The Collective Impact of Endorsement
Those of you who may be badge skeptics might ask, “What is the value of endorsement and why is the collaboration between K–12 and higher ed so crucial?” One way to answer this question is to look at one of the main problems our NSF research addressed:
“High-quality out-of-school programs can give young people occasions to engage in authentic practices that relate to their own interests, are meaningful to their peers, and are within their cultural milieu (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009). Underrepresented youth do not necessarily have the means to convert those experiences into ‘currency’ for use in the college admissions process, as do middle-class students, who typically possess greater social capital (Archer, et al., 2012).”
Through this NSF-funded partnership, our organizations aim to increase pre-college student awareness about creative technology programs offered at Parsons and other schools of art and design, as well as the various career-orientated pathways associated with the field. Mouse, Parsons, and DreamYard are joined together in the effort to promote badging to increase diversity and access to pre-college student learning, particularly in the areas of design and technology. Digital Badge portfolios are one strategy—in combination with many others—that higher education institutions are piloting to increase equity and access on their campuses.
The Journey to Endorsement
Above is a map of the journey we have experienced in doing this work. In 2013, Mouse and Parsons began a conversation about developing a system that would formally recognize the Design League curriculum. The intention was to focus on the badges Design League youth complete as evidence of learning that positions them to apply to higher education and career opportunities. One of the first steps in the process was to establish a memo of understanding for the two partnering organizations to clearly outline key inputs and goals. In this beginning stage of the endorsement journey, it quickly became evident that in order for an endorsement system to be successful we would have to establish a network of stakeholders across the Parsons community, including faculty, program directors, deans, admissions representatives, and undergraduate students. We gathered together as a group, along with the Committee on Undergraduate Education, to discuss curricular alignment among first year courses at Parsons and the Design League program. Following initial curriculum alignment discussions, we established an ongoing role for undergraduate students at Parsons to mentor Design League students in their portfolio development process. The Parsons Admissions team has been involved in visiting Design League locations to help guide students in the college application process. Admissions representatives also have been active participants in the ongoing NSF meetings with all team members identifying opportunities for students to engage directly with admissions representatives, making sure applicants have access to resources that benefit their applications at key moments in the process. The NSF team has been actively engaged with Parsons Admissions to collectively apply strategies to the current admissions process to use badges as a resource that counselors can assess in order to determine a candidate’s potential as an undergraduate student. Along the journey to creating these systems, we have become aware of the need to include mentorship opportunities for current undergraduate students at Parsons to work directly with the Design League youth. Parsons has hired two students to serve in this capacity. They work directly with the Parsons Admissions team and leadership at Mouse and DreamYard to share insights about the portfolio development process and to serve as mentors for young people who are in the process of applying to college. They also are working to develop resources such as a tool to assist with application essay vocabulary and other guides focused on how best to share and describe portfolio work.
What Do We Mean by Endorsement?
In the context of the Parsons/Mouse partnership, badge endorsement is the action of having expert individuals or institutions formally recognize or value the achievements of learners participating in learning experiences outside of their own institution. The purpose of this endorsement is to promote relationships among organizations with shared goals related to skills-building and to establish more explicit learning pathways for individuals who seek expertise applicable to their personal or professional interests. A “badge,” in this context, is a graphic representation of a skill or competency that is accessed online, is earned through specific criteria, and links to “evidence” or portfolio data that can be reviewed by various stakeholders. The process of endorsing this badge includes the following steps:
- formal alignment of desired curricular outcomes
- in-person review of partner organization’s programming and pedagogy at multiple touchpoints by University stakeholders
- in-person evaluation and critique of project-based work product by University stakeholders
Endorsement leverages highly relevant third-party relationships to amplify the value of credible learning experiences wherever they occur. Learners use endorsed credentials as a supplement to formal application processes, and informally as evidence of skills and competencies.
Through this specific endorsement partnership, these two institutions aim to increase pre-college student awareness about Design and Technology as a course of study and work. Mouse and Parsons are joined in the effort to promote endorsed credentialing to increase diversity and access to pre-college student learning, particularly in the areas of design, engineering, and technology.
Members of the NSF team have been participants in a series of convenings focused on connected credentials supported by the Hive NYC learning network. These meetings were developed in response to the growing interest from industry leaders, nonprofit organizations, public sector policymakers, and universities in exploring innovative ways to document workforce skills and ensure clear pathways from career exploration through entrance into the workforce. The convenings brought together select teams composed of industry, nonprofits, city agencies, and university partners interested in using alternative credentials to connect a broad and diverse population of New York City youth to internships and jobs. Participants explored the ways in which alternative credentials, such as digital badges and portfolios, are currently being used in New York to document the skills and competencies that are needed in a 21st-century work environment, and how opportunities are being unlocked for those who may have traditionally been marginalized from the workforce. A presentation about the “Media MKRS” badge initiative—a partnership among Reel Works, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Urban Arts Partnership, and DCTV—was highlighted. There also was a presentation from the Workplace Center, Columbia School of Social Work, providing an overview of the state of the art of alternative credentials for youth with challenging life circumstances, and findings from a survey of employer interest in badging and alternative credentials for court-involved youth. These meetings concluded with working sessions led by connected credentials experts, with a goal to move initiatives from theory to action at a diverse range of sites.