Equity and Digital Badges

In my last blog I shared about two calls that happen weekly that are moderated by Mozilla. I have been participating in these calls sporadically for the past few months. They are recorded, which is convenient because attending the live call is not always possible. On February 26th, Ugochi Acholonu a postdoctoral research at DePaul University shared work that her and Dan Hickey, a professor at the University of Indiana on the difference between equity and access. This call is prime example that there are many, many layers that need to be considered and researched related to badge design, program design, and evaluation.

Etherpad notes and Call Recording

Acholonu gave an overview of the 2013 Chicago Summer of Learning, which is a program that promotes both summer learning. Some youth participated independently online, and other youth as a part pre-existing youth programming and education both online, hybrid, and in-person. Digital badges were used to document and acknowledge participation across the spectrum and across the city.

The researchers on the project were able to identify four different groups of participants and their findings show that those who were “self-directed” or students who joined on their own and not a part of a larger program stopped engaging with the program quickly.

See slide 10

This finding is what drove Acholonu and Hickey to think about the difference between access and equity. All the students both working independently or within a larger program had the access to earn the digital badges but their pathway to those badges were not necessarily equitable because some had better structure and adult mentors to support them. Students from different backgrounds also bring a different perspective and interest to the topics that need to be explored in order to earn badges.

For next year the researchers recommend increased online mentorship and recommendations for students who are participating independently. Also, thinking more holistically about the organizations that the Summer of Learning outreaches to.

Questions for Ugochi Acholonu (the questions listed below are copied from the etherpad, her answers are summarized by me):

Yet it seems that ‘access’ is limited to “access to learning.” How about access to recognition of what the person already is (past) and dreams (future).- Serge Ravet

Answer synopsis: If there is a badge that is offered and the youth already had experience in that area and could prove it through some sort of evidence then a badge was issued. My side note: For instance, if it was a video editing badge and a young person already knew how to edit videos, they would just upload their video to earn the badge.

Is it true that students have access to the same resources? What if they don’t have technology access?  How do they get access to the resources? – Karen Jeffrey

Answer synopsis: Acknowledged the access is an issue as well as budget to address the issue. Drop in sites especially libraries were offered but transportation to those locations can also be an issue. “I don’t think access comes before equity, I think you have to talk about access and equity at the same time”. In the design of the program organizers chose free programs for the badge challenges as to not create barriers for students.

Carla Casilli (Mozilla call organizer) reminded the group that badges do not necessarily need to be digital badges.

What does this mean for my work?

Service-Learning is most prominent in schools that are more affluent, including private schools. As a pedagogy service-learning has proven to be effective with high risk populations because it creates an engaging educational environment. Our organization is making a concerted effort to focus our programming on high-risk and minority populations.

As we start to use badges across our programming, how are we ensuring access to the Generator School Network? Are we creating an equitable incentive system if students are unable to sign on regularly? This issue might be best addressed by working on a plan with the schools we work with closely. It seems it would also be keen of us to adopt the strategy that Acholonu shared about tailoring badge design to appeal to the populations we are looking to engage.

That is one of my biggest struggles is that the GSN serves a very broad range of people based on age, location, education affiliation (K12, Higher ED, out of school time, etc.), background, experience with service-learning, etc. Once the badging system is underway our organization should look to see who is reacting (if anyone) positively to the badging system and who we may need to outreach to.

It is not surprising that the students who were working independently dropped off quickly. Whether you are an adult or young person independent learning can be very difficult and takes a lot of passion and/or a skill set for time management and resourcefulness. Online we could offer more pathways to learning so that the process is not so overwhelming.

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