Personalized Learning Opinion

Business Partners Define Badges for San Diego Students

By Tom Vander Ark — May 02, 2018 5 min read
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Alec Barron (pictured above on the left) earned a masters in chemistry at UCSD. He taught chemistry in Aurora Colorado where he saw the power of relationships and student voice. He discovered that “students from historically marginalized groups will be most likely to engage in school when they see academic work as relevant to their everyday lives and they are invited to participate with adults in making their schools better.”

Inspired by Ben Kirshner’s work on critical civic inquiry, Barron earned a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado.

In 2013, Barron jumped at the chance to move back home to San Diego and help launch Del Lago Academy in the Escondido Union High School District. With a focus on career readiness for the San Diego tech scene, internships were an early design priority. Listen in to our latest podcast to learn more about how business partners are defining badges in San Diego, then keep reading for a deeper dive.

Badging Science Learning

The Del Lago design team prioritized STEM competency. “Next Generation Science Standards are not just focused on content but skills for inquiry,” explained Barron. “They reflect science and engineering practices and map out progress through practices.”

Del Lago scholars build a digital portfolio to track and reflect on evidence of their competency with science and engineering practices. Portfolios include artifacts and badges assigned to scholars for meeting industry and college validated criteria. Badges are evidence of competency required for internships and college applications. They call the system Competency X. Student earned badges are beginning to gain some traction across the district and county.

On the issue of grain size, Alec said, “Some badges will be large because they require integration and time, while others are small and discrete like learning to use a spreadsheet.”

Del Lago won a grant from the Assessment for Learning Project (#RethinkAssessment). Alec appreciates the network of grantees and support from partners like Center for Collaborative Education.

Business Partners Build Better Badges

Brett Goldsmith has always been a tinkerer. He earned a Ph.D. in chemical and material physics at UC Irvine. After a stint doing crazy classified stuff for the Navy, he co-founded a San Diego nanotech company, Nanomedical Diagnostics.

“Discovery and invention are nonlinear,” said Goldsmith. “We don’t provide enough opportunities for learners to see progressions and practices become more complex.” He learned science as an apprentice and thinks students need more opportunity to learn by doing.

He sees the world moving toward evidence more than courses and credits. When hiring he studies how candidates interact with the team. He looks for evidence of interdisciplinary work. He likes to know what hobbies capture a candidate’s interest.

Like other business partners, his guidance has been integral in the design of Competency X badges.

Del Lago recently hosted a workshop where they built digital badges with San Diego Miramar College and others for college articulation purposes. “The badges recognize performance assessments developed by teams of teachers from the college and Del Lago Academy staff,” said Alec.

“Barron is a leader in education who is leveraging digital badging as a means to honor student learning inside and outside of the classroom by allowing students to showcase their competencies to future employers,” said Dr. Edward Abeyta who leads K-12 outreach for UCSD. “With Alec, mastery is the focus not the method of education delivery,” added Abeyta.

Business Partners Build Better Internships

Goldsmith believes we need to reach young people earlier and show them practical roles.

Del Lago scholars engage in a six week internship in the spring of junior year and extend this work into their senior year. The internship program creates context for science learning and builds work ready skills.

Nanomedical Diagnostics and other Del Lago business partners host interns. Partners like Brett strive to construct an internship experience that is valuable for the student and the company.

In the next phase of work (summarized here) more underserved students will have access to postsecondary credit and high-quality workforce learning opportunities. Digital badges designed by interns and workplace mentors will deepen learning experiences by focussing on skill development. More students will set learning goals for success based on transparent learning progressions of skills, not just passing courses. More students from Del Lago and other San Diego high schools will graduate ready for work and learning.

Podcast Key Takeaways

[:17] An introduction to the topic and guests today -- Alec Barron and Brett Goldsmith on industry-defined student competencies.
[2:15] Tom welcomes Alec and Brett to the podcast.
[2:22] How Alec came to study chemistry in college.
[3:08] About Brett’s physics background in college.
[3:35] How Alec went from hard sciences to student-centered learning.
[6:10] Do Alec and Brett see science as a field that lends itself to competency-based progressions rather than a set of linear progressions?
[9:50] How did Alec get to Del Lago? About the genesis of Del Lago and their main focus.
[10:54] How Brett made the switch-up from working in the Navy to starting up a nanotech company.
[12:16] How did Brett make the contacts needed to start and run his new nanotechnology business? What his company currently does and has accomplished.
[13:47] What Brett looks for in hiring new talent for his team at nanotech company, Nanomedical Diagnostics.
[15:38] Alec explains what his program Competency X sets out to do.
[17:47] How Brett got involved at Del Lago.
[18:41] Does Brett see the world of science and engineering moving towards more authentic forms of evidence (i.e. digital badges)?
[19:35] How Alec has developed badges in terms of grade sizes in comparison to each other.
[21:39] Are widespread are the badges use? Are they being used outside of Del Lago?
[22:54] Could the badges work with other subjects (such as english or Math)?
[23:52] How winning the recent Assessment for Learning Project grant has helped advance the work at Del Lago.
[25:37] Brett speaks on how internships are involved in Competency X.
[26:52] An example of what a good internship experience would be like.
[30:42] Do Brett and Alec see the possibility of more subjects in the future being taught in this way (with digital badges and authentic learning experiences)?
[33:55] What’s on Alec’s roadmap for Competency X.

Mentioned in This Episode

Del Lago Academy
Brett Goldsmith
Alec Barron
Nanomedical Diagnostics
Competency X
Escondido Union High School District
University of Colorado
Center for Collaborative Education
Assessment for Learning Project

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.