“I want students who love to learn! Students who learn because they want to know more, not just to earn a grade.”
How many time have I heard myself and other library teachers say these words or some variation thereof? Hundreds? Thousands, even? But we don’t always practice what we preach. Sometimes we are so busy educating others that our own learning stagnates and we don’t push ourselves to keep learning and honing our craft. The expansion of our own minds and practices takes a backseat to the needs of others. Sound familiar?
Don’t get me wrong. I run a K-12 school library, with all that entails. I know how busy we all are. I feel as though I’m pulled in many directions each day, usually without advance notice. I am no stranger to the feeling that if I have to add one more thing to my brain - one more item to my list of projects - my brain will have a quiet meltdown and cease to function in any meaningful way. These circumstances make it incredibly hard to find the time to work on personal learning, especially learning that’s not required or arranged by someone else.
Over the summer, I learned about the existence of digital badges. Specifically, I learned that YALSA, an organization that I trust and support, offers digital badges geared toward librarians who deal with youth. I was intrigued by the concept, wondering if this hybrid, learning at my own pace but structured by a recognized authority, might be worth my precious time.
If you have not yet been introduced to the concept of digital badges, they are essentially digital certificates of completion and mastery in a given subject area. The badge-awarding organization creates a set of criteria, lessons, or activities whose successful completion leads to the award of an online badge that learners can display on social media, store in a “digital backpack,” and show off on resumes. The Macarthur Foundation’s website defines them as, “an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.” Many businesses and industries now offer them. The idea is even gaining momentum with colleges and universities.
YALSA’s badges cover topics such as Administration; Communication, Marketing, and Outreach; and Leadership and Professionalism, among others. Each badge module is designed to be completed at your own pace. Once you’ve finished all the requirements according to the provided rubrics, you simply upload your work and mark it as complete. Your work is then rated not by YALSA, but by the community of fellow badge earners. This last feature I found off-putting at first, but upon reflection I decided that it added to the feeling of professional collegiality. After all, who better to help me reflect on my learning than those who also do my job? Once your work is accepted, your badge is awarded.
Today, I finished the requirements for the Leadership and Professionalism badge, which I chose as my first foray into this brave new world. I chose to begin with this badge for several reasons, chief among them being that it focuses on using social media to create a professional learning network (PLN) to support and enhance your own practice. This is of particular importance to me because I am the lone library worker in my charter school. In previous years I worked in a large urban district where the librarians were all in frequent communication. We all met for monthly meetings and held all day PD sessions during our district release days. We had each others’ backs. These days, though, I feel like I am an army of one. I find myself in charge of creating my own support network and my own learning opportunities.
For the L&P badge, the badge earner chooses several Twitter feeds to follow for a designated amount of time. The chosen feeds are required to be a mix of library-oriented and non-library-oriented feeds pertaining to some aspect of working with youth. The intent is to build a personalized, on-demand feed of ideas, support, and feedback. A virtual PLN.
Admittedly, there was a learning curve. I’ve used Twitter for years, but not in such a focused manner. I had to learn to let go of the idea that I would see every Tweet in my feed. I don’t get Tweets sent to my phone, so I’m not distracted by incoming messages every second of the day. I read when I have a moment, such as when I’m eating my lunch, and even then, I mostly just look over what’s current. Even though my librarian brain wants to know everything, I can’t go back and try to “catch up” with all that I’ve missed. That way lies insanity. Second, I found that I really needed some way to organize my feed. I used Tweetdeck, a Twitter aggregator, which allows me to create columns according to subject or hashtag. This way, I can focus on who and what is of interest to me at the time and not be distracted by the constant wash of background Tweets. Overall, I consider the work I did for this badge to be worth the effort. I made valuable connections and added so much to my librarian toolbox that I’m already using for myself and sharing with my staff.
Based on my initial experience, I have decided this is to be my personal challenge this year. I will complete the seven digital badges YALSA has to offer before the school year is over, and I’m challenging each of you in turn - not necessarily to complete these badges, but to remember to take time to nurture your own learning.
Though if you want to enter the badge challenge with me, you’d be welcome, of course. Happy learning!
Laura Luker is the Library Teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School