Badge It!

Given the current trends in education, I have a feeling I will be teaching an online class or two (or fifty) in my career. I’ve also been a student in an online class and in a blended class that uses online tools like discussion boards. The trick is to make the online course actually GOOD and not just tedium.

The question is now how on earth do we do that?

Naturally the SLOAN-C Convention had several sessions on how to enhance your online learners experiences. The ones that I found the most helpful (ok the two I chose to attend out of the numerous ones there) were Building a Culture of Critical Thinking: A multi-modal approach presented by Andrew Shean, Jeff Hall, and Debby Hailwood from Ashford University and then the session on Badging System to Document Competency-Based Learning in Online Geospatial Learning Lab by Stephen McElroy (American Sentinel University) both of which discussed badging your online courses.

Both sessions took a very different approach but had valuable information. Let’s start with Critical Thinking…This session mainly focused on increasing engagement and developing relationships with your students in order to enhance your online course. One way to go about this was the creation of badges for the course. In this sense, they were a little like gold stars or stickers in an elementary classroom setting. (Speaking as a former high school teacher, you’d be shocked about how excited 16 year olds get about a sticker.) Badges are the new thing…many websites or organizations offer them to put on your website for being a member, for contributing a post or for acknowledgement of an achievement…so why not transition this to online learning as well?

From what the presenters said, it works. Students wanted the badges. They were obviously optional and you could go through the whole course without earning a single one, but if you were highly motivated and contributed a lot to discussions, why not be recognized? Obviously some students will like this idea and others will ignore it, but I think it’s worth a shot. Resources like Openbadges and Basno allow you to create custom badges for your courses. Basno also has a facebook linking option.

Moving on to the next session on badges for competency-based courses badging is approached a little differently here. With this idea, badges show the level of competency achieved within the course, along with a certificate. The idea here is to break the course up in to topics or sections for the different competencies, then each competency has levels of novice, intermediate and advanced that learners can earn badges for. At the end of the course the certificates with each level of achievement can be given out to prove competency in that area.

Personally this approach sounds a lot like grading to me. The badges translate to the amount of work and effort you put in. Advanced would equal an A…but maybe that’s just my opinion.

With the first approach, you could give a badge for one good post. With the second a badge takes in-depth skill demonstration and several hours of work to attain. Both have applications in a variety of online courses. I think this is something I will use in my classroom in both the online and blended environments to try and enhance student engagement.

Can’t hurt to try, right?

Navigating the Evaluation Factor

Driving to campus a week or so ago I was listening to my trusty NPR and caught the end of this story on Charity Navigator and EVALUATION! I was dorkily excited to hear an evaluation topic being discussed on a national level. So I had to go look the full story up and see what it was all about.

Most of us have at least heard of Charity Navigator. They help you as a donor choose which charity you may want to contribute to, based on the data they have collected. You can always just choose by which charity serves your interests best, but it’s nice to have the data and see how your favorite charity is doing and WHAT they are doing with your money!

Of course, those donors who contribute thousands upon thousands of dollars, or granting organizations REALLY want to know what you are doing with their funds. Thus, Charity Navigator.

According to the story, President and CEO of Charity Navigator Ken Berger is concerned with looking at the measurable outputs of the charities.  The old way of doing this was to compare how much money was spent on the programs to the money spent on overhead (workers, resources, the big boss man’s salary, etc.). Ideally we the donors want to see most of our dollars going to the ACTUAL charity work and only a sliver going to the running of the organization. Ideally. When I fundraised for Team in Training (Leukemia and Lymphoma Society) 75% of all donations went straight to programs, doctors, hospitals and research. Only 25% was routed to running TNT and it’s employees. Not a bad split. You’d be shocked at some of the numbers.

But now a new evaluation has been proposed. According to NPR and Berger this evaluation will consist of looking at the OUPUT. (WHAT!?! Logic models maybe!?!?) They will be looking at the problem and actual MEASURES to SOLVE it.

Yeah, the charities freaked out a little bit. My favorite quote was from Doctors Without Borders who wanted to know if they were supposed to go survey their patients in a war torn area on how they enjoyed their care.

They have a point, but still, the evaluator in me is very excited by this new system.

