guy. I was a little disappointed that one of the groups did not fully realize the value of icons, as I value the analogical thinking necessary to invent them. Note, for example, the visual pun in Home on the Range. (Assuming I'm interpreting that correctly.)

As they were designing these badges, a student asked if they could make "negative badges," and I told them to do so as they wished. When we got to talking about Train Wreck, I asked them what they thought about the negative badge. A student spoke up and said, "Well, it's still a learning experience." Que alegria! I told them that I could not have said it any better myself and we moved on.

When we got to Orator, I pointed out that it was significantly different from the rest, as it was competitive. They seemed to agree with me, though silently, that it was OK to have some competitive badges in addition to the ones anyone could earn.

With just a few minutes left in the session, I pointed out that what we had done for the last half an hour was exactly reflective practice, and that this was a major goal of the learning experience. I asked if they thought this set of badges would suffice for Wednesday, and they agreed. I told them I'd collate the badges and provide them with sheets for Wednesday's presentations, and that afterwards we would talk about the process.

As it turns out, I had an Ed.D. student observing that day as well. As we walked out of the room, he asked, "Is that normal? ... Are you normal?" I laughed and explained that certainly some days are better than others, but today, we had everybody deeply engaged, and it was a great meeting.


  1. Nice to read that Train Wreck was discussed and kind of accepted.

    "Risk Taker" is interesting to me and possibly fit for extension. In professional software development in corporations, I see a lot of people completely unwilling to try something that might not work. They'll pitch slow development of conservative solution over trying out a couple of potentially better (but possibly hopeless) ideas. Hence, they aren't very practiced at "prototyping for real" or being able to make early cut-and-run decision.

    Risk Taker is rewarding a successful risk, although merely taking the risk and staying on track is a real achievement. Particularly in agile development situations, there's the situation to take half a day to try something and learn to evaluate maybe on incomplete information before becoming too time-committed.

    1. Risk Taker was an interesting discussion. Just a few days ago, I had introduced the team to MSF Risk Matrices as a project management tool. We talked specifically about how one could prioritize risks based on exposure. I think this was the context in which the students mentioned "risk." We talked briefly about how one might determine whether this badge was earned: would it be done subjectively or by demonstration of rigorous risk analysis? No concrete conclusions from the class, but I think it was good food for thought.