CSTEMBE Badges at After School Matters: Lessons and Questions about Badge Value

On December 12, After School Matters held a workshop on CSTEMBE badges with our brave pilot instructors.

On December 12, After School Matters held a workshop on CSTEMBE badges with our brave pilot instructors.

In 2013, After School Matters participated in the CSTEMM initiative, piloting badges in an urban ecology program in partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden. Initially, we undertook the pilot to explore how learning between programs can be facilitated through a shared badge ecosystem. In reality, we learned that instructors and teen participants do not necessarily see the value of badges and that without intentional integration into programming, badging gets left behind. Here’s a quote from one of the instructors of the program last year that really drives home this point:
“We didn’t really focus on them much in the class, we just said, OK, grab your device and record your work. But then everyone would break into groups and do project work and they would get forgotten. They’d get left behind when we all got back together in a group. Technology isn’t really part of the culture of the program.”
This year, After School Matters is building upon lessons learned and scaling CSTEMBE badging to five STEM programs. We chose to work with these specific programs because they are all offered by organizations who are early adopters of badging through the Chicago City of Learning initiative; three of them also are CSTEMBE participants: Agape Werks, Project SYNCERE, and Chicago Architecture Foundation.
We did a quick mapping activity to visualize the skills that teens are developing in STEM programs, and how those skills are often similar between different STEM programs.

We did a quick mapping activity to visualize the skills that teens are developing in STEM programs, and how those skills are often similar between different STEM programs.

After School Matters is unique from the other CSTEMBE participants in that we provide programming through community-based organizations, as well as independent instructors. Organizations and independent instructors apply to run programs with After School Matters and we provide them with support to run a high-quality apprenticeship program. There is, therefore, no one single STEM curriculum; rather program providers must develop a 10-week plan which specifies the technical and 21st century skills that apprentices will be learning in the program. Apprentices work towards a final project which serves as their demonstration of learning of these skills.

As a result, STEM programming at After School Matters is highly diverse. The range of STEM programming includes digital technology, environmental science, social sciences, health, engineering, computer programming, video game design, forensics, video production, app development, urban gardening, architecture, and more. Many of these programs are offered by community-based organizations that are already badging. So we are asking: What’s the value and relevance of digital badges for After School Matters as a shared network provider of programs?
The CSTEMBE initiative is an opportunity for After School Matters to delve into some critical aspects of badge design:
  • Building trust across five different STEM program providers – some of whom are not “traditionally” STEM.
  • Aligning learning to a shared standard of STEM skills.
  • Exploring the role of badge evidence as a demonstration of learning (i.e. an embedded assessment).
The last bullet point is important because we’ve placed value in the evidence-collection aspect of CSTEMBE badges. In other words, the design of CSTEMBE badges and the expectation that all apprentices will document evidence of skill development reflects our organizational value that “demonstration of learning” is key to a quality out-of-school time program.
On December 12, 2014 we invited instructors of the five STEM programs to an introductory workshop on the CSTEMBE badge system. Although we approached digital badges through the lens of teaching and learning, some important questions came up:
  • How do we deal with subjectivity in evidence collection? An apprentice documenting her competence in a skill in one program may look very different than in another program. Can (and should) there be a set of standards for each discipline?
  • The CSTEMBE badges are scaffolded into three categories: Discover, Explore, and Pursue. Does learning in one category “count” more than another?
  • How are instructors supposed to respond to apprentices documenting their learning through digital means? What is the role of digital assessment vs. face-to-face formative assessment?
  • Instructors (and peers) are constantly providing verbal feedback to apprentices in their programs. In what ways does using a digital platform require instructors to think differently about feedback and reflection?
Throughout the pilot, we hope to explore these questions in partnership with the instructors and teens. After School Matters has also launched a Digital Badge Committee of program staff to inform a digital badge framework for the organization’s programming this summer with approximately 9,000 high school teens. In our very first conversation, the question of extrinsic vs intrinsic value to the badge earners quickly presented itself, particularly as we discussed gamification as the theoretical basis for badging. What role could our advanced internships play in digital badging? And how can digital badging open up pathways for students across the city through After School Matters programming? There are no easy answers, but we know that there is a great deal of interest and potential in digital badging. We look forward to embarking on the CSTEMBE initiative, learning from successes and opportunities, and considering it a window into what the future of digital badging could be for Chicago public high school teens in out-of-school time.
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2 responses to “CSTEMBE Badges at After School Matters: Lessons and Questions about Badge Value

  1. Pingback: Integration Working Group (Jan 2015): The Big(ger) Picture | Community STEM Badging Ecosystem·

  2. Pingback: Some Emerging Lessons from CSTEMBE Badge Implementation at After School Matters | Community STEM Badging Ecosystem·

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