Yes, it will be harder to measure. Yes, it will be complex. Yes, charities will have to PROVE what they are doing. Yes, they will have to have a plan. But most of all…YES YOU NEED AN EVALUATOR!!!

I also appreciated the concern expressed about HOW exactly these evaluations would be judged. Evaluation can have such a negative connotation. Everyone freaks out that they will be judged harshly, funds will be revoked, etc. This is what drives me NUTS about the field that I so much want to make my career in. We are not the bad guys!! Evaluation should be HELPFUL not harmful. It’s honest. It shows you where you need to improve. Kind of like your yearly check-up when you were a kid. We look through things, and tell you where you are doing well, if you’re on track, and where you could improve. Maybe little Suzie needs to exercise a little more. Maybe the charity needs to cut out some overhead or streamline their deliverables. It’s not an end-all-be-all-you-fail-game-over judgement in most cases. Or it shouldn’t be. It’s a status report. It’s up to the directors, CEO’s, powers that be, to take it and act on the information.

I really loved seeing evaluation get some spotlight time. Now if we can just convince everyone we aren’t big, scary, judgy and mean.

TSW to the GTD

Soooo…is everyone familiar with Getting Things Done and The Secret Weapon? Outlook? Evernote?

If you’re not, then click around and check out the awesomeness (in the order listed above).

Last week in class Tony Brainstorms stopped by again and shared with us TSW. Blew my mind. I’m still digesting all the info he gave us, but I’m trying this system. So far, I haven’t ran in to anyone else using it, but it really seems for my future career goals as a professor that it would be really useful, not to mention useful now as a PhD student.

So I’m going to tell you how I got started and the issues I’ve found so far in case you decide to try it out.


I’d been using Evernote for about a year for note taking in class. Not much more than that.

I had Outlook set up to receive my .edu address emails. I also have gmail for personal things. My .edu FWD’s to my gmail but my gmail doesn’t go to Outlook.

I have a mac and iPhone.


So first I watched all the videos…a few times. Then I emailed some question to Tony and he was kind enough to respond. Watching of the videos is kind of a critical step.

I followed some of the steps in the videos, but since I already had both account set up, my process was a little different. The hardest part for me was reconfiguring how I had Evernote set up. I was operating on more of a Notebook system than a Tagging system.

I did not read the book, yet. I’ve asked for it for a present. Pulled the broke grad student card on my parents. (Hush. If it’s not vital to my life, I shouldn’t buy it.)

I started by creating all the tags suggested in TSW. I modified some to fit my profession and added a few like “:) Completed Task”.

Then I pulled up my notebooks and moved them into stacks. I have one for my Tasks, one for Personal, one for Coursework, and one for Other PhD work. I use the coursework one for different notebooks for different classes and the PhD one for my dissertation and assistantship notes. These notebooks are for actual, long, in-depth notes. The Tasks one is my main group.

So after I rearranged notebooks and created tags, I tagged all the things. Every note. Yes, this did take some time. I spent around 3 hours doing just these steps.

Next I imported my “To Do’s” in to my Action Pending notebook. Normally I have some To Do items in a notebook, some more long-term ones on Google Tasks, then some others in a Check List app. I consolidated. It was TERRIFYING.

I hung out with this system for a few days, just getting used to the tagging, notebooks, and training myself to do the nightly review. I found that I had huge brain dumps at night and could really get a lot of things in the list by thinking through my day.

Finally, I sat down to clear out the inbox. Since I’m using Outlook on a Mac, I DO NOT have a button in Outlook for Evernote. This is not a current option. There are some scripts out there that you can run if you are tech-savvy but that’s beyond my capability right now. So I went through my inbox and either deleted, moved or FWD’ to Evernote all of the things. I did this in Outlook AND Gmail. Again, it was terrifying. But then I realized…it works. I would keep an email from a group member about an upcoming meeting in my inbox to remind me of the meeting…even if it was on my calendar. But with it in evernote, it’s now a reminder, AND I can make notes on the meeting and when I’m done it can go to completed tasks or the notebook it belongs in. Often I would have that meeting, then FORGET to move the email to the archive…and every 3 weeks or so I would end up with 3 pages of emails I hadn’t archived or hadn’t dealt with.

