Investigating Digital Badges as Alternative Credentials to Broaden STEM Participation Among Underrepresented Youth
2016 to 2020

This program, a collaboration with Mouse, the DreamYard Project, and Parsons School of Design, provides underserved youth with a technology-supported method for presenting the digital design work they create in an out-of-school program in ways that are both personally meaningful and that address the expectations of the gatekeepers of higher education institutions.

The Design League Badge Portfolio system was intended to help level the playing field for high school youth who come primarily from low-resource communities and do not have access to guidance counselors or others with expertise in curating admissions portfolios. Our research provided evidence that the project did have a positive impact on participants’ interest in ICT careers and preparation to apply to college. Between pre- and post- surveys, youth reported an increased interest in pursuing ICT careers, with 100% at post expressing interest in at least one career (88% at pre) and 53% in three ICT careers (18% at pre). These results were statistically significant (.002) with a large effect size (.91).

We also found that 100% of the participants surveyed planned on applying to college, or had applied to college, and believed that Design League would help or did help them in their applications. Design League seniors have received acceptances and scholarships/tuition assistance not only from Parsons, but also from Tandon School of Engineering at New York University, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and New York Institute of Technology. These seniors reported that they showed examples or referred to their Design League work in their applications. In addition, over the past three years participants from Mouse and DreamYard have presented their projects alongside hundreds of teens, educators, and industry professionals at the Annual Emoti-Con NYC Digital Media and Technology Challenge. For two years running, a team from the DreamYard Design League has won the “Most Innovative” award—one of the biggest prizes of the entire competition. The 2019 group won for their 3D-printed adaptive basketball arm attachment designed for a user with cerebral palsy.

The project team has disseminated information and findings from this project to a wide range of audiences. Project partners also have been in dialogue with other national project groups focused on cross-contextual support networks using and researching portfolio and digital badge infrastructure to provide more equitable access to ICT college and career pathways. LRNG, recently merged with Southern New Hampshire University, Digital Promise, and Competency X are just three organizations with which we have shared information and learnings. The team received supplemental funding for a convening with faculty and admissions professionals from two- and four-year institutions, informal youth development organizations, researchers who focus on alternative credentials, digital credentialing platform developers, and educators experienced with implementing micro-credential systems. The convening engaged participants in working groups to establish norms of language and practice, create guidelines for establishing endorsement partnerships, and commit to a pilot iteration of such a system across partner institutions.


Jaime Gutierrez