Sweet Water AQUAPONS is an online platform where students gain digital badges as they learn the skills needed in aquaponics. The Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) developed AQUAPONS to provide self-directed learning opportunities to future sustainable agriculture practitioners and expand the field of aquaponics by creating a replicable model for urban agriculture education.
This Example tracks how AQUAPONS integrated badges compliant with Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure into their program. This analysis is provided by the badges Design Principles Documentation Project by Indiana University.
The badge Design Principles Documentation Project at Indiana University followed the AQUAPONS badge system to characterize its practices for recognizing, assessing, motivating, and studying learning in terms of general principles of badge system design, and to analyze how the implementation of these specific practices were appropriate to this context.
Sweet Water Foundation works with educational institutions and other community partners to create educational programs that develop the skills needed to build sustainable community systems of food production: "Our work has evolved as a direct response to fundamentally unsustainable models of food production and consumption." (Sweet Water Foundation)
AQUAPONS is an online learning platform that grew out of this commitment. SWF describes the program as “an online learning platform for practitioners of aquaponics, [which] allows learners to accrue a series of digital badges that correspond with aquaponics achievements, skills, and proficiencies" (DML Proposal). Through the DML Badges for Lifelong Learning competition, SWF earned a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to implement a system of Mozilla Open Badges Infrastructure-compliant digital tokens to recognize achievement through the program. Sweet Water primarily intends to create a program to be implemented by secondary school teachers and individual students to advance understanding of aquaponics and help lifelong learners develop professional, academic, and personal skills. From the perspective of the Design Principles Documentation (DPD) Project, it seemed like Sweet Water was a great setting to figure out how to use badges to connect after-school and informal science education to school learning.
This Example Seed describes how SWF originally intended to use digital badges to recognize and reward learning by their young participants. The intended practices below reflect the DPD Project’s analysis of Sweet Water’s original thinking about implementing badges.
AQUAPONS and the Sweet Water Foundation are attempting to solve the problem of a broken and unsustainable food production system through education. They explained that their organization “has evolved as a direct response to fundamentally unsustainable models of food production and consumption" (SWF). With a belief that urban agriculture education will be key to developing sustainable food systems Sweet Water aims to create an educational program that can spread to any secondary school that wants to run an aquaponics installation. "Ultimately, this system to encourage learning that will help current and future generations address the growing concerns/implications of food sourcing and healthy food availability around the world" (HASTAC Q&A). The portfolio-based assessment and ba\dged recognition system AQUAPONS is intended to motivate students to learn the skills that Sweet Water is exploring on its urban farm and recognize students for their achievement. Badges will allow students to present their accomplishments to schools for class credit and to potential employers.
The problem that the Design Principles Documentation Project was trying to solve was capturing all of the knowledge that would be generated as this project designed and refined and reframed their efforts. Without systematic documentation of this project and comparing the resulting practices with other projects and contexts, much of that knowledge will be lost.
Sweet Water Organics formed in 2009, converting a disused warehouse building in Milwaukee, WI into an urban farm and has generated interest from many different community stakeholders. In response, SWF dedicated some of their efforts to a "Kindergarten to Career" STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education program in partnership with local schools (HCD Connect Interview). The AQUAPONS digital badging program grows out of this effort: "We intended to translate our hands-on aquaponics training program into a self-directed, portfolio-based online badge system. Hands-on practice will be documented by learners and documentation will be uploaded to the website. Documentation that passes assessment by peers and mentors results in a badge." (HASTAC Q&A)
Sweet Water’s badge system is designed to reach a broad audience, from students to hobbyists to professionals. But their primary audience is secondary school students and teachers (HASTAC Q&A). The program may be implemented at any site where there is a functional aquaponics system. SWF has installed miniature systems in schools in Milwaukee and Chicago (DPD Interview).
AQUAPONS runs as a website on the open-source WordPress platform where learners can upload documentation of their skill development. Schools wishing to adopt the program and integrate it into their curriculum will find that it is broadly interdisciplinary: "aquaponics is a dynamic interactive teaching tool that integrates environmental science, biology, chemistry, agriculture, mathematics, engineering, economics, and other disciplines" (DML Proposal).
