Nan Austin

Teachers sign on for tech training with an old-school twist

Wednesday is the California Day of the Teacher, part of the PTA Teacher Appreciation Week, when parents and officials take a beat to honor all teachers do. The largest teacher union in the state, the California Teachers Association, will kick off an ad campaign calling attention to schools’ role in building communities.

But in Stanislaus County, teachers deserve an extra thanks for taking the initiative to update their tech skills through a cutting-edge program with an old-school incentive: badges.

“We are taking a different approach around here to professional development making it impactful, meaningful,” said Stanislaus County Office of Education tech instructor Luke Hibbard, who with Gregg Eilers spread the word to budge the badges forward at a meeting of school board trustees last month.

“It came from this idea that your traditional professional development is not always the most effective as far as the teacher is concerned – really any person wanting to learn,” Eilers said.

The SCOE Badge Project is a little like a peanut butter cup – bite-size pieces of information tucked inside a tasty chocolate package.

Or to put it in education-ese, the digital badges are micro-credentials – a word we all should get used to since they may well be the future of adult education. University degrees may one day be a series of micro-masteries instead of tuckus-in-the-seat lectures (no idea what this could do to college football).

Since the SCOE program’s start in November, about 2,525 badges have been issued to 350 teachers, some taking just one mini-course, others collecting a string of them. The county office provides the training and raffle-style prizes through private sponsors. All are free and open to community members.

Getting the colorful virtual stickers appeals to teachers. Knowing their teachers have mastered a tech lesson appeals to school districts, which can tailor make training (and badges) for their teachers. Training to create your own badge project for others to take costs $35.

The badge project has been so successful, other county and state education offices are checking it out. Teachers from 45 districts have earned badges.

But the point of the badges, Hibbard stressed, is not to wind up the whiz-bang aspect of tech.

“Our goal is to see true integration,” he said. “When I went to school ... when computer lab time came around – stop reading. Stop doing math. We’re going to go to computer lab and play Oregon Trail, right?”

Integrating tech into the classroom should mean making great teaching easier, he said. The wow factor comes from what kids learn – these are just tools to get them there.

While not all kids will be coders, even garbage collectors now use computers, Hibbard said. “The point is we need to prepare these kids for the environment they will be in.”

To do that, teachers know they need to update their skill sets. “The idea is making teachers understand they can grab hold of their own professional development and learn on their own,” Eilers said.

“We’re making professional development proficiency based – hmmm, interesting concept – we’re no longer tying an educator to a chair to make them learn,” Hibbard said. “When you get it right, have a great afternoon,” he said, giving an imaginary wave goodbye.

When the online lesson is over and the teacher’s final project gets a passing grade, they get a digital badge they can include on their emails, post around the classroom.

For more on the SCOE Badge Project, email or click on the menu icon at

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin