Digital Badges and the 21st Century Resume

Guest post by Michael Braithwaite

Communications skills, team work, design, chess champ, social media mastery, and competitive bocce ball: It might sound like a strange list of job qualifications, but as companies increasingly seek out employees who can accomplish a wide range of tasks across a growing number of technologies, all the while being a team player, they’re looking for skills and experiences that paint a more holistic picture of an applicant. Gone are the days of employees working solo on repetitive, finite tasks. Today’s workplace is constantly changing, built on rapidly evolving technology and often spanning multiple countries. It requires good communicators, fast and creative thinkers, and flexibility.

That’s where digital badges come in. A bit like supercharged merit badges, digital badges are emerging as a new angle on credentialing, redefining how learning is recognized in a digital age that requires a broad range of skills, passion, and diversity of experience.

Hub alum Bryan Norato during a White House Google+ Hangout.

Hub alum Bryan Norato during a White House Google+ Hangout.

Or at least, that’s what the White House thinks. Last Thursday, the Office of Science Technology Policy hosted a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout that was broadcast nationally and discussed the current use of digital badges and their potential to redefine not only the professional landscape, but the educational one as well.

Bryan Norato, University of Rhode Island freshman and alumni of the Hub—a credit-bearing after-school system for high school youth in Providence—helped shed some light on the subject of digital badges in a conversation with Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning & Badges at the Mozilla Foundation; Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation; and Richard Culatta, Acting Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.

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Summer Learning Day—A Celebration and a Challenge

Guest post by Bob Seidel

This Friday, June 21, is Summer Learning Day.  It’s a day to celebrate summer learning successes—and to challenge all of us to make high-quality summer learning opportunities a reality for all who need them.

Why is this so important?  If we don’t exercise our brains for an entire summer, we lose much of what we’ve learned.  Research shows that, without stimulating summer activities, students tend to lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math.  Low-income students also tend to lose more than two months in reading achievement.  The cumulative effects of summer learning loss mean that as much as two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading is attributable to differences in summer learning opportunities in the elementary years.

Summertime is also important for young people’s health and nutrition.  Without access to organized programs providing opportunities for exercise, young people’s tendency toward obesity becomes aggravated.  And among those who receive federally-subsidized meals during the school year, only one in seven receives those meals during the summer.

The good news is that there are effective solutions out there.  Research shows that high-quality summer learning programs not only stem summer learning loss, they help students make positive gains. A recently published report from California’s Partnership for Children and Youth, Summer Matters:  How Summer Learning Strengthens Students’ Success, showed that during a six-week program in the summer of 2012, students improved their vocabulary by nearly 1.5 grade levels [pdf, 2.9 MB].

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Summer Learning Offers Transformational Experiences

With summer break around the corner for many schools across the country, educators, advocates, and parents are resuming the debate over a longer school day and year. An article in the Boston Globe last week questioned whether increasing class time merits the considerable expense it would incur, and a series of readers debated the advantages and disadvantages of a longer school day and year in the New York Times’ Sunday Dialogue yesterday, responding to a proposal for a four-quarter year, reminiscing about forgotten notions of childhood, and weighing costs versus benefits. (The Time to Succeed Coalition is collecting additional reader responses on its blog.)

A point largely missing from the Globe’s analysis and the debate in the Times was that it isn’t just time that matters for learning, but the quality of the experience. Summer learning in particular has the potential to transform students’ lives. “Summer learning is not merely about adding days to the school calendar. It is about creating life-changing experiences that help students thrive,” wrote Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond, in a letter to the editor at the Globe. A high-school junior wrote to the New York Times that summer is when many older students pursue valuable internship opportunities. For many students lacking the initial skills, know-how or connections to participate in such internships, summer learning offers the chance to build and apply knowledge in real-world settings. In Boston, nonprofit organizations are currently partnering with Boston Public Schools in science centers, college campuses and workplaces to teach academic content in a new light, build background knowledge, and help students develop skills to succeed in college, careers and life.

While this kind of applied learning can benefit all students, as the high school student in the Times might agree, it is particularly essential for engaging those who have not succeeded in traditional classroom settings. “At a time of scarce resources,” Smith writes, “such investments can help prevent more costly interventions down the road.”