The audience for this working example is anybody who is interested in aquaponics and anybody who is interested in using digital badges in this sort of informal science education setting, particularly in an urban after-school context.
Building a badge system for skills in aquaponics presents the Sweet Water Foundation with challenges that might be familiar to any project trying to implement badges in a young and developing field.
Modern aquaponics is rapidly building up networks of practitioners across the globe who share experience. Spreading rapidly developing knowledge requires extensive communication, and running a distributed network of educational opportunities requires technical experience where students live and sustained interest in the projects to ensure the health of educational installations. As Sweet Water becomes known to students who want to participate, ensuring that there is a school or organization near them willing to commit to running an aquaponics system will be challenging.
Sweet Water Foundation's AQUAPONS badge program is documented by the badges Design Principles Documentation Project at Indiana University. This research project tracks badge systems' intended designs, enacted practices, and those formalized principles that endured through the program and are represented by the continuing practices after the initial grant-funded run of the badge program.
This phase describes in detail the practices SWF intended to use for their badge program.
INTENDED PRACTICES FOR THE AQUAPONS BADGE SYSTEM
Intended Practices for Recognizing Learning
The Sweet Water Foundation hopes to implement a high-value badge system recognizing learning across the many skill areas important to aquaponics. The team hopes that AQUAPONS credentials given to their mostly high school target audience are valued in careers and higher education even outside of urban agriculture specialties.
Collaboration with Formal Learning Institutions. As of the beginning of the AQUAPONS project, Sweet Water has a well established local network of partner secondary schools in Milwaukee and Chicago. SWF intends for these schools and future partners to implement the AQUAPONS online component to their in-person learning in order for students to build portfolios and earn badges.
Badges for Students and Educators. AQUAPONS intends to issue the same badges to both students and educators involved with the program. At first, Sweet Water’s staff AQUAPONS administrators will issue badges to students and educators who apply for them, but with greater experience in the program, participating teachers will eventually earn the ability to recognize their students learning through the website themselves.
External Value of Credential. Aquaponics is an interdisciplinary field, and many of the skills used by its practitioners are also used in other careers: “Many of the learning areas in aquaponics are directly ?portable ?to other academic disciplines or career paths. For example, a badge in Water could be translated to municipal water management, or a badge in Plants could be translated to a career in horticulture and landscaping” (DPD Interview). SWF hopes students who gain skills through the program are able to present AQUAPONS badges to demonstrate their subject area experience to future collaborators, schools, or employers.
Leveled Badges. SWF intends to issue OBI-compliant AQUAPONS badges at four levels in each content area. These are initially named:
- Level 1: Advanced Beginner
- Level 2: Competent Performer
- Level 3: Proficient Performer
Level 4: Expert
Intended Practices for Assessing Learning
Through building a portfolio enhanced by technological tools such as video, photography, and blogs, students engage in a self-reflective process where they touch on all aspects of learning - from changes in behavior and building confidence to grappling with specific aspects of the four content areas.
Activities Exemplify Specific Outcomes and Criteria. SWF had identified specific outcomes desired of a student's learning in each content area and has tailored activities so that the work completed exemplifies the outcomes. The AQUAPONS proposal identified nine content areas, illustrating the complex systemic thinking required of aquaponics practitioners.
Levels of Assessment for Leveled Badges. Activities and assessments are intended to grow more demanding and cover more content as students progress through the program.
Performance-Based, Peer, and Self Assessments. AQUAPONS intends to eventually implement a variety of peer assessments, the program will start with SWF staff approving requests for badges. This also requires students to self-assess their accomplishments, as they upload evidence to apply for badges. The badges will be earned through formal scoring of written assessments, photo and video projects, and in-person demonstrations of proficiency.
E-Portfolios. AQUAPONS requires students to work with a functional aquaponics installation, and most of the work they do is hands-on with face-to-face instruction by their trained participating teacher. However, the assessment for badges is designed to occur through an online portfolio system. Students will upload written reflections, reflective video explanations, design sketches, data logs, photography, and other evidence of physical activities.
