As some of you may know, I’m now officially back at Penn State full time as a UX Designer, tucked away in the TLT Studio — a design shop in the Teaching and Learning with Technology division of the university. It’s a fantastic work environment with some wicked talented designers and developers with whom I get to collaborate on a daily basis. Also, there’s a Starbucks on the corner and a sushi/ramen place half a block away. What’s not to love?
For close to a year now, I’ve been one of three core people working on a project of which we’re ferociously protective. We’re building a microcredentialing application (digital badging, for those who prefer getting straight to the point) for use — well, anywhere. Groups, organizations, communities of interest, online entities — you name it, they’re probably doing it. We, of course, are looking at its use in higher education, and the potential it has for rethinking learning at a very fundamental level. Being given the opportunity to reimagine a badging application from the ground up is both exciting and a bit daunting. How do we validate learning? What would the user experience look like? Who can create badges and how are they evaluated? Like any application developer knows, it’s somewhat like sparring with a hydra: solve one functionality issue and six more arise. It’s tough work, but I love it. We are challenged every single day with new thinking and considerations. “What if?” has been the question we’ve asked — and are answering — every single day.
While this has consumed us for nine months straight, you haven’t heard much from us because we’ve been heads down, hard at work, trying to stay above the water line as we design-code-test (lather-rinse-repeat), sometimes around the clock. Now that we have a real application to demo across the university and at other agencies, people are grasping our vision and getting excited about the possibilities. I understand, and our team is glad that what we’re creating is resonating with others, both inside the university and across the country. We aren’t done by a long shot; this application will drive our lives for at least another year. We’ve got at least six different modules we’re mentally building for future incorporation, and at long last, we’re getting more people attached to the team and up to speed.
It should be noted there are a lot of other people at the university who are also talking about badging. Some of them are even talking about our application, which is fantastic. But despite our hard work over this last year, we aren’t being including in the digital badging conversation. It’s almost as if people are thinking, They’re just developers who write code; what do they know about the pedagogy of digital badging? Let me tell you — we know a lot. We’ve been deep in the research and experience of digital badging. We’ve worked with brilliant academic minds for years on many educational initiatives, and we understand that this is a real opportunity to leverage what we know about teaching and learning with technology. Just because we aren’t fighting for the spotlight, speaking about badging theory at conferences, doesn’t negate the value of our contribution. But I think the hard lesson we’re learning is that no one can explain our vision like we can. Although there’s still much to do and not enough time in which to do it, we are starting to see the importance of taking the time to speak up and take ownership of our work. We need to actively surface and say, this is our work. This is what we’ve been doing. This is our voice you’re hearing, our vision that’s being discussed, lest it seems like someone else is simply lip syncing our words for us. So I’m going to take the time to start talking about this project, and showing you what we’ve been doing behind the scenes. How we’re approaching learning. Because when it comes to this application, I want your to hear it from the team who is actually working on the project, and not someone who wishes they were.
Sometimes it’s important to demonstrate there is very real work being done behind the curtain.