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#YALSA and the badging program – #ALAMW14

Posted by lpearle on 3 February 2014

Linda Braun made it clear – this is a work in progress: testers are needed.  Just go to yalsabadges.ala.org

So what do we need to know beyond that?  Badges are a serious learning process, more about the learning than about the badge.  These are tied in to YALSA’s Core Competencies, with the idea that they will help people get the skills they need to be successful.  The following are about YALSA’s badges (my thoughts on this and some badging takeaways will follow):

  • These badges are “crowdsourced” – once someone has completed the work, it becomes open to the public, who can then comment and either approve (“thumbs up”) or disapprove (“thumbs down”) for their work.  In other words, earning the badge is contingent not only on completing the various steps and requirements but on peer approval of the work you’ve done.
  • The exact number of thumbs up is unknown, it’s based on an algorithm.  There is the danger of someone doing the work and then waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for approval.  Community buy-in is critical, as is community participation.
  • The system is (as of right now) a Pass/Fail system, so you could be 100% on several steps but still not “badge worthy”; once you do get approval, you cannot lose it.
  • Badges can be exported to Mozilla’s Backpack, which will enable people to show a variety of professional development badges as part of their online portfolio/resume.
  • Obtaining badges demonstrating competency is gaining acceptance in the military and at colleges.  They demonstrate actual skills, much more clearly than a grade on a test does.

They are still working on the badges, with only three available right now.  The format for each is Overview -> Goals -> Technology Requirements -> Steps (what you need to do) -> Rubric and screencasts on how to do things like set up a Google Form are included.  An online forum may be set up so that those working towards their badge can communicate with others in the same position as well as with people either already badged or those who are experts/mentors.  Notifications for new content need to be created so that people don’t have to log in daily (and see nothing there).

Linda stressed that this is a soft opening, reminding us that Gmail was in beta for five years (but YALSA’s working on a faster timeframe than Google).  She also recognized that there is work to be done on providing administrators and supervisors with information on the rigor required and the skills learned, so that people recognize this as a credential.

So, my thoughts about these badges specifically:

  • The skills skew heavily to the public librarians and their needs; school librarians might not be able to see a need or value to the work needed to complete a badge.  School librarians have the NBPTS for Library Media/Early Childhood Through Young Adulthood and AASL’s NSLPY Award to help them focus their programs and skills. YALSA is going to have to make a really strong case for the school librarian contingent to make this a valuable professional development tool.
  • There’s a w whiff of “checking in” here, like Foursquare or Get Glue.  This may skew the process towards younger librarians, or those who want to become a librarian, while those in the middle or further in their careers will not see them as necessary.
  • Many school librarians are required to get CEU’s and without getting state buy-in to make a badge the equivalent of a certain number of hours of learning, again, there won’t be as much buy-in from school librarians.  Some states won’t accept CEUs from outside their state, again limiting the desirability of this program.
  • While I understand why YALSA feels the need to provide interesting ways to provide professional development tools, particularly those that allow for self-paced, reflective learning, this feels as though YALSA is trying to be LITA Jr.  Perhaps a partnership with LITA to create badges for all ALA members would work better?
  • At Midwinter, the Board approved the creation of a badge for Literary Evaluation.  One supposes that this is so that the President-Elect has better information when considering appointments to the various selection and awards committees – but murmurs I’ve heard are fears that this won’t be objective, that people “on the outs” with YALSA’s Board or VIPs won’t get fair treatment even if they have the badge.
  • The badge that was used as an example, Leadership and Professionalism, struck me as problematic on two levels.  The first was that there are suggestions of library and related twitter feeds to follow – granted, I didn’t ask how that list could be updated by people, but I suspect that newbies might only follow the ones already listed and thus lead to a privileged echo chamber while interesting, outsider voices go unheard.  The second was that once the badge is earned, what mechanism is in place to ensure that the badgee(?) continues to keep up with this newfound PLN?  Maybe I’m jaded from working with students who tend to forget things quickly after the test, but…

On the other hand, the idea of badging is one that has interested me for a while.  I love the idea of creating skills-based badges so that students can demonstrate their ability to do things like cite a source, find information in our catalog or a database, and format a paper.  Teachers planning to do a research paper could mandate that the students complete certain badges by a specific time so that they (and the librarians) know what, if anything, is needed in the way of instruction on basic skills.  There were several things mentioned in this session that were very helpful as I think about how best to create a badging program:

  • Make the look of the badge simple – not childlike, just simple
  • Beware of complexity (perhaps break up a larger piece into smaller elements) and the time it will take (boredom or frustration can prevent completion
  • Start small, figuring out what’s most important/needed now and then build
  • The LMS needs to be really, really robust (YALSA is using Drupal) and that you have lots of tech support and training on how to use it
  • Test, test, test and retest
  • Ask the community experts how to assess the “win” and provide peer review

I’ve done one badge on information literacy and it was time-consuming and kludgy.  Not to mention the fact that there were two questions I got right but were marked wrong by the system (luckily I took screenshots of the “wrong” answers and successfully got the grade changed). I can only imagine the work it must take to keep them up-to-date and smooth-running so that students don’t have technoangst on top of everything else!

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