Intended Practices for Motivating Learning
Sweet Water AQUAPONS seeks to bring students into the world of urban agriculture, offering them many skills and experience that could potentially translate to a career. They serve students of all varieties, engaged and disengaged, and encourage them to participate in collaborative activities. Another facet of the program is that, as part of the badge-earning process, they encourage students to participate in self-reflection. This, they have found, motivates students to engage more deeply in the learning process.
Professional Development. Sweet Water aims to motivate students to learn about aquaponics by helping ensure the credential will have value to external employers. SWF is reaching out to partner organizations in education and business and publicizing the portability of students' acquired skills to related disciplines.
Sharing Knowledge. The portfolio-based badge system is designed to motivate learners to share their accomplishments and gain social recognition for good work.
Self-Reflection. While processing and uploading evidence of their accomplishments, students will be encouraged to reflect on their work and engage more deeply with the material.
Intended Practices for Studying Learning
Like most of the DML2012 projects, the AQUAPONS proposal did not include a specific plan for systematically studying learning or evaluating their program.
See the Sprout phase for how these intended practices were enacted.
See the Bloom phase for those practices that endured to become permanent features of the program and the big ideas that emerged from this project
ENACTED PRACTICES FOR THE AQUAPONS BADGE SYSTEM
The Design Principles Documentation Project interviewed Jesse Blom, Emmanuel Pratt of the Sweet Water Foundation and team members brought in for the AQUAPONS project to learn how the intended practices in the proposal (detailed in the Seed phase) were being enacted. These enacted practices reveal how aspects of the project context supported some intentions while requiring others to be changed.
Enacted Practices for Recognizing Learning
As they prepared to implement the badge program, Sweet Water simplified some elements, namely the number of categories of knowledge they aimed to recognize, in order to preserve what they felt were essential features: the combination of different types of assessment across increasing levels of achievement.
Collaboration with Formal Learning Institutions. Sweet Water is continuing to work with its existing K-12 school partners. Sweet Water reports that as the badging program develops, partners are becoming more excited about the possibilities for their students.
Badges for Students and Educators. Sweet Water's plans to recognize educator learning have solidified since their initial proposal. They still intend to offer teachers the same badges as students, with teachers earning the ability to award badges to their students after achieving high levels themselves, though the exact requirements remained to be developed as of November 2012. SWF has clarified that its own staff will issue top-level badges themselves to both teachers and students even after teachers become qualified to award the lower-tier badges.
External Value of Credential. The value of AQUAPONS-recognized achievements is growing as Sweet Water builds the program and partnerships surrounding it. See details below on "How might your project scale to provide greater impact" for more details about the opportunities opening up for AQUAPONS students.
Leveled Badges. As intended, SWF is implementing a badge system where for each category of knowledge and skills recognized, students can progress through four levels of badges from "Advanced Beginner" to "Expert." In addition, AQUAPONS will offer four levels of an aggregate badge that will automatically be awarded upon achievement of that level of proficiency across all of the subject areas. Sweet Water intends the badges to be prestigious and to represent long-term effort. For example, they imagine achieving the first level aggregate badge would take a student about six months. Recognizing that this is a long process, SWF now intends to award smaller indicators, "activity badges" along the way to one of the main badges.
Enacted Practices for Assessing Learning
Sweet Water AQUAPONS has decided to scale back their initial intentions and "simplify a really complex system" so that "someone can jump right into the learning process” (DPD Interview). The project wants to encourage peer assessment and self assessment, and is working toward embedding those practices in the process of earning a badge. Peer assessment and collaboration will "enhance the interactions between different learners and learning institutions," and "transform the learners' consciousness" of who is learning with them and how people learn aquaponics skills.
Activities Exemplify Specific Outcomes and Criteria. The project has decided to simplify the badging and earning process. The nine aquaponics knowledge categories have been whittled down to four: Fish, Plants, Water, and Design and Construction (DPD Interview, Milwaukee Renaissance). While activities are not aligned to standards, the project is working on standardization.
Levels of Assessment for Leveled Badges. The SWF AQUAPONS team has refined their thinking on leveled assessments and affirmed that they wish to perform the assessments for the higher level badges themselves, rather than delegating that task to local teachers. In order to calibrate the levels, Sweet Water team members will begin creating portfolios to see what effort it takes to earn a badge (DPD Interview).
