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This project was submitted by an applicant to the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

Digital On-Ramps

Digital On-Ramps -- anywhere.anytime.learning






The Digital On-Ramps (DOR) project envisions a practical solution to one of Philadelphia’s most formidable challenges: preparing all Philadelphians to work and compete in the 21st century economy by providing a digital framework for delivering comprehensive education and workforce training to youth and adults (ages 14-65).  

DOR’s overall learning goals are to improve educational results for people who are underemployed or unemployed, and prepare them for entry into the workforce. DOR will achieve these goals by providing simple, personalized, and customized “on-ramps,” or educational/training supports such as basic literacy and math skills, workforce and college readiness training, 21st Century skills and digital literacy/competency training.  With DOR, resources are accessible anytime, anywhere and on any device (mobile, tablets, laptops, desktops, etc.).

Digtial On-Ramps GoalsCurrently, Philadelphia’s education and workforce systems do not reward individuals for their training and education efforts.  Often, people take and re-take assessments, including literacy assessments or work readiness inventories, due to an inadequate common tracking system.  For those individuals who complete a portion of their training program, but not an entire process, they are often frustrated because various workforce providers do not coordinate or do not have a standardized way to recognize proficiency and mastery, requiring individuals to repeat an entire course or training program despite mastery of a particular skill.    

By introducing a systematic badging system used across workforce and education systems, DOR would have the capacity to capture and preserve the effort that people put forward toward reaching their goals. These permanent, independently maintained, portable badges could be easily shared among prospective schools, programs, or employers.  Most importantly, badges would create systemic efficiencies, ensuring that people do not lose valuable time and effort if life-disrupting events cause them to start, stop, and re-start efforts to improve their lives.

We intend to develop and demonstrate a badging system for 900 students (from two partner high schools) enrolled in Philadelphia Academies, Inc. (PAI) Post-Secondary and Career Readiness (PSCR) Course, a developmental multi-year course designed to provide 21st century and post-secondary readiness skills  to high school students. As DOR matures, the project aims to field a full ecosystem of badges supporting a robust, city-wide menu of education and training opportunities. 

Digital On Ramps User Diagram

PAI’s PSCR course offers students the opportunity to meet people in a professional setting, shadow a professional in an area of interest, develop resumes, prepare for interviews, and share their findings with fellow classmates and school leaders. As they progress through the course, students develop and use 21st Century skills like creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills, and demonstrate digital literacy/competency, including the use of Microsoft Office products to create their documents and presentations. 

A student would accumulate a set of badges representing the various skill levels mastered as they move through the course. These skills can be understood as a series of incremental, discrete levels that are acquired across a set of parallel learning tracks. These levels would be competency-based rather than time based with progress marked in small and flexible accomplishments measured by multiple assessments, many of which are embedded within the learning experiences.

Currently, the course applies two assessment tools: 1) A college readiness rubric that documents the post-secondary readiness skills; and 2) Philadelphia Youth Network’s (PYN) Internship assessment used by internship mentors, to support skill development in professionalism, initiative, leadership, communication, and industry awareness.   Badges would be earned at the completion of each section of the course and in each track (Career Exploration, Work Experience, Communications, and Digital Literacy/Competency). 

A key aspect of this project is to help students identify career interests and expose them to various career pathways.  Through a set of very intentional activities, students develop formative experiences in the real world, and realize the value of ongoing learning as skilled workers.  Badging strengthens this experience, validating their accomplishments to educational institutions or employers, and serving as a portable, public record of accomplishments to place in their personal profiles and to notify their networks of peer learners.

We intend to offer a range of “badge privileges,” While we will conduct student focus groups to determine appealing incentives, our initial thoughts are: additional opportunities, like internships, on-the-job training and apprenticeships, and possibly preferential interviews; and, student access to local attractions, sports and special events.    For example, students interested in science careers could receive a “Future Scientist” badges, gaining free entry in to the Academy of Natural Sciences or internship opportunities at a science-based firm.

Partners’ roles are as follows:

  • 21st Century Skills Workshops – provided by PAI in collaboration with selected partner high schools.
  • Digital Literacy Training – Provided by Freedom Rings Partnership led by the City of Philadelphia, Drexel University, and the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC). We intend to leverage resources via the recently announced Federal Communications Commission’s Connect2Compete (C2C) initiative led by One Economy to launch in fall 2012, including the provision of Microsoft Office Suite certifications provided courtesy of Microsoft and delivered by Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
  • 21st Century Skills Measurement -- Provided by WestEd, an assessment consultant group working with PYN and the Philadelphia Council for College and Career Success. PAI is a partner of PYN and a councilmember.
  • Badge creation – led by PAI, UAC, and Drexel University with employer input
  • Badging system administration and infrastructure – Provided by Drexel with badges displayed DOR’s site,

Currently, DOR’s logo incorporates elements (typography, colors, triangle-shaped “on-ramp” motif, etc.) into the initial set of badges, which would be “color-coded” based on the track.

As a community, we have struggled for years to design an effective way to document and assess progress towards the type of skills discussed in this application. Incorporating badging into DOR’s digital framework would: catalyze a significant transformation in how we measure success in the attainment of 21st century and post-secondary readiness skills; establish these skills as valuable enough to measure; and legitimize these skills as fundamental to people’s economic success. These points, and the system change potential of creating an open badging system across education and workforce development providers in Philadelphia, ultimately form the strategic goals and the impetus for our application.




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