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This project was submitted by an applicant to the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

The SA&FS Badges Project: A Competency-based Approach

Badges for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Major

Visualize & Drive Learner Growth

UC Davis’s Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) and College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences recently spearheaded development of an interdisciplinary major in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SA&FS). ASI has collaborated with faculty, students and community partners to develop a model of learning, participation, and assessment focused around high-level “core competencies” that bridge classroom and real-world experiences, academic investigations and concrete skills.  We believe this model has the ability to train leaders who will transform the food system, changing the way each of us eats and lives.

With DML’s support, we will build a tool with which university programs can reach out into the real world and embrace diverse experiences and student reflection as integral parts of learner development, motivation and achievement.

System Features & Principles of Development

                  The SA&FS badge system we envision creates a dynamic and real-time record of student thinking and accomplishment. We hope to build a platform that can connect classroom learning and program structures to internships, student-led projects, fieldwork and lab courses, and self-assessment. Within the badge system, students record learning experiences and skills, get guided through articulation and reflection, and receive feedback from peers, professionals and faculty members.

With DML support, we’ll create a system that guides, organizes and visualizes the many experiences, motivations, achievements and feedback loops that contribute to a skill or competency and make it necessary and valuable—all of which drives continuous growth, of both the individual and learning community (See this in action here).

Development of the SA&FS badge system is driven by 3 principles:

  1. Responsive to priorities of professional field and academic program. The badge system maintains core competencies identified as critical to professional work and problem solving in sustainable agriculture and food systems. More than a ‘snapshot’ evaluation, the system allows faculty, partners and peers to see what has contributed to learner development and with what depth and focus a learner has acquired expertise.
  2. Organized and re-organized by the diverse needs of professors, peers, and practitioners. The ability to quickly change how a badge portfolio is visually organized means that each viewer can prioritize their unique needs and questions.  For example, a faculty advisor may focus on the core competencies to assess progress through the major, but an employer may want to see concrete skills, or a subset of them.
  3. Directed by aspirations of the learner(s). The badge system encourages personalization, not only by allowing learners to set goals, tailor curricula and ask questions, but also by allowing them to display the experiences, events, achievements and moments that they believe best demonstrate their learning and expertise.

Content & Organization

ASI carried out a Delphi survey of academics, practitioners and students that identified which skills, content and experiences were most essential to prepare students to lead in the field of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (See attachment 1). With the survey as a foundation, ASI created a formal curriculum and 7 high level Competencies– Systems Thinking, Experimentation & Inquiry, Interpersonal Communication, Understanding Values, Civic Engagement, Strategic Management and Personal Development (See attachments 2 and 3).

In the SA&FS badge system, learners draw upon their own experiences, contribute criteria for fulfilling a given badge, and publicly display these definitions, opening their reflection to feedback from peers and mentors. Through built-in prompts, the platform helps students recognize, tag and describe connections adding rich and unique detail to each of their badges. Each of these categories – Competencies, Skills, Classes, Internships – have badge designs, as well as other aspects of learning, like level of expertise, awards, etc. In order to ensure that structural requirements and program values are being met, while preserving the individualized, dynamic nature of the badges, the institution has the ability to precondition some badges and automatically attach others to particular achievements, whether that be a certification or specific course.

                  As they develop, learners receive formative feedback from peers, faculty, and community partners with whom they have worked. When a learner has reached what he or she believes is ‘expert’ level in a particular ‘competency,’ members of the community can agree or disagree with the expert designation and provide targeted feedback. Viewers see how many reviews a learner has received, but not all of the review contents. By making the content – not just completion – of learning experiences evident, this integration of self, peer-, and practitioner-assessment can guide future learning as learners recognize gaps and strengths. More on the specifics of implementation can be found here: SAFS Badges Spreadsheet.

Potential for growth

While ASI and UC Davis have already created much of the content for these badges, the badge system is built explicitly to help students find and represent learning experiences outside the university, to help them build learner identities and communities, and to clarify learner goals and gaps. The badge structure and administrative support for implementation is ready – and being utilized non-digitally by a few faculty, staff and students. Development of the digital badge and portfolio system is the next step.

                  The badge system has a waiting network of students, educators, researchers, and partners. Due to the interdisciplinary and experiential focus of the SA&FS major, this network extends throughout many departments at UC Davis, as well as to community organizations, institutes, practitioners, and educators across California and around the world. Further, through existing collaboration with educators in UC Davis School of Education, the system may be adapted and brought to secondary schools, allowing educators to highlight habits of mind and service learning opportunities, alongside more specific, test-oriented skills and knowledge. We’ll build the SA&FS badge system with these multiple sites and audiences in mind.

Beyond motivating learners and promoting interdisciplinary learning in SA&FS, we believe that badges can become an accessible, viable, and meaningful way for institutions and individuals to assess learning – a system that responds not only to the diversity of learners and diversity of problems to be solved, but also to the process of learning in the real and changing world.






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