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I had the privilege of attending the recent Badge Summit in Aurora, Colorado which managed to pull in a bunch of badge geeks right before ISTE 2016. Why was I there? Curiosity about badges, I suppose, but also a sense that I need to change things up in my instructional design.

I’ve been doing the eportfolio thing for several years now and have come to realize that no one but me is seeing my students’ work, even though it is in an online space and can be made public. I’m looking for ways to have my students be recognized for their work in a way that transcends my silly grading scheme and the simple letter that can be seen on a report card or transcript.

Open Badges seem to be a way to accomplish that. As I understand badges at the moment, there are organizations out there that will help me to create and issue badges that are linked to evidence that the student provides. Most importantly, organizations such as the Common Application have recently begun collecting badges from students who want to show off particular skill sets to colleges and universities.

Adding badges on top of our existing portfolios could essentially create a new, more public layer of visibility for student learning. This means that I need to examine the language and standards that live in our portfolios and figure out how to issue badges that will be meaningful to students and to their audience, whoever that might be.

There is a great set of guidelines for badge creation to be found at Aurora Public Schools, who have run a pilot badge program in a large, urban public school system for a couple years now. As I got my thinking cap on about what my badges would look like, I went back to their guidelines:

  • Does this Badge provide rigor for our students?
  • Can the student demonstrate this skill independently?
  • Has the student had multiple opportunities to show this skill?
  • Is the Badge evidence based?
  • Is the Badge transferable?
  • Is the Badge based on a small/granular skill?

For me the sticking point was the requirement for badges to honor a small/granular skill. I’m generally a big picture guy and despise trivial details, but I realize that badges need to have some granularity to them in order to be meaningful. I set about digging into what students might earn badges for in my courses and came up with the following two lists, one for Biology and one for Anatomy:

Biology portfolio to badge map

Anatomy portfolio to badge map

The darker blue bubbles represent more granular topics or skills that might be more amenable to badging than the big 7 portfolio standards under which students currently collect their work. The challenge now will be to see if these lists of potential badges will be a workable framework from which to start designing and eventually issuing badges.

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9781435114937_p0_v2_s192x300How much detail should a high school Anatomy student be expected to master? Is it the same level of detail as a college student taking a similar course? Why or why not?

I teach Anatomy and Physiology at the high school level and offer that course as concurrent credit with our local junior college. The current arrangement is that one semester of high school anatomy grants one semester of college credit (after earning a C or better). A student interested in going into nursing or medicine can leave my Anatomy course with 8 college credits and get some prerequisite courses out of the way.

I recently had a great talk with the anatomy instructor at the junior college about how we run our anatomy courses. I showed her the portfolio-based documentation that we use and also looked at some of the tests that I give.

My overall impression of the differences between the college and high school anatomy courses from this discussion can be summarized as follows:

  1. I spend a lot of course time having students design labs that measure various aspects of human physiology. This does not appear to happen as often at the college level.
  2. My evaluation system is primarily based on collecting evidence of performances of practices of science rather than a focus solely on content-area vocabulary and concepts. Grades at the college level seem to be solely determined by exams that test content-area vocabulary and concepts (including my own junior college course that I teach in the summer).
  3. The pace of the high school course is slower than that of the college course, so much so that some concepts that should be “covered” in the fall semester (according to the college syllabus) are not encountered until spring and spring semester units are very short compared to the college.
  4. The level of detail (vocabulary and concepts) that college students are expected to master far exceeds that seen in my high school classes. An example would be the muscular system unit for which I have students learn muscle physiology, but not the names and locations of most major muscle groups, as the college does. We do learn many muscle names and locations through the cat dissection later in the year, however.
  5. The college instructor reported that a large percentage of students drop the course in the first few weeks whereas my students generally stay in for an entire semester, if not an entire year.

TL;DR of the above conversation: High school anatomy class is being taught very differently than the college version, but for the same credit.

Is this a problem? If so, what are possible solutions?

Most likely the junior college, given the current focus on its accreditation review, would consider this a problem. Students not on their campus are being granted credit for a different set of work than those on campus.

But is different “bad” or undeserving of college credit in this case? Maybe. It depends upon what we are issuing college credit for.

