Tech Trek and the Art of Gamifying Professional Development
It all started when Instructional Technology Coach, Kelly Baker's Southern California school district passed a facilities bond that allocated $18 million for 1:1 devices in 4th–12th grade and device carts for K-3. But after the excitement settled a little, the enormity of this new endeavor hit the district like a ton of bricks. An air of apprehension accompanied the inevitable technological learning curve educators would face in switching to electronic instruction.
Kelly asked, "How do we prepare teachers who may or may not have the requisite skills to use the devices themselves, let alone teach students to use the devices, and integrate technology for teaching and learning?"
Enter Tech Trek, Kelly’s solution this new dilemma.
Turning Professional Development into a Learning Game
Tech Trek is a gamified Schoology course that Kelly developed to meet the various skill needs of her district's instructors. She points out, “As with any district, our teachers’ tech knowledge crosses a wide spectrum, so we wondered how to differentiate Professional Development for nearly a thousand teachers and make it accessible any time.”
Set up as a learning game through Schoology, Tech Trek has made technology training fun and easy for teachers that previously struggled with it.
The Tech Trek Basics
"Tech Trek is set up in self-paced Adventures," says Kelly. "The narrative for the adventures are loosely based on Star Trek, each teaching a skill we would like the teachers to know. Inside each adventure are a series of quests (discussions or assignments) organized in folders that teachers have to complete."
"Teachers work through skill modules such as Google Docs, iPad Basics, Embedding, and more, posting student and teacher work to document their success as they master skills,” explains Kelly. “Each module has a series of discussions with bite-sized ‘adventures’ for teachers to accomplish, all worth points. Teachers move through the adventures, gaining skills, and demonstrating mastery along the way."
Each adventure folder also contains a help file with PDFs and videos for extra support. They even include tests to assess instructors' level of mastery, requiring 80% proficiency to pass.
"Most of the work that the teachers are doing," says Kelly, "is being collected in Discussions rather than Assignments. I want our teachers to be able to collaborate and see each other’s work."
Using Badges as Incentive
In Tech Trek, instructors can explore the adventures in any order. And while not all the work is required, Kelly layers in achievement badges to encourage further skills exploration.
"There are 3 difficulty levels of badges—ensign, captain, and admiral," explains Kelly. "Ensign badges are mostly knowledge based, low level DOK work. Captain badges require more time and thought. And Admiral badges can only be earned on work where teachers are teaching students the skills successfully."
How the Gameplay Works
When instructors complete adventure quests, they earn XP (experience points). Kelly checks all the work being done to make sure it's correct.
"I use Schoology's gradebook to keep track of everyone’s XP," Kelly says. "Every two weeks I grade all the work that has come in and then export the gradebook as a CSV to sort the data by points."
Afterwards, Kelly creates a leaderboard and posts it to the updates feed. She even tweets it out using her district hashtag.
"Prizes and certificates are given out at various XP levels and are sent to principals to acknowledge their point leaders at their schools," explains Kelly. "We have also created physical badges using a button maker so teachers can wear their Tech Trek swag with pride."
A New Dawn of Professional Development
Kelly spent an entire year building the course, and the district unveiled it to the faculty this last summer. Kelly hopes that this course will transform Professional Development across her district.
She plans to turn PD "from being in a room where everyone learns the same thing from a single trainer with no differentiation to real-time/personalized Professional Development where no one is bored," explained Kelly.
In it's first year in action, Tech Trek has about 150 teachers enrolled in the course and 25 active players. Kelly mentioned that they are using this first year to look for the pain points before rolling the adventures out to everyone.
There have been some challenges along the way, but Kelly seems to be taking them in stride. After all, these are the voyages of the Tech Trek Enterprise. It's mission: to explore strange new pedagogies, to seek out new ideas and new collaborations, to boldly go where no educator has gone before.
Instructional Technology Coach
Norwalk La Mirada Unified School District
Educator of the Year Finalist
Access some of Kelly's materials via the folder she made available in the Professional Development public group.
Written by Cyndi Amaya and Kelly Baker
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