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

Learner-driven Badges and Experiential Education in UC Davis' newest undergraduate major

A. Content Alignment

Using content submitted in Stage One, the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis proposes to develop an open-source badge-based system that supports a network of personal learning environments for students in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems (SA&FS) undergraduate major. We hope to serve as a model for other programs on campus and at the secondary level, where web-based educational tools can move from grade-based systems to learner-focused tool kits for personal development, increasing motivation and participation of students in a variety of formal institutions that embrace experiential education.

B. Badges

Content: ASI has created a formal curriculum and 7 high-level Competencies that will be represented in a system of badges:

Ø Systems Thinking: Learners are competent in the analysis of complex systems, integrating societal, environmental and economic perspectives. Students reflect systems thinking in a deepening understanding of complexity, holistic approaches, and how the parts relate to the whole.[1]

  • Experimentation and Inquiry: Learners are able to formulate questions, investigate current knowledge gaps, develop sound research design, learn current research methods and perspectives, experiment with new approaches to scientific inquiry, and integrate scientific and practical knowledge.
  • Interpersonal Communication: Learners are able to work in collaborative teams, present information for varied contexts and audiences, negotiate approaches and viewpoints and take leadership roles on important issues.
  • Understanding Values: Students are able to reflect critically on their own values and examine different paradigms and perspectives, seeing beyond objective data to understand how values shape commerce, research, policy and action in sustainable agriculture and food systems. 
  • Strategic Management: Learners are able to work to collectively design and implement interventions[2], anticipating future scenarios and adaptively managing information, human and natural resources for maximum impact.
  • Civic Engagement: Learners work to make a difference in the civic life of their communities, through both political and non-political processes. As part of a larger social fabric, students consider social problems to be at least partly their own; make and justify informed judgments; and take action when appropriate.[3]
  • Personal Development: Learners seek deeper understanding of their own and thinking and learning processes. They can tolerate ambiguity, respecting those with differing opinions and beliefs, while setting firm standards for behavior and holding themselves and others accountable.[4] Learners work to promote open expression of individuality and diversity within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect.[5]

The skills that build toward this overarching set of competencies are varied, and are somewhat self-determined by the students using the badge system, thought certain skill sets are connected to certain formal and informal experiences throughout the curriculum. Skills range from tractor-driving to geospatial-analysis, to sampling techniques for agro-ecological studies, all building competency in those seven areas.

One of the key features of the badge system is that it is a dynamic, learner-driven experience, focusing on the development of a portfolio of content, skills and experiences that are displayed using the badge system. We are still playing with the level of granularity that will be formalized in the architecture of the badge system, but learners using the badges will be able to add a great deal of context and detail to their personal reflections and competency assessments. The prompts in the badge system aim for a mixture of qualitative and quantitative expression of performance.

Here is a more detailed description of that process from our Stage One content submission:

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.

The aim of the badge system is to capture all relevant learner development, whether that occurs in formal or informal settings. Different aspects of the learner’s badge portfolio or backpack will convey various meaning and qualifications. Because we intend to design a system that is focused on a specific learner-community, users will belong to that community before the can access the badge system. However, we intend to develop a system that can serve as a model for connected, and connective, learning so that other programs can adopt a similar approach.

C. Technology

The SA&FS Badge system would rely on the Mozilla OpenBadge site, but it appears the API would allow us to integrate the infrastructure within a local UC Davis site, hosted as a part of the ASI website.

The SA&FS badge system would benefit students and member of the project by giving rewards for the unique learning happening outside the classroom within this major. The Infrastructure is built to create a broader awareness and currency for this kind of learning.  UC Davis, as an accredited academic institution and state university, along with partner organizations would support this infrastructure as well as connecting to a broader network of learners outside academic institutions and classrooms.

Software and widgets. 

UC Davis currently uses SmartSite as a learning management platform, which provides some opportunities for integration, e.g., using frames to display the badge system. However, we use wordpress to host student blogging and portfolio building and would develop a widget to integrate badge display within that framework. We’re exploring the development Facebook widgets, and GIS widgets for apps like FourSquare.Mobile App development is also a key component of our vision, as student in this major are learning both in and outside of the classroom on a regular basis.

D. Team

Team expertise. We are currently working with a team of doctoral students and post-grads from the Education and Design departments at UC Davis to develop our design plan. Assuming that our Stage Two proposal is accepted, we will reach out to the Education Design team at IDEO Palo Alto to take our content and design ideas and develop and implement the actual platform.




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