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

Youtopia Badge System

A. Content Alignment:
As Youtopia is designed to accommodate every Stage #1 winner and content collaborator, we have have opened discussions with many of the current applicants. Our focus on the domain of “social good” can instantiate any pairing that will evolve the competition's objectives. Our OBI compliant system encompasses many of the goals of current applicants in this and in the forthcoming “Teacher Mastery and Feedback Badges” competition. Our badge system is at the core of a powerful platform designed to mature with how the 21st century will embrace badges backed by rigorous assessment, novel engagement, and a world where technology is in direct service to the nascent ascension to a civil society.

B. Badges
Content: Youtopia’s badges aim to create value in activities that foster positive vibrancy in individuals, schools, companies, and communities alike. As we believe that holistic individual development encourages community involvement, our system promotes growth in eight areas: Academics, Arts, Athletics, Business, Service, Social, Religion, and Wellness. These categories allow individuals to present a more complete picture of their achievements, skills, interests, and value. In this way, Youtopia is a decentralized, yet structured platform that allows organizations to develop a badge system specific to their needs.

Skills: Youtopia tracks and recognizes hard skills such as technical proficiency, levels of knowledge, field-specific trainings, or outstanding achievement, as well as soft skills such as leadership, collaboration, and communication. We work with organizations to develop badges that accredit the skills that provide value to their community. For example, we have developed a system of badges with Morgan Park Academy, one of Chicago’s premier K-12 private schools, that recognizes students for their academic, extracurricular, and service-learning work. Similarly, Youtopia works with companies and community organizations to create badge systems that cater to their specific needs.

Discrete vs. Dynamic: Youtopia tracks discrete activities such as one-time civic engagement trainings and is also dynamic in its ability to track the number of hours a user has volunteered, or the myriad activities they have completed. The Youtopia platform melds these two aspects by publishing discrete accomplishments and their progress on the user’s dashboard.

Scarcity, Granularity, and Levels: Youtopia assesses gradient levels of achievement within each of the eight categories listed above, and strikes a balance between motivating users through realistically attainable badges and a scarce number of high achievement badges. Users strive for an ultimate goal while being encouraged by small victories along the way, promoting behavioral momentum. Managers confirm when a user has fulfilled the basic criteria for a badge to be earned, and from there a user can unlock bronze, silver, or gold status by fulfilling more advanced criteria. The manager can also rate the level of achievement for specific actions on a five-star scale, and add comments.

Performance/Assessment: Teachers, administrators, and service coordinators serve as Youtopia’s badge managers. For each activity, the manager creates a detailed rubric to asses user accomplishments. In addition, manager-approved peer mentors can earn the ability to approve badges for less advanced users, encouraging a peer-based system of collaboration and assessment.

Qualifications: Users earn badge-denoted qualifications to signify they have mastered a skill or achieved a level of expertise, allowing individual organizations to highlight the qualifications that are important within their community. For example, schools can issue Math Tutor badges, companies can issue Top Sales badges, community organizations can issue Youth Mentor badges, and so forth.

Role and identity: Within Youtopia, students, employees and volunteers shape their identities around distinct achievements such as “Science Fair Winner” or, “50 Hours Volunteered” and soft skills like “Leadership,” “Collaboration,” or “Communication.” Youtopia tracks when a user has led a volunteer project, brought additional users into a project, and how well they communicate with other users within the system. This allows students, employees and volunteers to build an identity around their individual strengths.

Opportunities and Privileges: Through our system of corporate partnership, Youtopia will provide a link between education and employment in the form of internship opportunities and sponsored experiences related to the user’s passion that are unlocked with high achievement badges.

Permanence: Hard skill badges will expire as technologies and trainings become more robust, and users will be able to renew badges as the requirements are updated.

Design: Youtopia’s badge icons resemble familiar items or concepts found in their respective categories, providing easy visual cues. For example, Academic badges are signified by an open book, and each category is organized by a uniting color. Within each badge, a simple white icon represents the discipline or concept the badge is rewarding, i.e. a badge rewarding achievement in critical thinking is a white thought-cloud icon enclosing a question mark in the green Academic book icon. A blue dot enclosing incrementing numbers located on the upper left corner of the icon denotes the level of the badge.

