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Growing Together: A Youth Development Approach to Connected Credentials

Growing Together: A Youth Development Approach to Connected Credentials

The Connected Credentials Project

  • Imagine if young people were deeply involved in co-creating the credentialing and assessment of their own learning
  • Imagine if we had a process for assessing learning that promoted youth development
  • Imagine if youth learning across multiple settings, not just school, unlocked opportunities that young people find valuable

There are organizations that have moved from imagining to doing.  At the recent HASTAC convening in Los Angeles, my colleague Leslie Beller (MHA Labs) and I presented the Connected Credentials Project (CCP), which is being conducted with members from Mozilla’s Hive NYC Learning Network.  (Hive NYC). Hive NYC is a city-wide laboratory in which educators, technologists and mentors collaborate to design innovative, connected educational experiences for youth across informal and formal spaces. To further the learning that can happen between organizations, the Connected Credentials Project is convening a subset of Hive NYC members who are:

  • well recognized for delivering high-quality youth development programming;
  • deeply engaged in creating trusted, cross-organizational partnerships, and through those relationships, actively developing “connected credentials” that can further young people’s potential and challenge the high-stakes assessment landscape with thoughtful, co-designed strategies for capturing and communicating powerful learning.

For the purpose of this project, “connected credentials” can be understood as ways of documenting learning in one setting using badges or portfolios, for example, to unlock an opportunity in another setting; securing fee waivers, school credit, or an internship.

Working together to share current thinking and drive alternate approaches to recognizing learning in informal settings, CCP is designed to illuminate a range of assessment approaches and credentialing opportunities flourishing across NYC. The basis of this work is to explore and investigate  promising practices, viable models and real-world challenges, and then disseminate a best practices guide and a policy white paper, as well as a connected credentials planning tool. Finally, we plan to host a convening for those interested in connected credentials in New York City. There, we will share prototypes and engage new audiences in conversations about how to move connected credentials to the next level, informing our final documents for this project.    

What We Learned at the HASTAC Gathering

DML trust challenge organized a full day workshop where we could hear about the cutting-edge work of fellow grantees and get critical feedback on the Connected Credentials Project from the HASTAC design critique team. One of the probing questions from the group that resonates deeply for us as we continue our discovery and planning process is “who is the end user around which we are organizing and how do we engage them as co-creators in the design process?”  

By convening MOUSE, Reel Works, Urban Arts Partnership, Parsons, City-as-school Dreamyard Project and Educational Video Center, exemplary youth development organizations/schools/institutions committed to exploring and sharing a diversity of assessment approaches, CCP is already well on the way to answering that question above by integrating youth perspectives into the process as both key stakeholders and designers. As a cohort, this group has the potential to make  connected credentialing a new means of promoting positive development for individual youth, and more broadly, ensure that  credentialing is done “with,” not “on,” young people through an intentional design that builds on and fosters trust, relationships and youth expertise.

Alignment with Positive Youth Development

In 2015, The University of Chicago and the Wallace Foundation released a report entitled:  Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework.  Overlaying this framework with connected credentials prototypes demonstrates multiple points of intersection:  

  • developmental experience can happen in all settings,  including in-school and out-of-school time.   
  • developmental experience requires action and reflection. Both the process of earning badges and developing portfolios, for example, can capture these; and  
  • developmental experiences develop components (i.e. self-regulation, knowledge, mindsets and values) and build key factors of success (i.e. agency, competencies and an integrated identity).

Taken together, these key qualities of the University of Chicago/Wallace framework can be seen in a connected credentialing approach  that is designed to support young people to gain skills, mindsets, competencies and values across a variety of settings. Youth employ agency in documenting and providing evidence of skills attainment, and can develop a way of demonstrating achievements that connect to a meaningful opportunity or unlock the next phase on their journey.  Other key youth development tenets that support authentic youth engagement and recognize them as assets to any endeavor - include opportunities to contribute, caring-trusting relationships and high expectations. Building a credentialing system that has this critical “end user” in mind is a perfect demonstration of that value.

Opportunities to Contribute: By participating in a co-designed connected credentialing system, young people can help outline the skills that are gained in an educational setting, determine what constitutes “evidence” of skill/knowledge attainment, and weigh in on which opportunities feel valuable enough to justify the effort. Through individual interviews with youth from each partner, and bringing youth to our final convening, we will evolve ways for young people to have a seat at the credentialing table to actively shape the “culture” of alternative credentials.

Trusting relationships: Because growth happens in a relational context, we are emphasizing how important healthy, active relationships are to building a trusted credential, between young people, program staff, partner organizations, those involved in credentialing, and institutions part of young people’s next steps (i.e. colleges and employers).

High expectations: CCP organizations have high expectations for youth and have worked to develop quality evidence, from  detailed rubrics to online repositories of student work (e.g.: from day-long “badgebowl” marathons to portfolio roundtables, youth give evidence of the skills they have built during the semester). More than warm bodies in a room or good test takers, youth in the CCP organizations must demonstrate specific skills, show in-progress and finished products, and employ meta-cognition when reflecting and describing their own learning process. Equally, we are seeing that credentialing systems that use badges and portfolios to document student learning must similarly have high expectations of themselves.

Moving forward

Connected Credentials Project has multiple end users -- young people, youth development organizations, institutions and schools --so  Mozilla Hive NYC will be using the spring convening to get input from stakeholders.  As a convener for early adopters, Mozilla takes seriously our role building a  participatory infrastructure into which the next round of adopters (e.g., institutions of higher education, city agencies, funders, unions and employers) can embed.  

As we move forward with this phase of our project, we will work to build bridges between all those interested in capturing skill building that may include, but moves beyond using high stakes tests or an end-of-the year surveys.  Our next few meetings will help us tackle critical questions such as “what are the three essential questions that organizations interested in connected credentials need to answer to take their project to the next level of implementation?” and “what are the three essential questions the field needs to answer to move connected credentials forward?” As a part of Mozilla Hive’s commitment to developing actionable strategies that can be leveraged and spread, we hope to continue to use Mozilla’s Hive structures in various cities to disseminate our insights, cautions, commitments and resources related to connected credentials moving forward.  

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