Project Q&A With: Youth Digital Filmmaker Badge System

Project Q&A With: Youth Digital Filmmaker Badge System

The Youth Digital Filmmaker Badge system will equip students to produce short films. Students will develop the core skills of concept development, interviewing and storyboarding, scriptwriting, camera work, and editing. The Youth Digital Filmmaker Badge system will accelerate School District of Philadelphia (SDP) students towards developing technical and written abilities in service to earning English/Language Arts (ELA) core credit in the Philadelphia Project Mastery Initiative.

What are the most important things about building a badge system you would share with another organization just getting started?

  1. Start with the end in mind.
  2. Don't underestimate integration with a large LMS.

Our badge system offers an alternative credentialing experience focused on the art/science of filmmaking and 9th/10th ELA skill development and academic credit attainment tied to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Five badges – story developer, editor, filmmaker, collaborator, and digital-storyteller comprise the suite. It is in use at 4 schools -- Parkway NW, Motivation, Lincoln, and Roxborough HS are pilot sites.

What were your initial goals for the badges? Did those goals change at all throughout the design process?

As this was a complement to previous work, there was immense flexibility needed as well as forethought required to get to some of the goals established: The School District of Philadelphia partnered with Philadelphia Youth Network to support its extended learning opportunity components of the District’s Project Mastery Grant. The ELO offerings were to support academic credit attainment, anytime/anywhere learning, and skills mastery tied to Common Core State Standards for English and Language Arts. Because of its work with youth-serving organizations and precedent extending elective credit bearing offerings to youth throughout the summer, as well as its relationships with the business community, the Philadelphia Youth Network was identified as a partner to the School District of Philadelphia.

Early ELO model considerations looked at the systemic work happening in New Hampshire, where an ELO coordinator works with students, teachers, and community partners to implement highly individualized learning experiences that occur outside of the school day and traditional classroom. Three types of ELO models were discussed for the Philadelphia pilot: 1) ELO experiences that were interest-based, project-based, highly individualized, and widely varied independent study models; 2) ELO experiences that extended from the daytime classroom reinforcing learning and continuation of exact work that began in school; 3) and ELO experiences that were contained in the program offering of a structured extra-curricular engagement.

As these options were being contemplated and the School District of Philadelphia reframed its overall implementation strategy for Project Mastery, the Philadelphia Youth Network, the school district, and Youtopia collectively sought to build a digital badge system.

The badge system provided an opportunity to ground Philadelphia’s for core-credit ELO pilot within the context of a digital filmmaking program for students. This implementation integrated aspects of each of the three initial model types: it dovetailed with the skills students were acquiring and the artifacts they were producing as a part of Educurious; it was project- and interest-based for students wanting to learn about filmmaking; and it built upon the structure of an existing extra-curricular program model operated by Big Picture Alliance and verified instructionally by WHYY.

The Youth Digital Filmmaking Badge System architecture was initially extensive involving two pathways to badge attainment and multiple interim badges. To reduce unwieldiness, badge pathways were condensed to one string focused on narrative filmmaking that aligned Educurious dystopian unit; however, as the program was implemented, documentary filmmaking was reintroduced and represented a broadened set of academic skills.

Waiting for badges structure and content to solidify, Youtopia assisted with the organization of a tracking digital platform and site for the project that involved gaming mechanics and other innovations such as the cataloguing of student accomplishments and learning, and attainment of badges. Youtopia actively participated alongside PYN and School District of Philadelphia through the early stages of design.

Jointly, SDP and PYN identified Big Picture Alliance as a promising local partner to implement the digital filmmaking badges pilot. The organization already possessed the expertise with a cadre of teaching artists on staff and had a precedent collaborating with local schools to teach students about filmmaking.

How successfully are you getting institutional buy-in, or adoption from your learners?

Four classrooms are using it and we're extending the program in the summer. To date, more than 60 students have participated in badging, attending at least one after school session.

Who were you addressing with your badge system design?

9th graders in Philly as well as their teachers.

What types of badges are you using (participation, skill, certification, etc.)? Are there levels or pathways represented in your badges? If so, please describe.

In addition to the basic articulation of target CCSS for student learning, the Youtopia site explicitly names the skills students are set to acquire. Within the Youtopia system student are first to initiate and indicate the learning demonstrations they believe warrant recognition and validation. Therefore their awareness and accounting of standards based learning is transparent and upfront.

However, an especially important challenge confronted regarding standards alignment was the identification of relevant CCSS standards. The identification involved a triangulated process: what do CCSS identify as targets for student learning and mastery; what do Educurious models highlight and instruct; what skills are mostly involved in narrative and documentary filmmaking with key artifacts that evidence skill development and attainments.

The process was iterative in terms of defining a strong, core, and consolidated set of key CCSS. Representatives from SDP, PYN, and BPA collaborated on an initial identification and then vetted the proposed selection with English teachers serving as teacher liaisons at each of the three pilot sites. The teacher liaison role was created to build continuity in students’ learning experiences and to calibrate a consistent level of expectation regarding student performance and skill demonstration. In many ways the teacher liaison role catalyzed professional development for English teachers and for Big Picture Alliance instructional staff.

What are 3 things you learned about badge system design?

Less is more. Very early into the project it became very complex so we kept on employing the lean practice of creating a minimum viable product. So:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Never underestimate the level of paperwork, ndas, contracts, etc. involved when working with a large public school district.
  3. Make sure the assessment process is not too cumbersome.

What would you do differently if you were to start over?

We would have more onsite reviews. We had a large team with many organizations, but watching the user in a classroom near the end of the project revealed a dozen small ideas on capturing artifacts/evidence that could have been employed during particular activities. We could have employed more formative assessment as certain activities were being completed within the framework/pathways outlined. This would have been possible with a better mobile interface with comments during the learning activity captured in closer to real-time.

What are the 3 main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

  1. LMS integration as well as other 3rd party platforms being purchased by school district.
  2. Policy
  3. Cost (currently exploring alternatives to grant funding to continue to provide platform to underserved youth)

What is your badge system testing strategy? How have you or will you be testing your badge system prior to deployment?

Training of ELO coaches and Google Hangout Q&A sessions made up a majority of our testing system, which is now in several classrooms across several schools.

What factors is the success of your badge system contingent upon?

  1. District buy-in
  2. Credit bearing legitimacy
  3. Fun

What have you done, or do you plan to do, to evaluate your badge earner community?

We will have surveys in the next month, with the opportunity for the project to continue into next year along with the creative promotion of student work (i.e. screening film unlocking the master badge at end of year, highlighted via schoolnet platform viewable by entire district including parents, etc.)

Please describe any impact your badge system may have already had on your organization and your learners.

Our system supports the principal of anytime/anywhere learning and helps answer the questions that arise when transforming the time and location of learning. Student learning in the badges program occurs on-site at school, but at the end of the school day; hence, outside of the traditional classroom and school-day schedule. In addition, some students, on their own and from remote locations, have completed editing and filming assignments.

For those who want to follow the development, implementation, and adoption of your badge system, what social media sites will you be posting updates to?

Here are 2 great examples that are new:


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