Digital Badging and Being a Rock Star


Cate Tolnai running a badging session at CUE Rock Star Roseville

For all the time we spend learning and growing as educators, how do we tell our story? Some of us earn credentials, degrees, and certificates that cost us money and cause stress. We submit proof to these courses to our schools and districts, and the learning is then translated into a language that is quantifiable and understood on a traditional pay schedule.

But professional development has been liberated, and a large portion of the meaningful learning we do as professional educators happens online for free, and at conferences outside of work hours. We are challenged to quantify this learning for our schools and districts in a traditional way – we’re not “earning units” or “calculating semester hours.”

So, the time has come to start thinking creatively about how to package our professional stories, and digital badges are the keys that unlock the box.

Digital Badging for Professional Development

Guide to Digital Badges for Professional DevelopmentIt’s essential to understand the workflow of digital badging prior to adopting it into your learning model. First, an agency must decide to integrate digital badges as part of their professional development vision, and the flow is relatively streamlined, as seen in this diagram. The badging agency determines the goals of the badges, similar to setting a learning objective for a lesson or desired outcomes for a session. The badge title serves as quick-reference for the goal itself. Usually, this is how non-earners learn about the badge purpose and context, so the title should be clear and specific.

Next, the badge description captures the specific knowledge related to the goal, and the evidence is the proof, or demonstration of knowledge that the earners successfully completed the tasks. Finally, badge earners decide how and when to share their badges with a larger community with the intention to celebrate lifelong learning, clarify specific skills that they value or that are valued by the badging agency, and to connect with fellow badgers as they grow as digital educators. Educators have the option to earn badges independently, in small groups, or in larger social settings depending on the vision of the badge designer and the preference of the badge earner. The options to personalize the learning is prevalent and earners choose which badges they are interested in earning, and how to go about creating evidence that counts. The process is empowering to both the designers and the earners, and it clearly connects to goals set out in the National Educational Technology Plan revised in December, 2015:

Professional learning and development programs should transition to support and develop educators’ identities as fluent users of technology; creative and collaborative problem solvers; and adaptive, socially aware experts throughout their careers. Programs also should address challenges when it comes to using technology learning: ongoing professional development should be job embedded and available just in time. (1)

This gamification of K-12 education is exciting, inspiring, and motivating.

Digital Badging at CUE Rock Star Roseville 

Collection of CUE Rockstar Roseville Badges 2016

Collection of digital badges designed by the following faculty members at CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp at Roseville, CA: Kristina Allison, Brandon Blom, Brian Briggs, Corey Coble, Megan Ellis, John Eick, Josh Harris, Jen Kloczko, Ryan O’Donnell, Trisha Sanchez, Cate Tolnai, Joe Wood

As a member of the faculty for the CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp in Roseville, CA, I have the privilege of collaborating with brilliant and creative educators throughout the Northern California edtech community. Several of us integrate digital badges on a small scale, and had an interest in bringing digital badging to CUE Rock Star. John Eick custom-designed a badge platform exclusively using Google Apps. Across the board, we were intrigued and curious about how digital badges could strengthen the already strong Rock Star model of professional development.

Soon, the conversation turned to the potential risks we were taking in gamifying this learning opportunity. Josh Harris pointed out, “Since we’ve introduced objectives, evidence, and public accountability, I think we need to stress that the badges aren’t the purpose of each session. Your end goal for each session is not to get a badge.” We saw the need to integrate the pedagogy of badging as well as the badges themselves. The hard work and curiosity modeled by our faculty serve to change the cultural landscape of this camp but stay true to the vision and mission of CUE Rock Star.


Badging success at CUE Rock Star Roseville

As a team, we are aware that we are treading new paths and doing so pretty publicly, but as practitioners we also understand the power of calculated risk-taking, and what better professional development venue exists to gamify than a CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp? We are excited to see how the attendees react to the badges, and we are anxious to see artifacts of all the amazing learning take shape through the submitted evidence.  It’s exciting that teachers can now be acknowledged for their formal and informal learning.

1 “National Education Technology Plan | Office of Educational …” 2014. 3 Mar. 2016 <http://tech.ed.gov/netp/>


tonaliCate Tolnai serves as Academic Technology Specialist for the Santa Clara County Office of Education. As an instructional technologist, Cate coaches and guides teachers & administrators as they venture through their personal tech journeys. She holds the Director positions on both the CapCUE and Gold Country CETPA leadership teams. Cate was also honored to “ignite” about digital badges at the 2014 ISTE Atlanta conference and experienced inspired professional development at the Google Teacher Academy in Austin, TX in December, 2014. She is committed to connected education as well as personalized professional development. #connectedtl

Badges: Google Certified Innovator (#GTAATX), Adjunct Faculty: Krause Center for Innovation, Foothill College, Leading Edge Certified Online and Blended Teacher, CUE Lead Learner, Common Sense Digital Citizenship CUE Certified Trainer, CUE Rock Star Faculty, Remind Connected Educa

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Cate Tolnai

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