Last year, UAP joined the HIVE network  and began to dive deep into the world of digital badging through the Mozilla Open Badges initiative. Digital Badges and personalized learning pathways are seriously trending topics right now.  Badges were a major theme when we attended last year’s DML Conference, and personalized learning pathways are being touted as the 21st Century solution to the low graduation and college-readiness rates of urban youth.

The Academy at Urban Arts Partnership is a place for young people to gain viable pre-professional skills, create with purpose, and develop their leadership qualities.

The Academy at UAP serves 100 students per year, and the positive impacts are clear. Every student in the Academy at UAP graduated from high school last year. Still, it’s a constant challenge to help students visualize a clear pathway toward careers into the creative fields. Enhancing our student’s educational experience through the arts requires UAP teaching artists to teach in ways that are culturally responsive and engaging. The conformity and monotony of traditional public education systems is something students can experience everyday in their schools. The Academy provides a third space for learning. We are not school, and we’re not home, we’re a place where teens can visualize careers in the arts sector, and learn to capitalize on their creative talents and artistic skills.

How can we help our students turn their dreams into realities?

Digital badging has enormous potential for alleviating some of our struggles keeping students motivated and engaged in an out-of-school program.

Here’s how digital badging can help keep youth engaged and on-track:

  • Digital Badging allows young people to share a more complete narrative of their personal identity;
  • Digital Badging is a personalized process that acknowledges each student’s personal achievements by celebrating their learning and their successes at each step along the way;
  • Digital badging supports students ability to demonstrate character traits like persistence and self-efficacy by tracking their own progress;
  • Digital badges are a reward and a motivational tool, that can reduce attrition.

Most students in low-income communities do not have enough opportunities to learn digital media skills and create professional quality digital content until, or unless, they get to college.

Imagine what could happen if students in Title I schools could leave high school with an established professional online identity to aid them in their education and career. An organized and accredited Digital Badging movement could help educators and students make great strides towards closing the achievement gap.

YMB_logo Our first digital badging initiative began in the form of a partnership with REEL WORKS to develop a personalized learning pathway for youth media makers. The initiative helps students identify and assess their progress toward their own personal learning goals.

We have used this work as a springboard for our own digital badging system at The Academy, which will eventually scale to the organization as a whole, including opportunities for our educators.

In New York State, only two in five high-school students are ready for college and career. Clearly, our students need more, or a different kind of, support to reach their goals. If we as a nation are committed to strengthening our young people’s 21st Century skills, then we must look to out-of-school programs to serve as incubators for future public school models. Endowing digital badges with real value is probably the biggest hurdle.

How  can we create an accreditation system so that digital badges are recognized and accepted by both private and public sector partners as proof of competency and qualification?

If schools and businesses start accepting badges as real indicators of competency more of the students we serve will be able to graduate, attend college, and get jobs.Urban Arts Partnership’s specialized digital badging program for Academy students is a step towards that goal.

Someday, Digital badges may replace diplomas and degrees, but these are early days. However, the speed at which the idea of digital badging is being adopted by across the nation clearly shows that specialized badges and micro-credentialing may serve as an alternative to more comprehensive certificate programs. Online learning programs are one of the fastest growing sectors of education. An estimated 4 million K-12 students participate in some form of online learning (iNACOL, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning, 2010).

Prod_Manager The move toward online learning and digital media is inevitable, and arts educators must be ready to help our y0ung people learn digital skills and use them to their advantage as they seek out higher education and well-paying jobs.

UAP has officially joined the Digital Badging Movement, and I cannot wait to see how our students grow

We’ll keep you posted.

Learn more about this Badging Project at


Catch us talking more about Digital Badges and building credential value at #SXSWedu in March. Visit for more info

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