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Microsoft: Partners in Learning Network Badges

Microsoft Partners in Learning Badge System
Microsoft is working to teach technology skills so that individuals and society might benefit from this knowledge. We share the ultimate goal of all stakeholders—use technology to help improve education and the learning experience, create opportunity, and raise living standards for people around the world. 
The potential of education to be an equalizer of social disparity is significant and is further enhanced by the current state of the world – economic imperatives and demographic realities make change more necessary, and technology makes change more accessible and scalable.  Given an overall market size of approximately 4M institutions, 77M educators, and 1.4B students, the international ICT (Information Communication Technology) standards which prepare K-12 students for greater success in their professional careers has resulted in an increased global focus on education, a top prioritization by Microsoft, and growing competitive pressure in the education market.
Microsoft’s Partners in Learning was created in order to make this potential a reality.  Partners in Learning (PIL) is a global initiative with the objective of improving learning experiences by supporting educators and school leaders in acquiring the skills needed to incorporate ICT teaching and learning practices which enable students to build 21st century skills.
screenshot Microsoft Partners in Learning Network
The Partners in Learning Network (PiLN) serves as the focal point for Partners in Learning; it is the public face of the program and is the engine used to engage and recruit educators and school leaders.  The newly revamped network will drive value for educators and school leaders by focusing on three fundamental themes:
  • Discovery: Enable educators to find resources that can be immediately used in the classroom, such as: access to free software, tools, lesson plans, and other user-generated content. 
  • Collaboration: Provide an opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators, school leaders, and their classrooms by building global communities of innovating teaching practices.
  • Life-long Learning: Support educators and school leaders in acquiring the skills needed to use ICT teaching and learning practices through a meaningful set of professional development content and curriculum.
The environment and context for education is changing at a rapid pace through the commoditization of content, new learning paths to becoming an educator, the influence of social networking, and the pervasiveness of mobile devices and applications. The abundance of knowledge, resources, and accessibility to information available today requires a different approach from the generic one-size fits all engagement models of the past.  New tools, like the use of badge systems as a means to reward, recognize, and motivate behavior, will fast become an essential change agent in capturing one’s skills, competencies, and achievements.
How Badges Work    
The Partners in Learning Network will support educators and school leader’s active participation in the Partners in Learning Program by instituting a rewards and recognitions system through the use of badges.  Badges will be achieved by completing a self-defined professional development path, community contributions (posting content, contributing to discussions, providing translation improvement), and obtaining certain designations which represent various skill sets within the program.   
The framework for earning badges within the Partners in Learning Network is as follows:
  • Points: teachers earn points for different activities. Activities may include training, participating in IEF, certification, facilitating a discussion group or contributing content
  • Badges: educators and school leaders earn badges by accumulating points
  • Designations: designations can be earned by accumulating required points, badges or set manually based on defined criteria