Going through them in Evernote also allowed me to make a comment on what the email was about. For example I FWD’d a message that came through as “FWD UPS Tracking for Package from XYZ”. Normally I keep these emails to remind me that packages are coming in case they get lost. In this case, it’s a package that I need to get and take a picture of when it arrives. So I changed the title of that note to “Take picture upon arrival” then the rest of the note has the shipping info and everything else from the email. I can title emails to something useful. So instead of a group member emailing me “Hi there” as a title, I can change it to “You need to do X for this project”. I like this a lot. It works for my brain.

I’m also jotting blog ideas down for later use and tagging them with the tag “Blog”. Hopefully that will let me have fresh content and update more.

I have only been using this system since last Wednesday and have just integrated email last night. Right now, the inbox is still empty. I’m on top of it. I hope it stays this way…but it will take some personal discipline. I really do find it useful to merge my email and task list….because a LOT of my emails correspond to tasks I need to get done. I’m also finding it useful to tag people like my advisor in the notes, that way when I meet with her I can ask her about all these languishing projects that I had honestly forgotten about as well, but had email records of.

Merging notes is also great because if I have several emails about the same project, and one or two To Do’s for it, I can stick them together.

So for the first week…I’m liking this system. But there are some issues I’ve found


As I’ve mentioned, it’s not as seamless as it could be with Macs. Hopefully that will change in the future. Other things I would like to see from the program are recurring tasks and recurring alerts. OR the ability to make multiple alerts for one item. Some tasks, like “Nightly check” need to happen every night. I have those listed in !Daily and I just keep them there as reminders.

I would also like for the tags to sort a little differently. I can nest them under each other, for example my tag “Qual Class” is under “Professional Projects” and “.Active Projects”. But I have to tag Active and Professional separately from Qual. I would like it if I could just tag it “Qual” and the other tags would also include it because it’s a nested tag. That would help with filtering for searches.

Overall the issues are minor, and I hope they can be eliminated by future program improvements.

For more info, there’s some good stuff in the Evernote Forums on the topic.

Is anyone else out there using TSW? I’d love to hear your thoughts and methods!

The Post That Almost Was

Let’s talk about this wild west world of the world wide web…shall we?

I almost made a different post on here, but I stopped myself and decided to discuss what I almost did… Here is a shortened version of the post that almost was:

I have a class project to do and I need responses…who wants to help? Your reward in this is feeling awesome for helping a graduate student out. Isn’t that what everyone wants?!?!!? Best reward EVER!!!

Ok, a little background…I’m taking a course on instrument development (how to make a survey instrument for my dissertation that my committee won’t totally hate). For this course we had to make up an instrument to test a construct. I have made the instrument. Now we need to pilot test it on a minimum of 35 people. These people don’t actually have to be my target population, or know a thing about what I’m trying to survey. I just need people to click bubbles.

Below you will find a link to my survey of Evaluation Perceptions of Agricultural Extension Agents. If you are unsure of what this position is, I will try to briefly describe it below:
[Description was here]

Here is the survey link: [LINK DELETED]

Again, this isn’t a real research project. This is JUST for a class. No identifying data will be asked for or recorded. You do NOT need to be in this profession or be aware of what this profession even IS to take this survey. It’s only 15 bubble clicks long. So won’t you please help out a poor starving graduate student???

So basically I made an instrument that is similar but not directly related to my dissertation research goals. Then I thought to myself…If I put this out there, in cyberspace, what rights do I have to this instrument??? Will someone steal it and call it their own? Will this hurt my research even though I will make a much different and much more in-depth instrument? Is this a bad idea? Am I overreacting since this is just a class assignment??

My department isn’t really competitive…we more or less assist each other as opposed to some departments where you keep everything to yourself for fear of others stealing your ideas. But am I being too open?? I’m not sure. I did send my instrument out through our department email list, but that’s one thing. I know those people. But what about on the blogosphere? How do you collaborate and generate ideas with strangers if you are concerned that they will steal your intellectual property? Where is the line? How do we move forward in such a connected environment but still maintain integrity and trust?

How do you stay protected?

How Will You Handle It?

