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4-H National Headquarters/USDA Digital Badge Collaborator Proposal

4-H National Headquarters/USDA
Digital Badge Collaborator Proposal


Introduction and Background

4-H is an “American Treasure” that—for over 100 years--has provided positive youth development experiences for millions of youth.  4-H is also the flagship youth development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and our nation’s Cooperative Extension System.  Currently, 4-H engages approximately 6 million youth and 500K volunteers in a wide variety of non-formal education experiences.  The program is administered through 109 land grant universities in every state and territory and is anchored in almost all of the 3,150 counties across America.  Over 80 countries have developed youth programs based on the 4-H model. Through this vast network, 4-H directly reaches youth in community based settings and on-line environments. 

4-H is committed to advancing high quality learning experiences in the broad areas of science, health and citizenship.  Land grant faculty design learning experiences--through a comprehensive national system--that are peer reviewed, research based, and age appropriate (Appendix A).  All are built on the experiential (“learn-by-doing”) learning model. Salaried staff and volunteers are trained in how to deliver curricula to youth and assess their levels of skills and competencies.

From several nationally juried 4-H curricula suitable for badging, the 4-H National Headquarters/USDA staff selected robotics as the initial content area for digital badge consideration.   

The learning content, programs, or activities that will be supported by badges

4-H National Headquarters/USDA will partner with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as the lead institution in this pilot effort.  The Nebraska faculty has developed an outstanding suite of robotics learning experiences supported through almost $5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation (#ESI-0624591 and DRL-0833403), the NASA Summer of Innovation, and 4-H.  These learning experiences will serve as the core content for the 4-H Robotics digital badging system for youth ages 9 to 18.   

The base of the 4-H program is the national geospatial and robotics technologies for the 21st Century (GEAR-TECH-21) core curriculum that combines geospatial concepts with robotic and computer engineering.   Over 300 hours of curricula are available for—and bridge--formal and non-formal learning environments, including camps.  The program also supports youth competition in robotics tournaments like the FIRST LEGO League (FLL).

Additional curriculum, developed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln with other land grant universities, includes “4-H Robotics: Engineering for Today and Tomorrow,” that consists of three tracks: virtual robotics, junk drawer robotics, and robotics platforms.  NASA inspired robotics curriculum is also integrated into 4-H Robotics programs.  Appendix B describes 4-H Robotics curricula and NASA partnerships.    

The skills, competencies and achievements badges will validate

Theoretically, several badges can be developed for 4-H Robotics programs built on a diverse number of learning experiences and challenges that youth can explore.  The skills that will be validated include important workplace and life skills like teamwork, problem solving and leadership.  Other skills include building computer programs, building robots, recording and analyzing data, using a GPS device, and creating GIS maps.    Competencies include the engineering design process, systems engineering, robot sensors, and robot mobility, technology integration and computer programming.  Youth can also earn digital badges for presentations, competitions, and career exploration accomplishments. 

Identity and role

Youth in the program take on the role of being an engineer on a team, with two or more members, that work to overcome engineering challenges.

Opportunities or Privileges

Because 4-H is the land grant university’s outreach to youth, some institutions are exploring opportunities for youth to gain university credit based on 4-H experiences.  Badges could become the vehicle through which university credit could be obtained.  

4-H youth are selected for a variety of awards, trips, mentorship experiences and other recognition opportunities at county, state, national, and international levels.  The receipt of a badge, or badges, could become the standard through which selections are made.

In most states, 4-H members are expected to maintain 4-H records that document accomplishments and progress toward learning in a chosen field.  Some documentation is on-line and some is captured via paper and pencil forms.  It is conceivable that badges could supplement, or take the place of, standard 4-H record books.

Existing assessments

For over 100 years, 4-H youth have demonstrated skills and competencies through prepared speeches, exhibits, and demonstrations at public events, observations by adults and peers, judging contests, improved agricultural practices, film documentaries, podcasts, etc.  These processes will remain the foundation of assessment with a goal of translating some into digital technologies.