Performance-Based, Peer, and Self Assessments. Besides levels, the combination of assessors is another distinguishing feature of the AQUAPONS badge system. SWF imagines students will spend significant effort self-evaluating as they package evidence for their portfolios. AQUAPONS wants to include peer assessment from the start, requiring that students assess another's work as part of the requirements to earn one of the main badges (DPD Interview).
E-Portfolios. In addition to the material initially planned for inclusion in portfolios, SWF is encouraging their high school students to track their day-to-day learning and experiences through Tumblr blogs.
Enacted Practices for Motivating Learning
It will take some time for evidence of this badge program's motivational effects to become measurable, the AQUAPONS team feels that their badge program will supply an important piece to the motivational aims of their education mission: "[It] is a perfect venue for us to take that documentation [of learning] and gear it towards tangible results, and that result is a badge. And then also motivate these learners to continue to document their learning and achieve badges along the way” (DPD Interview). In order to encourage learners to persist through a program that requires such a significant time commitment, SWF will implement small activity badges along the way to the main badges.
Professional Development. SWF continues its efforts to partner with career and educational institutions to show students the possible career outcomes of their aquaponics experience.
Sharing Knowledge. AQUAPONS intended to use the ability to share work on the portfolio as a motivator to upload material. Showcasing others work as part of lessons can help this process: For example, "A high school Chemistry teacher...can demonstrate cause-effect relationships to her students through visual tools, and share her results on SWF's social collaboration learning platform. Video footage of the teacher explaining her system, along with photographs of the system and a written summary of her successes are uploaded to her profile on the SWF web platform" (DPD Interview).
Self-Reflection. One important factor in designing the portfolio-based badge system was to facilitate and motivate self-reflection and deepening learning. The AQUAPONS team likes to share one particularly poignant example: "I worked with a group of students from the Milwaukee schools. One of them rarely said a word; I saw this student four hours a week for twelve weeks and probably hear him say about twelve words in that span of time. On the last day, we were doing video reflections. During the video reflection, as soon as this guy was on camera and we were asking him to reflect on his learning, he was probably the most eloquent of all the students. That's learning that he had internalized, but had not come out in the general course of things. When asked to reflect, his learning was not only exposed to others, but also realized to himself." Self-reflection is required by the assignments, but the AQUAPONS team's promotion of reflective processes through badges and sharing great stories from portfolios should motivate learning through reflection.
Enacted Practices for Studying Learning
Like in many of the DML2012 projects, designing practices to study the learning emerging from the badge system came after the initial design phase. Though there was no initial push to design research practices, the usefulness of the data emerging from the badge program became clear, particularly in order to help AQUAPONS' relationships with its partners.
Using Research and Evaluation to Reflect on Practices. Even before issuing their first badge Sweet Water realized the value data from the badges would be useful in addressing pain points in their conversations with partners. For example, while cooperating teachers are intimately acquainted with their students' learning, the school principals are a step removed and have trouble quickly grasping the type of work students are doing. With badges, AQUAPONS can present data about what students are learning across the varied field of aquaponics. This can communicate the value of the program and legitimize the activities. (DPD Interview)
See how these practices started in the planning phase on the Seed tab...
As the DPD Project's investigation of AQUAPONS continues, we will publish the formal observations this project drew and their enduring understanding relating these project-specific practices to the general principles of badge design on the Bloom tab...
Six universities in Chicago and Milwaukee are aware of the AQUAPONS badge program and support it informally. Gateway Technical College in Milwaukee began an urban agriculture program, and Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) is rolling out a Food Manufacturing program, while UW-Milwaukee grows its Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition. This shows that the higher education world is now creating spaces that students interested in aquaponics can feed into.
Sweet Water reports that some top Chicago chefs heard about one school's implementation of the program that involved a culinary component as enrichment for high-achieving students and wanted to provide internship opportunities for these students. They were interested in seeing documentation of what the students had done, a role to be filled by badges.
If students exploring urban agriculture and aquaponics through Sweet Water's program want to continue in this field, their badges and experience could open doors.
Give us some time. We're not in the bloom phase yet.