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Building Connected Credentials: What We Learned from Trusting Each Other and Youth Voice

Building Connected Credentials: What We Learned from Trusting Each Other and Youth Voice

There is a burgeoning national effort to validate youth learning through a shared understanding of accomplishment that is trusted by both young people and adults, transportable and transferable across in and out of school settings. The goal is to create trusted conditions and relationships that lead to unlocking greater opportunities for young people related to their middle and high school education and next steps towards college and careers. At the center of this effort is bringing young people into the process of defining evidence and affirming the value of assessing their own learning.

Supported by the HASTAC-DML “Trust Challenge” development grant, Mozilla’s Hive NYC Learning Network launched the Building Connected Credentials (BCC) project last year to explore the power and potential of documenting learning that is happening in one setting (e.g. youth programs, museums, etc.) using is a variety of tools (e.g. portfolios, badges, etc.) to unlock access to something valuable to youth in another setting (e.g. jobs,  credits, fee waivers).  This project identified and convened members of the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network engaged in trusted, cross-organizational partnerships actively developing “connected credentials” (Dreamyard ProjectParsons; MouseParsonsReel WorksUrban Arts Partnership; Educational Video CenterCity-as-School).  The BCC project illuminates a range of approaches to credentialing opportunities flourishing across NYC through promising practices, recommendations and real-world challenges.

The Mozilla Leadership Network is a global network of diverse leaders who will ensure the next wave of access, inclusion and opportunity online. Mozilla offers these leaders a community, a platform and resources to support and advance their work to protect the open Internet.

What we learned about "Trust"...

“There are layers of trust-all need to build relationships with humility and openness to listening and learning.  Students need to feel safe to be vulnerable, take risks, share experiences, ideas, make mistakes and find that all this matter.  Will lead to something bigger for them and others.  So much punitive stuff in systems they live in-whether school, public assistance, or juvenile justice.  We are operating from a different paradigm or theory of action.”

Building a learning community through the HASTAC trust challenge allowed this group to articulate commonalities as well as points of contention.  The trust necessary to engage in this level of work is not automatic and must be developed over time and with an willingness to manage both dissent and opportunity.  The BCC project offered select Hive NYC members the opportunity to dig deeper into the strengths and challenges of their own connected credentialing projects as well as surface essential questions that others may need to answer in order to move connected credentialing work to the next level.  

Their collective inquiry resulted in the following set of questions:

Essential questions organizations need to ask themselves in order to take their Connected Credentialing work to the next level:

1. Who would be recognizing this credential? What do they want? By what means does opportunity unlock?

2. What is the strategy for inclusions of multiple stakeholders in the process of developing the credential? (students, faculty, staff from all partner institutions)

3. How do you make badges/portfolio youth-centric?

4. How can organizations share and discuss the histories, values, theories of action/change that animate each of their work and contribute to the Connected Credentials being created?

For ex: How do we hold onto core values at home institutions while scaling/spreading work at other institutions?

5. How can relationships scale across youth development organizations and institutions?

Essential questions the field needs to answer to take Connected Credentials to the next level:

1. How does the field ensure that an equity agenda remains central to developing Connected Credentials? (i.e. how do we recognize non-dominant voices and skills? How do we ensure access to whom it is not generally afforded?)

2. How do cities create “coalitions” of various audience types (e.g. colleges, employers, K12 schools) to collectively engage in Connected Credentials design to avoid continually recreating the wheel with each institutional partnership?

3. How can the field ensure that credentials are “connected” to young people’s next steps (college/career) and other valued pathways?

At the core of these questions is a commitment to equity. Over the course of their trusted collaborations, the BCC group affirmed that equity is an essential driver for developing rigorous and relevant alternative and connected credentialing systems.  This commitment encompasses equitable access to opportunities, technology, and the supports necessary to take advantage of that access, and changing institutional and organizational cultures to include, affirm and value diverse learning experience.

The group became heavily focused on the need to ensure that equity was at the center of any attempt to scale up connected credentialing in New York City.  The BCC members’ attention to  equity inspired a reexamination of what trust could mean in the context of connected credentials:

  • What if connected credentials developed with, not on, young people, educators, and youth workers could help restore a sense of trust in youth-serving institutions as they become more responsive?
  • What if connected credentials could revive the social contract (rights and protections) between youth and society?  
  • If young people are feeling the effects of disinvestment in public education, punitive discipline policies and compounded inequity over time…how can alternative and connected credentials offer a sense of ownership, validation, support and hope that doors are opening, not closing?  

The HASTAC-DML Trust Challenge enabled the Building Connected Credentials group to engage in a series of learning community meetings that resulted in convenings, products such as one-pagers on each of our partnership projects, a list of resources about badges and portfolios, as well as a white paper that we hope will promote connected credentials in New York City.  

Mozilla will use the momentum gained with organizations and city agencies over the course of our grant cycle to disseminate our white paper and continue to build trust between differently positioned people who can move the needle in relation to alternative and connected credentials in New York City.   Our shared commitment is to place young people firmly at the center of any efforts moving forward.  As a group of organizations using a variety of tools to document learning, we will move away from sharp divisions between badges and portfolios and explore badge instances as a way to invigorate portfolios as a core component of credentialing systems.  Lastly, we will continue to explore the intersections of equity and trust in relation to connected credentials as we develop credentials aimed at shifting status quo for young people, not maintaining it.    


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