On the slightly less idealistic and more foundational level, we also need to help students become safe, savvy, and responsible users of technology. Before they begin sharing their inspired creations with the world, they need to have a sound grasp of technology best practices. Today’s students are all digital students, and we have the task of guiding them as they navigate all of the opportunities and pitfalls that technology offers. From the basics of internet safety to the gray areas of copyright laws to the management of one’s online reputation, there are so many important topics that often get overlooked in schools. A badge program can easily, and should, incorporate all of these skills. And, as students become creators and communicators, they also gain empathy and identification with other creators of online material. This naturally leads them to develop respect for other people’s creations and opinions. As they become empowered students, they realize the great potential for good that technology has, helping them rise above the level of mindless, or even negative, uses of technology.
With the ability to connect to worldwide audiences, global collaboration is another essential skill that digital-age students should be introduced to. As students are encouraged to become communicators, they will see that their messages can transcend national borders. Activities such as blogging, Skyping, and working with e-pals easily connect students with a diverse range of people. When students are required to share their work with the world, the world just might respond. This isn’t a possibility when technology assignments are a narrow transaction between student and teacher. The badge program is meant to open up the lines of communication between students and their world. This happens both through the sharing of work with a real-world audience and by requiring research and interaction on an international scale.
In order to have this world-changing impact, students also need to be creators and communicators. In a world where people feel a sense of accomplishment from “liking” or retweeting a positive message, we need young people who will take innovative action to create their own powerful messages. Instead of simply being consumers and receivers of the messages, videos, and stories that already exist, students should have the ability to bring their own meaningful ideas to life. To make sure their voices are heard, they need to learn how to speak so the world will listen. This means creating high-quality technology products with substantial messages. It means researching, performing, editing, illustrating, speaking, and designing based on sound principles, but with the doors of creativity wide open. It also means completing work that will be heard and seen by real audiences, from their classmates and school to wider online audiences.
One of the main goals of my badge program is to create empowered learners. I want to see students in the driver’s seat of their education, making choices and taking ownership of what they learn. But this empowerment shouldn’t stop at the classroom door. Students’ education should empower them to make changes in the real world. As I designed my badge program, I intentionally built in opportunities for students to use technology as a tool to change the world. The artifacts and culminating projects can—and I would argue, should—be designed to make a real impact on a local or global level. Some examples might include fundraising, raising awareness for a cause, event planning, or other charitable activities. This empowerment can be life-changing for students, both as learners and as citizens of the world.