Digital On-Ramps Introduces Digital Badging to Service Programs At Philadelphia Event

By Andrew Stutzman

Andy Stutzman is a 20-year professional in higher education with a MS in Computer Information Science from La Salle University. He has experience in leading and implementing technology projects, including web development, enterprise systems, and educational technology. Andy joined the Office of University and Community Partnerships at Drexel University in 2012 and is now leading the technology initiatives for the Digital On-Ramps project.

Digital On-Ramps, a workforce development program in the Office of University and Community Partnerships at Drexel University, recently shared the LRNG digital badging initiative with a broad group of service organizations as part of a discussion about how digital badges might work in their industry and track the work of service fellows.

“Exploring Service Competencies and Digital Badging in Philadelphia and Beyond” was the perfect event to demonstrate how effectively digital badges can track young people’s learning and accomplishments. Among the attendees were service groups from the Philadelphia National Service Organizations Committee, national service programs, and service groups as far away as Chicago and Minnesota.

LRNG is providing a youth-first, web-based platform focused on providing year-round, connected learning experiences for youth. Philadelphia was selected as one of eight new cities to launch the initiative this summer, and Digital On-Ramps was chosen as the anchor organization to lead the pilot, branded as LRNG Philly.

Why might digital badging be useful for service groups? The experiences service fellows gain through programs like Americorps or City Year are tremendous, but participants don’t always have a way to demonstrate their achievements or illustrate the skills they learned along the way.

The event demonstrated how digital badges can be used to not only track the accomplishments of service fellows, but also reflect the competencies they have gained through their service.

The event was led by Catie Wolfgang, the Director of Workforce Strategies in Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO). Catie has worked with service organizations for several years and is the founder of PowerCorpsPHL, which piloted Playlists called Career Journey and Tree Planting Techniques and Care Essentials with LRNG Philly this summer. Catie had been looking to hold a local service program event this summer. Digital On-Ramps connected Catie Wolfgang with Amy Kincaid, the Senior Advisor to Learning at Service Year, around their digital badging initiatives, giving Caite a solid platform to base the event off of.

In the LRNG system, Playlists are a collection of XPs (experiences) that youth complete in order to earn a digital badge. XPs are either local experiences, like attending the Oval’s Farm Explorer event, or digital experiences, like learning about The Many Uses of Python. Once completed, youth are required to upload evidence of their work for review, allowing organizations to validate its quality and the competencies gained.

To start the event, Catie led a conversation around the use of digital badges and the competencies involved. In one exercise, participants identified common competencies, including professionalism, networking, teamwork, communication, and civic engagement skills. They also identified unique competencies clustered around career-specific areas, such as food service, technical skills, and tutoring.

Digital On-Ramps worked with PowerCorpsPHL to present the general value of digital badges and to demonstrate the power of the LRNG system. Margie Wilcox of PowerCorpsPHL reviewed the Career Journey and Tree Care Playlists, which relate to both 21st century competencies and the specific skills required to complete service projects.

Amy Kincaid, Senior Advisor for Learning at Service Year, and Capri St. Vil, Director of Workforce Development and Education Programs for The Corps Network, traveled from Washington, D.C. and introduced their plan to develop badges to support both foundational and leadership skills in service fellows. The badge names include Workplace Pro, Team Player, Team Leader, and Management Pro and are directly linked to 21st century competencies.  

The group was especially interested in the idea of sharing service-oriented badges that are related to common competencies. Sharing this type of work adds value and capacity to organizations that often have limited time and resources and also has the ability to create consistency in learning outcomes across a variety of service experiences. The general tenor of the group was very positive.

The afternoon was reserved for a debrief with leaders from Philadelphia and colleagues from service programs in Minnesota, Chicago and D.C. Reviewing the work of partner organizations from other cities, and taking note of their positive feedback, helped confirm the path forward for Digital On-Ramps, the City’s office of CEO, and Service Year. As service organizations grow interest in the idea of digital badges, Digital On-Ramps will connect them to the LRNG Philly initiative and provide training and guidance to promote their work and track the skills and accomplishments of their service fellows.

The service organization event was successful in sparking the interest of service programs such as the Urban Technology Project and YouthBuild in both using digital badges to track learning outcomes for service programs and also in aligning common competencies. The event also allowed us to create a community centered on similar interests that will hopefully continue to grow.

Digital On-Ramps is now working with Service Year to develop a pilot program around their foundational skills and leadership badges and to offer the badges nationally, through approved service programs on the LRNG platform. While the LRNG Philly pilot was relatively small this summer, this event allowed Digital On-Ramps to create awareness, networking opportunities, and templates for future work to develop further interest with youth and youth-facing programs throughout Philadelphia.

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