What should the goal of an Anatomy and Physiology class be? We should award “credit” based on whether these goals have been met or not. I can think of at least a few possible underlying philosophies that we might apply as the stated aims of this course:

  1. Students learn about the structure and function of their own bodies so as to make healthy, informed choices both now and in future medical care for themselves and their families.
  2. Students practice lab design, data collection, and scientific argumentation in the field of human anatomy and physiology.
  3. Students gain a solid understanding and appreciation of medical concepts that will inspire them to pursue a career in the medical field.
  4. Students learn detailed medical terminology in order to pass future examinations such as the MCAT and nursing boards.

Right now I operate my class from a mashup of the first three, with a minor emphasis on the 4th. I am almost certain that the college course primarily follows the 4th philosophy.

How then do we reconcile the issuance of credit for these very different goals? Ultimately, the college holds the trump card in that they are the issuing authority of the credit. If they decide that high school students should take the same exact exams as the college students, then that level of detail will need to be taught and the pace of the course quickened, probably at the expense of lab experiences.

But should it? I’ll end with this pondering:

Would it be better to not offer concurrent credit for this anatomy course and continue to focus on goals 1-3 or should I move the concurrent credit course towards a faster-paced, more test-prep focus to match the college more closely?

Comments welcome, as always.




This is a cautionary tale about what happens when educational technology fails. Of course, tech breaking down is nothing new, but reliance on technology in a 1:1 learning environment introduces some complications that you might not have thought about.

Not so long ago, I would have ranked myself up there on the list of folks who knew how to do educational technology pretty well. I had managed to score a cart of MacBooks so that each student could be guaranteed 1:1 access during class time at least, and I went about implementing some fancy new strategies like student blogging. I even got tagged to write an article in Edutopia about it in 2010, so I was doing something at least marginally interesting with technology at the time.

A year later I was able to convince my tech coordinator and principal that I could really use a class set of iPads since my hardcopy Anatomy textbooks were falling apart and there were some new apps appearing that would let my students get their textbooks electronically. When the district bought some new iPad2’s, I snagged a class set and went on to check them out to students in my own mini version of a 1:1 program for about 40 students at a time. We used the Inkling app to buy 30 copies of Hole’s Anatomy on the iPads and shelved the old textbooks, definitely a win in most #edtech circles.

Fast forward to this school year, 2014-15, in which I’ll need to use the same laptops that’ve been around in my room since 2008, but now add in the fact that our technology coordinator spent the summer closing up shop as he left for a new (less stressful and well deserved) job so no new technology hardware purchases were made nor any older units repaired. This means that several macs that I sent in for a missing key or sticky mousepad are now completely AWOL, as are several iPads that needed minor repairs, as are multiple batteries from the Macs (the removable variety) since I pulled several for disposal at the beginning of the summer.

I should also mention that I have 46 Anatomy students but only 38 working iPads and only 30 Inkling textbook licenses, so the tradition of loaning an iPad to every Anatomy student ended this year.

This is when I realize how spoiled I’ve been. I have always been able to get all the technology that I felt that students needed to learn in a “modern” classroom. But now that a lot of that technology is powerless (literally) to help my students, what’s a tech-nerd to do without technology? How does a very functional 1:1 implementation carry on when it is no longer 1:1?

We’re going old-school, of course. My Juniors and Seniors in the Anatomy class are coloring. ON PAPER (using study guide packets, and, yes, I see some irony in that after slamming packets in a previous post). We’re using a hardcopy textbook again. Its from 2004 and most are falling apart in some way.

But here’s the fun part: I think coloring diagrams of the human body has a place in an anatomy course, and I forgot that in my quest for the latest gadgets. I think students poring over a list of terms and deciding their locations in a particular type of tissue, organ, or system has a lot of merit as a learning tool. Its not that the iPad can’t do that, but I honestly rarely saw my students using the iPads that way. If you give a student a handout to help them learn about the human body, there is pretty much only one use for that handout, but if you give them an iPad, it gets a little more complicated. If you were a student with an iPad, would you choose to read an anatomy text on it instead of using one of the other thousands of apps that it could run? Maybe, if the teacher forced you to, but I never did think that forcing kids into certain apps was the best use of iPads, which meant that our fancy Inkling app textbooks went largely unused, I’m sorry to say.

This year represents a chance to take a much lower-tech approach to teaching Anatomy, a return to how I used to teach it in some ways. Oh, I’ll still use technology for the class. In fact, we’ve already got our blogs set up and will eventually set up our assessment portfolios online too, as we’ve done for the past few years. The only difference might be in the kinds of artifacts we post there. Expect to see some more coloring, and, who knows, maybe some better test scores as well.


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