Building on the existing 4-H system, it is likely that community-based, trained adult volunteers will observe and document skills and competencies as they are acquired by the youth.  County- and state-level university faculty and staff are also in positions to observe and verify youth competencies through county- and state-wide learning opportunities.  As a second level of integrity, names of the youth to be awarded badges and their competencies will be verified by county Cooperative Extension faculty, who are charged with keeping official enrollment records and maintaining the integrity of the local 4-H programs.

Many existing assessments for 4-H Robotics are performance-based, embedded assessments that can be informally scored by an adult leader or formally scored by a panel of judges. These performance-based measures are a natural fit for use with badges and could readily be earned by youth as a sign of their accomplishments and credentials. 

Partners and Organizations

4-H National Headquarters/USDA and NASA are developing parallel but collaborative proposals for this competition that are intended to fit together as a comprehensive package.  Collaborative efforts will focus primarily on developing common competencies and standards in robotics content (such as engineering design principles) and 21st Century Workforce “soft skills.”

This will insure that anyone receiving robotics badges from either 4-H National Headquarters/USDA or NASA will have obtained the same level of skills and competencies.  4-H and NASA will build on existing local partnerships that incorporate the best learning experiences from both entities to reach youth in formal and non-formal settings (Appendix B)

In addition to working with NASA partners, 4-H National Headquarters/USDA will engage faculty from a variety of departments and multiple universities in developing competencies and standards for 4-H so that they will be adopted by most, if not all, land grant universities.

National Program Leaders at 4-H National Headquarters/USDA as well as faculty in the land grant universities have graduate degrees in research, evaluation, and assessment.  Appropriate faculty will be engaged in fulfilling these functions.

Administration of the badges

4-H National Headquarters/USDA, in cooperation with the land grant university system, will award badges. There are two electronic platforms in place to support a comprehensive 4-H badging system.  The first system is the national eXtension (“e-extension”) infrastructure.  Hundreds of university faculty representatives form Communities of Practice around a variety of academic topics.  Using the latest technology, eXtension provides an electronic environment for CoP’s to work collaboratively and make high quality information available to the public (Appendix C).

The For Youth, For Life Learning Network (FYFLnet), coordinated by Auburn University is a Community of Practice within eXtension.  Auburn has agreed to provide primary leadership for this initial 4-H Robotics badge prototype and system (Appendix C).

It is anticipated that faculty from the broad eXtension system will be involved in the 4-H Robotics pilot effort to provide one or more of the badging functions (e.g. awarding and/or displaying badges).  The goal is to expand badging systems to other CoP’s once models are tested and highly functional, within the context of human and fiscal resources needed to support a sustained system.


The 4-H program is represented by a green 4-leaf clover with white “H’s” on each leaf.  Because it is protected by a federal mark (18 U.S.C. 707), the 4-H emblem has the same status as the Seal of the President of the United States.  National market studies have shown that the 4-H emblem is one of the most highly recognized images in America and people associate it with a positive experience for youth.  USDA, the “people’s department,” is the federal agency in which 4-H resides.  Plans are to co-brand the 4-H badges with a 4-H emblem and USDA image.  These images can be viewed at:

Issues to Address

There are issues that need to be considered relative to serving a youth audience with a badging system.  Primary areas include:  (1) the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and the Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (2) privacy, accessibility, and age related considerations, and the (3) cash and human obligations needed for initial and sustained digital badge systems. 4-H is committed to Section 508 compliance and insuring the safety and privacy of youth, particularly those under 13 years of age.  An open badging system will need to meet both government and 4-H standards in these areas as well as being designed with low-cost and low-maintenance factors considered.

Collaborator Needed for Systems Approach and Technology Functions

While the 4-H Robotics curriculum, 4-H staff, NASA partnership, and land grant university electronic infrastructures are in place, 4-H National Headquarters/USDA is in need of a collaborator who can integrate everything into a comprehensive, seamless system from the front-end loading of information through to the final award of badges to the individuals and subsequent display of the badges.  Collaborators are requested to work with 4-H National Headquarters/USDA, University of Nebraska Lincoln, Auburn University, eXtension and other land grant university partners to design and implement the technical aspects of this robotics digital badge system that builds on the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure.




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