Reel Works and Urban Arts Partnership (UAP) set out to collaborate on the design and prototype of an openly-networked badging system to recognize the value of out-of-school learning. The aim was to create a competency-based framework for credentials that could be recognized by other youth media groups, schools, colleges and employers. Reel Works and UAP teamed up with students to develop this new badging system.
A key goal for the project was to develop a system that would support comprehensive feedback and assessment, and that would allow staff and students to identify competencies. This would facilitate the process of accurately identifying future opportunities and pathways for youth both in-house and externally (e.g. in internships, school, the workplace). It would also present opportunities to communicate these skills and pathways to multiple stakeholders in a universally recognized manner.
In order to achieve these goals, six essential modules were identified, for teaching introductory filmmaking: Storytelling, Camera, Editing, Sound, Production, and Leadership. The related competencies would be recognized by awarding specific badges. Using new and existing badge templates and practices, staff and teaching artists identified the skills required to achieve competency in each module. These skills were compiled into benchmarks and achievements to track student progress, ultimately forming the criteria for earning badges. Throughout the development process, youth participants provided detailed feedback on how they acquired their skills, contributing to criteria revision, badge design and graphics. Regular “Badger” meetings informed this iterative process, helping to identify discrepancies between badge criteria, classroom instruction and expectation.
Project Implementation and Discovery
In order to pilot the prototype badging system, educators and peer mentors were trained to incorporate and issue Youth Media Badges through workshops. Instructional staff regularly reviewed student progress toward earning badges, documenting changes, revisions, questions, and concerns, and recording feedback from youth participants. “Badge Bowls,” in-person events at Reel Work’s studio, have been used as a primary mechanism to assess student progress and provide feedback in real-time as they move through the curriculum. At Badge Bowls students can present, defend, and perform various filmmaking tasks at different stations to earn achievements in storytelling, camera, editing, sound, production, and leadership while interacting with other youth, mentors, and staff. Educators and peer mentors issue badges and inspire friendly competition during these fun events, and each benchmark met is celebrated.
On December 18, 2014 Reel Works held its first Badge Bowl. Eight students and four youth mentors participated. A total of 20 achievements were earned. On January 29, 2015, ten students and four youth mentors participated, and 53 additional achievements were earned. These events are shared through various social media channels, with student achievements displayed on a large whiteboard in the classroom.
Challenge and Resolution
The project involved five phases: Planning & Team Building; Badge Design; Pilot & Badge Bowl; Assessment and Dissemination; Reporting and Catalyst Planning. The first two phases proved most challenging, with Reel Works and UAP working to distill curricula and approaches into six modules and their corresponding badges.
While the focus for the prototype badges was on relevant and widely applicable badges, the badge development process highlighted the tension between ensuring rigor and authenticity, while allowing for broad application across multiple contexts. The challenge was not only resolving individual approaches to instruction, but also ensuring that standards and rigor were maintained and that the result would be universal enough for adoption. As a result, identifying the core expectations and criteria for each badge required a layered approach.This meant that far more time was spent (at least five months) discussing, reviewing, distilling, and workshopping individual curricula before producing the co-designed pilot badges.
Reaching a consensus on modules and benchmarks proved challenging, as did articulating criteria and opportunities to demonstrate learning. Distilling each learning outcome into a set of essential components was also difficult, although this clarified the process of developing a curriculum.
To reach the final pilot badge design outcome, partners used a version of DigitalMe’s badge design canvas, a template first encountered during the Summit to Reconnect Learning in 2014. This tool helped to identify core criteria, skills and knowledge for each of the six modules. The result was used as the basis for figuring out when each skill would be taught and determining the criteria for mastery. During each phase (or unit) within each module an achievement was identified and defined. This was then distilled into a one sheet overview of the core skills that participants would need to demonstrate within each module in order to earn a badge.
Developing the prototype badges meant viewing existing curricula through a new lens. The curriculum was initially restructured to reflect modules, similar to the EngageNY curricula. Each of the six modules then needed to be reflected in a badge. However, reflection on this process prompted the realization that if badges could only be earned upon successful completion of a module then they would only be awarded at the end of the six-month workshop. This was essentially replicating the previous model in which the primary assessment of learning was completion and screening of student films. The reason for adopting badging was not only to authenticate real skills and competencies, but to motivate and provide frequent feedback during a lengthy, variegated and arduous learning task. In the previous curriculum, benchmarks were designed to ensure completion of the film on time, but were not necessarily aligned to specific learning milestones within modules. For this reason, the decision was taken to design achievements (and “smaller”, incremental badges) that reflected learned competencies within modules. As students progressed through the stages of brainstorming, pre-production, production, post-production, and exhibition, these would not only motivate them, but would also track their comprehension and progress more effectively from an instructional standpoint. This type of “re-write” of the curriculum required two major shifts: educating instructors and mentors on badging and the associated connected learning principles, and training them to incorporate and issue badges within the workshop curricula. While the education staff took on the responsibility to write the data underpinning the badges, the peer mentor and student perspectives were critical in providing feedback in how to communicate expectations, standards and desired outcomes.
Following the pilot phase where youth participants and peer mentors (youth alumni) test drive, critique, design, and earn badges developed in partnership and with feedback and input from other youth media organizations, Reel Works and UAP will develop youth media filmmaking badges.
Youth in after-school and in-school programs, as well as thought partner educators and youth media makers.
Reel Works after school programs serve 200 youth and young adults who are 75% Black or Hispanic and of whom 70% receive free or reduced price lunches. Reel Works in Schools serves 300 youth who are 97% Black or Hispanic and of whom 75% receive free or reduced price lunches.
UAP serves 150 teens annually in its after-school programs. program participants are 57% Black; 32% Hispanic/Latino; 9% Asian; 1% White; and 1% Native American with an equal representation of male and female students.
Student feedback highlighted the motivating power of badges earned throughout the learning process. Badges created a sense of achievement and positive reflection on what the students have accomplished.
…I would get discouraged many times before finishing my film. The achievements and especially the Badge Bowl gives me motivation to ultimately get my film done, and takes my mind off the stress of making film and learning the process of making a film as a whole because I feel like I’m getting things done. I feel like I’ve accomplished things.
“I think that if the badges had been present [when I was in the Lab] I think I would have worked more collaboratively with other students. I feel like that now we’ve been piloting the badges students are really pushing each other to earn all the badges that [you] can achieve.” -Jhovanny, Peer Mentor
Badging allowed for reflection as we looked at our curriculum to see holes that we had, in terms of providing clear expectations and benchmarks to measure those expectations. That process of reflection really strengthened the curriculum.
The Badge Bowls in particular has allowed us to differentiate our approach to students with diverse needs and it provided a platform for [us] to give in-depth feedback, even on benchmarks that had already passed, and not to just leave them. Again, it allowed us to pause and reflect again with students instead of plowing forward with deadlines looming.
It’s about training instructors. Especially during the editing phase, [oftentimes] the instructors struggle with prioritizing how to help students in a project-based, individualized environment. Assessing versus triaging, where do we put our resources effectively? [Badging] is one more tool that if used effectively will help instructors during these autonomous student work times.-Laurel Gwizdak, Education Director, Reel Works