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Empowering Global Educators Through Digital Badges

This country is in the midst of a discussion on how we can show more respect for teachers and their profession. One idea is to empower and support them through digital badges, presented here by Julie Keane, Head of Research at VIF International Education and Chelsea Waite, Initiatives Manager at Digital Promise Global.

By guest bloggers Julie Keane and Chelsea Waite

Digital badges and micro-credentials are generating a growing buzz in the education space. A digital badge is a visual representation of a skill or accomplishment—simple enough. The value of a badge, though, lies in how each earned badge displays unique validating information like who issued the badge, how it was earned, and why it was awarded. Badges are sometimes called "micro-credentials" to emphasize how they represent individual skills, in the way a traditional credential (like a diploma) represents a large collection of skills. Many people and organizations are thinking about how systems of badges and micro-credentials could be created and implemented all over the world to benefit learners of all kinds—students, teachers, and working professionals.

And what about global educators? As our organizations support teachers to develop students' global competence we recognize both the dynamism and the complexity of the global education field. To learn how to go global, teachers often turn to a multitude of resources, ranging from informal Twitter chats to sustained professional development programs. We affirm these myriad pathways: there are many roads to becoming a global-ready teacher. Our challenge is to empower educators by recognizing them for expertise in the skills they value, thus making it possible for them to share that expertise widely.

So why do we think badges and micro-credentials are a huge opportunity for global educators?

Empowering teachers
First, badges and micro-credentials enable teachers to drive their own learning. We are certainly not the first to say that we need to treat teachers as professionals who are in the driver's seat when it comes to developing the skills they need to do their jobs well. At a recent summit on educator micro-credentialing hosted by Digital Promise, teacher and instructional coach Angela Estrella commented, "When we trust teachers to identify their needs and create their own learning paths, I think that's how we put respect back into the profession."

Rather than defining professional learning goals at the top management level, we need to empower teachers to regain a sense of autonomy and power over their own learning. Furthermore, we know that good teaching is what benefits students, not time spent in professional development seminars, so we need to focus on recognizing competency rather than simple seat time.

Digital badges and micro-credentials are a way to put professional learning back in the hands of professionals—teachers—and recognize them for what they're learning. Many educators, for example, work to give students opportunities for meaningful cross-cultural collaboration experiences. Management of these projects requires a distinct set of skills that aren't always a part of standard teacher training. Expertise in these skills can be difficult to measure and hard to demonstrate and share with fellow teachers. Digital badges are a way to display evidence of teachers' global competency and practice, ranging from videos of classroom exchanges and collaborations to student and teacher work portfolios and reflections. A set of global competence micro-credentials would offer teachers with these skills a way to gain recognition for expertise in an area that they themselves have prioritized.

Connecting Teachers Virtually and Globally
Badges and micro-credentials support what global educators do naturally—connect and learn from other educators. Teachers in the global education community openly seek guidance from one another, share classroom practices without judgment, and support teaching and learning from diverse perspectives. For example, the digital badging system in VIF's learning center exemplifies and further supports a dynamic social and professional peer-to-peer learning community. Similar to other global education learning platforms, it allows global educators to do what comes naturally: collaboratively build and further develop cross-cultural communication, critical research and intercultural competence skills, and model how to support that development in students.

Badges and micro-credentials are also portable, reaching across platforms and borders. For instance, digital badges offer the international teachers sponsored by VIF a portable system to share the professional learning accomplishments gained while teaching in the U.S. with educational institutions in their home countries. Global education provides teachers and students opportunities to connect within and outside of classrooms, engage in authentic investigations with real-world relevance, and deliberately integrate culturally responsive strategies into learning. Through digital badging, the complexity of global-ready teaching can be made transparent to wider audiences, creating more opportunities for collaboration across institutional and geographic boundaries. 

So what now?
Opportunities for educators to earn badges and micro-credentials are out there, and our organizations are only two of many that are working to support teachers by recognizing their continuous learning through badges. Teachers, we invite you to dive into the world of micro-credentials and badges. How can this system best support you? 

Leave us your thoughts in the comments. (And sorry, as of yet, there isn't a badge for that.)

Follow Julie and VIF International Education, Chelsea and Digital Promise Global, Asia Society and Heather on Twitter.

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