Badges for Professional Development and Training
The PiL Program will support educators and school leader’s efforts to effectively integrate technology into classrooms by awarding merit badges for the completion of training courses.   These badges can be obtained as users demonstrate specific skills and knowledge as part of their learning path.  The training modules will range from: short-transaction based “learning snacks” focusing on how to use Microsoft technology and open standards such as HTML, to a more formalized course of professional development content aligned to UNESCO’s Competency Framework for Teachers (CFT).   Users will acquire points for completing each module.  Once a user has accumulated enough points he/she will be awarded a badge for that course.  
The two courses we will award badges for are listed below: Microsoft Fundamentals- which covers Microsoft technologies applied within an education setting and Teaching with Technology –which covers the integration of technology into teaching and learning context using standards-aligned to the UNESCO ICT-CFT, Technology Literacy Strand. Successful study of curriculum is a readiness indicator for obtaining a Microsoft Certified Educator badge found in the Designation Badges.
Designation Badges
Within the PiL Program we will segment our community into different tiers; these tiers will be represented by designation badges earned through the user’s participation and completion of trainings.  We will optimize around the philosophy that everyone is a "winner" just by registering and will be awarded a Microsoft PiL badge. We want to empower an army of educators and some may be evangelists that simply cannot meet the criteria because they cannot participate in training for language reasons; at the same time, those that can and do, are recognized with higher level statuses; i.e. Microsoft Innovative Educator or Trainer, making it easy for us and others to recognize them and their work in the system.                             
Activity Badges
The Activity Badges are used to quantify fundamental program activity and interactions within the Partners in Learning Network.  These are points that educators earn by being a good community member.  What constitutes a good community member can be many things such as; adding content, rating content, leading and responding to discussions and recommending content.   All these things improve the overall quality of the experience.  The Activity Badges will also recognizes achievements around the Partners in Learning Regional and Global Forum competitions which help promote the personal identity of an individual’s standing within the community.  The main goal for Activity Badges is to encourage continual engagement and drive activity within the Partners in Learning Network.
Badge Display
Within the PiLN, the profile page captures all of the user’s activities within the system as well as how many badges they’ve acquired.  Anywhere within the Network a member can click on another members name and view their profile.   The visitor to the profile can immediately gain a sense of the member’s contributions, participation level, and status on the Network.  By prominently displaying the user’s achievements and badges, the system helps promote the identity of individuals within the larger community.  Obtaining badges will become the currency by which educators and school leader’s measure and simultaneously create their own personal brand and begin to build a reputation among their peers.  
As you can see from the image below, a person’s designation will be highlighted in a marquee within their profile page while their badges are prominently displayed for everyone in the community to see.  
Badge Storage
As part of this effort the Microsoft Partners in Learning Team plans to create a framework to record achievements and surface badges on demand.  This framework could be an implementation of the Mozilla Open Badges Platform built on the Microsoft cloud-based Windows Azure platform.  Such an approach aligns our learning platform with a broader system of standards and creates an opportunity to expand the scope of achievements beyond the Partners in Learning Network.  An implementation of the OBP can be used by other groups within Microsoft to support other badge systems and might also be made available to the public as a portal for the storage and authentication of badges created by third-party partners.
How Applicants Can Participate
While the Partners in Learning Team has a loosely defined framework for how badges will work within the Partners in Learning Network, there are still a number of outstanding issues which applicants can help lend their expertise to help solve.  Specific areas of need are:
  • Help determine the semantics around creating a workflow of points vs. badges.  If we have the idea of awarding badges for certain designations (Innovative Educator, Certified Educator, etc.) what is the best way to incent behavior to achieve these designations.  Do we reward badges for all activities, or should points accrue to the designations.
  • How easy do we make obtaining badges/points?  What philosophy should we follow in determining how easy it is for users to gain achievements?
  • What are the total list of achievements we should account for? 
  • How do we showcase mechanisms that demonstrate how close users are to obtaining achievements? Are user’s one thing away or 100 things away? From a design perspective what does the UI look like to demonstrate how close a user is? 
  • What cool, thought provoking, or entertaining names should we call our badges?
  • What imagery should we use, should it be fanciful or more descriptive?
There is a broad range of possible partnership opportunities; the PiL Team is open to new ideas for badges but also for partners who can help to build parts of the infrastructure such as widgets, pipelines, tracking mechanisms, etc. 
By participating in the digital media and learning competition Microsoft is joining a larger movement to create a unified and open platform for the creation, storage, authentication and display of badges.  Such an ecosystem has many benefits.  The friction of creating a badge system is greatly reduced as well as the problem of point-to-point integration between many siloed systems.  In addition there is the opportunity for Partners in Learning to import badges from other sources so as to illuminate a more holistic picture of educator achievements and further the awareness for building their personal brand.  Conversely it also enables the Partners in Learning badges to be consumed by, combined with, and surfaced through the offerings of other members of the open badges ecosystem.


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