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The new badge

The Hub, a Providence after school program for high schoolers, is getting some national attention for its innovative use of digital badges.

The badges - think online versions of Boy Scout badges - are used to recognize a skill developed outside the school day, often in the afterschool programs offered up by The Hub: participants are learning to design Android apps and build hot air balloons, among other things.

The potential applications are pretty nifty. Rhode Island College is already recognizing the badges on college applications; admissions officers can click on a badge and get a full, validated description of the skill or experience behind it - more reliable than, say, a student's claim to an internship at a law office.

The Hub, which launched the program after winning a badges competition sponsored by Mozilla, hopes that employers will begin recognizing badges, too.

And in time, the after school program hopes to glean data from the online badges system for its own purposes. If The Hub can develop a more robust record of individual students' interests, director Damian Ewens tells me, it can do a better job anticipating possible education and career paths.

Ewens says he envisions an Amazon-style recommendation engine: 62 percent of the students who engaged in these four Hub activities went on to study film or land an IT job.

The badges program is one of several education innovations percolating in Providence at the moment.

To wit, Bloomberg Philanthropies has named Providence one of 20 finalists for its Mayors Challenge, which offers a $5 million grand prize and four $1 million consolation prizes for cities developing innovative, replicable approaches to big problems. The Providence proposal, out of Mayor Angel Taveras's office: use high-tech recording devices, tucked into young children's clothing, to identify vocabulary deficits and address them in real time.

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