Transparency/Meaning/Protection: All badges are hyperlinked to the following information:

  • Recipient information: name, email, school/company/organization
  • Issuer information: organization, manager name, website
  • Date issued
  • Description of badge, image, version
  • Criteria, manager comments, rating, and expiration if applicable

This allows prospective employers, admissions officers, teachers, parents, and friends to easily discover the meaning of the badge and prevents the gaming of the system in that all badges must have this meta-data hyperlinked to it. We will also extend our current fields to encompass the evolving “assertion” fields in the OBI.

Portability: This meta-data allows users to present their badge to any organization to demonstrate the criteria by which they are qualified. Badges can be attached to social and employment profiles so that potential allies and employers can see a user’s qualifications, and the value they represent.

C. Technology:
Youtopia’s badge system will adhere to OBI standards and will continue to be developed with best of breed software solutions following an Agile methodology.

Youtopia is comprised of a core system of accounting, authentication, communication and challenge management. The persistence layer is currently a relational database to ensure transactional integrity, but NoSQL storage is anticipated for user content and other non-transactionally-sensitive operations. The user interface is currently written in Ruby, with a migration towards JRuby potentially when scaling requirements dictate a need. In addition to browser-based interfaces, mobile interfaces will also be created for iOS and Android devices.

Managers can issue badges on-site while activities are happening in real-time as well as after-the-fact via Youtopia’s verification interfaces. Youtopia will also employ smartphones, using QR Code and NFC technology for additional verification hooks to approve location and activity. We will offer OBI compliant badge widgets and frameworks to help filter, rank and make sense of Youtopia’s ecosystem of badges.

D. Team:
Quiet Foundation, LLC, leads Youtopia’s technical development. Linwood Ma (Owner/Designer), Josh Bell (Designer/Web Developer/User Experience Lead), and Hoang Nguyen (Lead Developer/Engineer/Architect) contribute Visual Design, User Experience Design and Software Engineering. Working at thinkorswim, Inc., a retail-brokerage firm (acquired by TD Ameritrade), the team designed, built and maintained numerous award-winning online trading platforms in Java, Scala and Flex, supporting tens of thousands of simultaneous traders, and servicing tens of millions of requests a day. Quiet Foundation provides considerable experience in creating secure, verifiable transactional systems to build a foundation for the issuance and accounting of badges. Quiet Foundation, with over 20 years experience with numerous considerable high-speed, real-time data and financial services organizations, will build OBI integrated tools for the creation and management of Youtopia’s badge infrastructure.

Simeon Schnapper, CEO, has built large scale data systems for Fortune 100s  and developed solutions for startups in the NFP space. His combined experience in technology and business will ensure Youtopia achieves its vision.

Brett Singer, COO, and Demian Krentz, Creative Director, are both seasoned design professionals who have worked on such Emmy-winning television programs as the Oprah Winfrey Show and The Dr. Oz Show, as well as for Fortune 500 clients. They will continue to develop Youtopia’s user-friendly badge system.

Jacqueline Edelberg, Director of Strategic Partnerships, has been the driving force behind the Nettelhorst School’s dramatic turn around, and the co-author of How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance (with a Foreword by Arne Duncan, and an Afterword by Rahm Emanuel). She lends her expertise in school reform and corporate partnership to the team.

Nick Antista, V.P. of Education, is the co-founder of two technology companies and the principal of an elementary school, bringing expertise to the team on both fronts.

Devin Soule, Ambassador, brings experience in the service learning and NPO sectors.

Shawn Riegsecker, Investor, is the President of Centro Media Inc., the largest buyer of digital media in the United States. Riegsecker and his executive team are invaluable to making Youtopia successful.

Marshall Van Alstyne, Professor of Information Economics MIT, BU (, is excited to develop the analytics to ensure youtopia has the ability to quantify and qualify its badge system.

Contributing Schools and Companies: Morgan Park Academy, Rockhurst High School, Nettlehorst School, Centro Media Inc.

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