HYPE wrapped up its seventh annual summer digital media learning academy last week. On the campus of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, in four weeks, fourteen teens made 3 documentaries, exploring street art, discrimination, and community violence. This summer, we worked with the teens to connect their multi-modal digital media making to a badging system. Badgestack provided the platform for our badge system designed to recognize the learning that helps give rise to the teens' cultural expressions. From the outset, we were committed to creating a badge system that does justice to youth media's enduring commitments to youth-driven cultural production. Within a community-based participatory action research (PAR) model (Langhout, 2011), we documented each step of the way. One of the key lines of inquiry in our research is to try to understand to what extent--and how--digital badges support the teens' development of their "agentive selves" (Hull and Katz, 2006), and how digital badges serve as cultural artifacts mediating their identities as agents of community change. Our efforts aim to understand badges and badging systems in practice, in cultural context (Lave 2012). We are working here towards a particular ethnographic account of how digital badges mediate the constitutive processes through which young people, their learning, and media practices, are produced, We are also focused on the political dimensions of this badging experiment for urban youth whose voices, identities and lives are too little recognized and valued within the community. A real inspiration for undertaking the HYPE badge project was our belief in the possibility that badges might help to open up a set of new practices through which HYPE teens can participate more fully in community life.
To address these concerns requires close study of the processes of doing and making recognized by HYPE badges. Our critical ethnographic work is focusing first on a group of 5 teens who researched and produced a 5 minute documentary on street art and the multiple badges they earned along the way. A photo of the mural they created to represent their vision for community change, and their documentary video, are included in this blog post. Next month, we'll begin interviewing the teens about their experiences with the badge practices. While much writing on badges is understandably focused on implications and outcomes--what will new forms of credentialing and certification mean for the future of traditional degree systems?-- our inquiry begins at the micro-level, trying to understand how learning and learners' identities change in relation to badges in the context of HYPE. What emerges, we hope, will be an understanding of how badges, as cultural artifacts, can impact access to learning and support learners' engagement and agency in spaces of cultural production like HYPE.