This is a narrative of how The-Faith-Journey.com site became the Augmented Confirmation Site for Easter Lutheran Church and where it stands now (as of January 2, 2020)
Building a Prototype (January – August, 2019)
- In January of 2019 I had an idea
to augment our current Confirmation program with two new elements.
- First, I would change the language to create an atmosphere of Journey and adventure. Students would now take four Quests toward Confirmation. They would earn badges and points to mark their progress through each quest.
- Second, I would create an online environment in which students could create a user profile that would display their achievements, connect with their small groups online, watch videos, play games, and track their progress in the palm of their hand.
- I had no budget, nor did I know
exactly what I was doing when I began. I was essentially tinkering in the workshop
to see if I could build my idea with no budget and pre-packaged WordPress
plugins created by various companies. It was like building a prototype rocket
using consumer grade Radio Shack parts.
- The platform was WordPress.
- The Theme and design was BuddyBoss Social Learner
- The Learning Management System was through LearnDash
- The Badging and Point System was through BadgeOS
- The online gaming was through H5P.
- Note: BuddyBoss, LearnDash, and BadgeOS are each independent for-profit companies that write plugins for the Wordpress platform. They claimed to be compatible with each other, which is what led me to purchase them to create my prototype. I spent my own money to build this site, since it was not in my budget for this fiscal year and I didn’t want to wait a year to build it.
- I contracted Sara Williams to be the Web Master of the site. We negotiated a minimal contract where she provides two hours of maintenance and safe-guarding of the site. I am the creative and content designer, she is the technical keeper to insure that nothing crashes and I have a safety net when I get in over my head in the technical side of Wordpress and data management.
- My prototype worked. It looked good. Allison, Lona (my wife), and I spent many hours in March – May creating student user profiles and translating previous student data into the new platform. The prototype was ready by early June.
- We did a soft roll-out by presenting the site to the students who volunteered for VBS in June. I did a workshop to show them how to use the site and encouraged them to update their profile page and enter the VBS Action Badge. We did this for both weeks of VBS. Many of those students also went on Mission Trips and accomplished other Action Badges over the summer.
- I created a document titled An Augmented Confirmation to record the process and clarification of vision for how and why we chose to shift the language and create the website.
- I was invited to present this project at the Faithful Innovation Summit sponsored by The Innovation Team at Luther Seminary and held in July at St. Thomas in Minneapolis. The concept has already caught the attention of digital innovators in faith formation across the country.
- We took 80 students to Wapo in early August. The site had actual student data from the early adopters in June and July. I was able to present the site to the parents of incoming sixth graders at Camp Orientation and train the students during the week of camp. The camp counselors had the opportunity to use their mobile devices to help students log in, modify their profiles, and post badges. I used the site to host the Bible Project videos that we used for teaching. I also posted the videos that the students made during the week on the site.
- It was working.
A Blown Engine (September, 2019)
- Then something went wrong at the end of August. BadgeOS updated its plugin. The next day I went to the site and all points earned by students had been zeroed out. Gone! I tried to add new groups and new students and the database would not accept new data.
- We were only one week away from launching the Wednesday Night and 9th Grade program for the Fall season.
- Sara went into crisis-management
- She first instructed me on how to methodically deactivate each plugin and retest the site. This was something I could do, so we could save the money of having her do it. It didn’t work.
- Sara began a deep dive to trouble shoot.
Adaptive Leadership (September-November, 2019)
- I kicked into adaptive leadership
mode. How do I launch the Wednesday Night and 9th Grade program with a broken
- I made the big vision presentation about Quests, Badges, and Points. Then I told them to not go on the website, but it will be up and running soon.
- I instructed students and families to keep their own records (worship notes, action/service activities, group attendance, etc.) and then, when the site is back online, they can load them and we can move forward.
- Sara worked throughout the month of September and could not fix the site. We launched the program with the weekend Fall Retreat (which is a badge they could have posted on the site) with no functional website.
- Sara informed me that it is really broken and she was not sure how long it would take to fix.
- That is when I clicked into a second adaptive move. I needed to provide a way for students to log their progress in an analog fashion. On October 9 I created Log Book and Field Guide. I took the original data that we entered in March – May and hand wrote it on each student’s log sheet. I then passed out the sheets at the next Confirmation meeting and instructed them to continue their Quests and mark their progress and tally their accumulative point totals on the sheet.
- This has held us over through October and November. The students can easily track Action Points and Community Badges with this method. They simply need to fill out the paper forms (a carry-over from the previous era), mark the corresponding badge on their chart, and keep their paper work.
- Some students are turning in the Action Forms and Sermon Notes. Allison is compiling them, but not entering any data. Eventually, when a new system is in place, we will return these forms to the families and ask them to keep their own records.
- The only problem with this analog system is that their is not a method for tracking Knowledge Badges. The only analog way to do this is to offer paper quizzes to students. The parents made it very clear to me in previous surveys to NOT TEST THEIR CHILDREN!! The value of the digital platform was to allow for multiple learning modalities and fun, interactive ways to track quizzes and earn knowledge badges.
- On Friday, November 15, I received an email from Sara informing me that the site is corrupted beyond repair. It must be rebuilt in order to function.
- The only way to move forward with a digital, interactive, social learning platform for the Journey to Confirmation is to build a stable platform and try it again in June (since it will take the Spring to build the stable prototype).
An New Hope (January, 2020)
- I made an appeal to the leaders of Easter Lutheran Church to dig deep and find the funds necessary to build a stable prototype for this website.
- They did!
- I am very pleased to announce that we have contracted Free You Up, LLC to create a custom built website that will do everything the original prototype did, and more.
I believe this social learning platform, combined with the gamification of Journey Quests will create a dynamic, user-friendly environment that will place the ownership of Confirmation into the hands of each student and family.
The current goal is to have the stable prototype built by the end of May and begin using it in the summer.