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A group of 4-H educators from across the United States with leadership from Alabama Cooperative Extension System Specialist Dr. Tony Cook won a prestigious grant from the MacArthur Foundation to develop an initial set of digital badges for 4-H robotics educational programs.
Cook, Extension 4-H science and technology specialist and project leader for the For Youth, For Life Learning Network (FYFLnet) , and a team of educators from National 4-H Headquarters/USDA, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and eXtension, were awarded a one-year $150,000 grant.
The award was announced earlier this month at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in San Francisco and was just one of 30 in the highly competitive national Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition. More than 500 proposals were submitted with the top 90 selected to present information to panels of judges.
4-H will enter the world of electronic credentials with the development and introduction of digital badges. As part of an e-portfolio of learning, youth will be able to add digital badges that document knowledge, skills and competencies attained in robotics competitions, platforms, movement and mechatronics.
The project will be integrated into FYFLnet based at Auburn University. FYFLnet received funding from the Auburn University Office of the Vice President for Research to help address a need to provide a secure social learning environment for youth. It will feature an electronic learning portfolio in which digital badges can be placed.
The concept of digital badges in 4-H has the potential to greatly enhance the 100-year-old 4-H concept of awarding ribbons for project work completion. “The digital badge is not meant to take the place of ribbons, but is a new way of rewarding youth using today’s technologies,” Cook says.
“Technology has changed the world so extensively that youth learn differently,” he says. “4-H is meeting the challenges head on by creating an online learning environment, and within that, we are introducing the concept of digital badges.
“We will be considering what learning objectives should be as well as what should be covered before youth are awarded a badge.”
Cook and others believe this digital badging concept has the ability to spread across the 4-H curriculum to the more than 150 subject areas. “We also believe that this is something that could expand beyond 4-H into adult Extension and outreach educational programs.”
The national 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. The competition is in collaboration with Mozilla and is part of the 4th Digital Media and Learning Competition supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by HASTAC.
The winners—awarded grants ranging from $25,000 to $175,000—demonstrated the wide range of approaches to, and uses for, digital badges and badge systems. They illustrate the potential of new technologies to improve academic achievement, economic opportunity and civic engagement.
The winners were selected from a highly competitive pool of 91 finalists, including The Disney-Pixar Wilderness Explorers Badge System; The Manufacturing Institute's National Manufacturing Badge System; NASA's Robotics and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) System; and the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Badge Program.
The badge systems awarded were judged on their overall technical and pedagogical quality, the effectiveness of the badges' assessment process, the system's aesthetic and design quality and the likelihood of acceptance and adoption by learners, institutions, employers and the general public. Winners will have one year to complete their work. Throughout the year, awardees and other applicants will receive ongoing support and training and will work together to form a robust community that will focus on developing and testing a thriving badge ecosystem.
"The number, quality and vision of competition applicants demonstrate the potential of badges to help us reimagine learning," says Julia Stasch, vice president of U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation. "Organizations from across an array of industries see great value in developing a system that recognizes skills and competencies achieved over a lifetime. Badges are simple, easy and, if done well, can change the way people share information about themselves, businesses make hiring decisions and organizations support the acquisition of skills important to their mission or to the larger society."
"We believe digital badges have the power to unlock the full educational potential of the Web," says Mark Surman, executive director of Mozilla. "Our goal is to provide a free and open infrastructure that today's award winners — and any organization or learning community in the world — can use to easily issue and share badges across the Web. This will empower learners to take charge of their online identity and reputation, gathering badges from any site on the Internet and combining them into a single story about what they know and what they have achieved."
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About Alabama 4-H
Alabama 4-H is the state’s largest youth education organization, reaching more than 84,000 youth between the ages of 9 and 18. There are nearly 1,700 clubs throughout Alabama’s 67 counties. 4-H teaches leadership, citizenship and positive character development, and provides programs, competitions, events and activities for youth in rural and urban settings through in-school programs, community clubs and special interest groups. To find out more about Alabama 4-H, go to www.Alabama4H.com.
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