Let’s talk a little bit, just a surface bit, about bullying in our classrooms.

As a former high school teacher (anyone sick of me bringing that up yet? I feel like I do it too much. Stop me if I do.) bullying was all over the place. We were trained on it in professional development, talked to our students about it, and so much more. But in the college realm, I haven’t heard a lot from my colleagues about it. Have you? What’s discussed? I’m curious.

My issue for this post is how do you handle it in your classroom? Let’s have an example, shall we?

Let’s pretend you have a small group of students, small enough that you know everyone by name and they all know each other…maybe a class of 20? And let’s say that you have one student, let’s call her Suzie, that is different. Maybe it’s her clothes, maybe it’s her hair, maybe it’s how she talks, but she looks different than your other students. And let’s say you notice your other students refuse to work in groups with her, she’s always the last picked, she’s always ignored or in some way shunned by the other classmates, or at least the majority. What do you do as the instructor? How do you encourage full grown adults to…be nice? How do you do it without singling out Suzie?? How do you ensure fairness in this situation? What do you do??

I still am not sure. I watched it happen in a course that thankfully wasn’t mine. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to deal with that kind of conflict. I think I could if I had to…and I did try to encourage students to model good behavior, even pulled a few aside to talk about the issue…but it’s still hard to tackle. It’s hard to know where the line is. They are adults, after all.

So how will you handle those tough situations? What tough ones have you seen? What concerns do you have about bullying in the college classroom? How do you model good behavior and encourage it without preaching about it all the time? How far does your involvement go?

Much to think about…


It has come to my attention that some of my fellow GEDI’ers have had issues posting comments on my blog. Let me help you out…kind of….

I’m on wordpress. Not VT’s wordpress. So it does this weird thing where it wants you to log in but doesn’t recognize your wordpress login. I can’t fix that. 😦 Sorry.

Best bet is to select a different login, google, whatever, or I think you can comment as a guest. Maybe.

Hope this helps. Sorry guys!!!

You’re Doing It Wrong

Or you’re at least not doing it the way my opinionated graduate student self thinks you should be doing it.

I’m talking about my professors. Or guest speakers. Or really anyone with whom I have an interaction at this point. I’m usually judging them. Between being trained to teach, trained to research, and trained to basically observe…the end result is that basically all I can do is judge. I’m sorry. I can’t stop it. It goes on in my head almost constantly. (To be honest, we all judge things, all day. Her outfit, his car, you do it. You know you do. I’m just saying…)

It’s the absolute worst in class though. Mainly because I’m a former educator, am working on research in education, am working on a PhD in education and am taking…hey…this GEDI class thing…I can’t shut the judgy brain off!! I evaluate my professors for the wait time they give after posing a question to the class. I consider how many higher level questions they ask and how much they lecture. Even if I’m not in their class anymore, I find myself reading or learning about a teaching strategy and thinking “Oh yeah, Dr. X did that technique!!” or “Ohhh Dr. Y was SO bad at that!”. It’s kind of awful. I don’t want to be judgy.  I don’t mean to be, but it’s in my head. I’m constantly thinking about your teaching if you’re teaching me. So if you’re one of my teachers and you’re reading this, sorry for my judgement of you. Sometimes it’s good though!! Sometimes I get ideas on how to do things. But sometimes…I’m fairly snarky. Especially if you commit some of the “cardinal sins” of teaching that I have devised in my head.

Let’s name a few:

  1. Thou shalt not ask a question only to almost instantly answer it yourself.
  2. Thou shalt not talk in a monotone for 3 hours.
  3. Thou shalt not wander off on a tangent for more than 3 minutes. Maybe 5 if it’s funny.
  4. Thou shalt not lecture for the entire 3 hour class.
  5. Thou shalt not hold a clear and evident disdain for all technology, including scholar, blackboard, etc.

Why am I so judgy?? It’s really not the most attractive of my qualities and thankfully I usually keep most of my judgements to myself, because really…I’m not that great of an instructor yet. Might not ever be, who knows. But it’s in my head. All my professors and papers put it there!!

It’s stuck now.

Swirling around like a vortex of judgy doom, just waiting to leap on the next person to stand in front of a room and open their mouth….