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PASA Wins Macarthur Foundations Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition

Providence is about to become a pioneer in a new learning system that many people think could help revitalize the way schools work. The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) won MacArthur’s Badges for Lifelong Learning competition, putting Providence on the map as one of very few cities embracing digital badging systems, which are believed to be on the leading edge of 21st Century learning. We feel like this award is a real boon to Providence’s reputation as being a city that embraces an entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to technology, business, and education reform, not to mention the impact the system will have on the city’s young people. – Anisa

Digital Badges Show Promise, Potential to Supercharge 21st Century Learning

The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) and the Rhode Island Foundation (RIF) are pleased to announce that PASA has won a national competition for great ideas in recognizing youth accomplishments with digital badges – the kind of badges normally reserved for conquering opponents or acquiring mystical powers.  PASA was one of 30 winners selected from a highly competitive pool, along with Disney-Pixar, the Smithsonian, and NASA.

The Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition was held in collaboration with Mozilla, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and administered by the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC). The competition links designers, entrepreneurs, technologists, and educators with leading business and industry organizations to build digital badge systems and explore the ways badges can be used to help people learn, demonstrate skills and knowledge, and unlock job, educational, and civic opportunities.

PASA won for its Pathways to Lifelong Learning digital badge system as an example of what’s being called the “gamification” of learning, a rapidly growing area within the field of digital learning. PASA will receive $75,000 to create the system, which is already in development, and will have it running by early next year.

“Without the longstanding support of the Rhode Island Foundation, who helped fund the technology infrastructure that serves as the foundation for the badging system, PASA would have been unable to compete for this exciting award,” said PASA’s Hillary Salmons, Executive Director.

Since 2005, the RIF has provided $585,000 to PASA in support of various programs.

“The Foundation is proud to have supported PASA’s creative and forward-thinking approaches to after-school programming, providing children with quality expanded learning experiences outside of the classroom” said Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of The Rhode Island Foundation. “We are pleased to see PASA recognized as part of this national effort to invest in innovative technologies that have the ability to transform teaching and inspire learning.”

Damian Ewens, PASA’s Director of High School Initiatives and principal author of the Macarthur proposal, notes that the badge system will be particularly useful, because traditional measures of achievement no longer adequately convey the full range of knowledge and skills that students master.

“We know that learning happens anywhere and at any time, yet we don’t have a unified way to recognize, motivate, validate, and connect learning interests and achievements of young people both in and out of school,” he said. “By using basic tenets of game design to connect digital badges to PASA’s after-school programs, youth can build more personalized, real-world, learning experiences and pathways.”

“The world’s leading edge businesses and corporations are already using badging to motivate employees, but this has even more currency with and possibility for young people,” said Salmons. “If video games are validating youth learning, why not utilize such a recognizable and successful strategy to validate learning in and out of a classroom?”

How it works

In video games, players advance to increasingly more complicated levels that require the completion of specific challenges, receiving new skills, powers, and rewards along the way that are reflected visually with “badges.” Modeling that process, PASA’s Pathways to Lifelong Learning digital badge system will enable Providence youth to graduate high school with a portfolio of accomplishments marked by the badges that can be marketed to employers, academic institutions, and peer communities.

Beginning in 6th grade, youth participating in the AfterZone, PASA’s citywide after-school system for middle school youth, will be able to have their expanded learning activities acknowledged through badges. Badges will help to focus learning in a way that is meaningful for each student, making learning a tailor-made experience that builds off of individual interests and passions.

As young people advance along a pathway, they receive badges to note the acquisition of skills, focused passions, curiosity, learning accomplishments, and more. Examples include a Peer Reviewer Badge, given to a young person whose online reviews have been highly rated by their peers, or PASA’s STEM Passion Badge which recognizes a commitment to learning around STEM-based skills.

When the AfterZone participant “graduates” the AfterZone in 8th grade, they then enter the high school portion of their pathway through The Hub, PASA’s expanded learning system for high school youth, where they become eligible for expanded learning opportunities that garner credit toward graduation, internships, events, etc. based on their badge collection.

PASA’s Pathways for Lifelong Learning badge system will build off PASA’s successful AfterZone system, as well as the Hub’s new credit-bearing expanded learning system, organized in partnership with the Providence Public School Department, and will recognize, motivate, validate, and connect learning interests and achievements of youth beginning in 6th grade, creating a seamless system of learning pathways that usher youth through middle school, high school, and onward to college, career and life.

Learn about the organizations

The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) has a mission to expand and improve quality after-school, summer, and other expanded learning opportunities for the youth of Providence by organizing a sustainable public private system that contributes to student success and serves as a national model. PASA is committed to the idea that in order to maximize youth outcomes and ensure our young people succeed, schools, after-school programs, and other expanded learning opportunities must work together to support youth.

The Rhode Island Foundation was founded in 1916 and is one of the nation’s largest and oldest charitable organizations serving a specific geographic community. In 2011, the Foundation made grants of $28 million to more than one thousand organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities.

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places and understand how technology is affecting children and society. The Digital Media and Learning Competition is part of MacArthur’s $85 million digital media and learning initiative, which aims to determine how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life.

Mozilla is a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to making the Web better. We emphasize principle over profit, and believe that the Web is a shared public resource to be cared for, not a commodity tobe sold. We work with a worldwide community to create open source products like Mozilla Firefox, and to innovate for the benefit of the individual and the betterment of the Web. The result is great products built by passionate people and better choices for everyone.

HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) is an international network of educators and digital visionaries committed to the creative development and critical understanding of new technologies in life, learning, and society. HASTAC is committed to innovative design, participatory learning, and critical thinking.

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