Nichole Pinkard from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

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The Digital Youth Network (DYN) was founded in 2006 by Dr. Nichole Pinkard at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute.

DYN is a project that supports organizations, educators and researchers in learning best practices to help develop our youths’ technical, creative, and analytical skills.

Originating from the keen desire to understand and support urban youth in learning digital media for their educational development, DYN grew as a resource to help youth understand how to use digital media for all aspects of their lives. As technology rapidly evolves, supporting our underprivileged youth in school and out of the classroom has become a critical and timely issue to address. Currently underprivileged students live under the following statistics:

  • 47% of low-income households have broadband access at home.
  • 37% of teachers of low-income students use tablet computers.
  • 35% of teachers of lower-income students say their students use cell phones as a learning device in class.

In an effort to resolve these conditions, we have created iRemix social learning network for students in formal and informal settings; Co-founded YOUmedia – along with the Chicago Public Library – to develop innovative spaces for youth; and implemented Chicago City of Learning – with Chicago’s Mayor’s Office – to join together learning opportunities for youth.

Currently we are creating a blueprint for Cities of Learning to model Chicago City of Learning, releasing DYN’s book in spring 2014 and launching DYN Studio at DePaul University in winter 2014.

Our goal is to create an equal platform for ALL to be digitally literate.



The Destination Chicago pop-up shop traveled around the city to provide youth more opportunities.


For nearly 10 years, the Digital Youth Network has provided Chicago’s under-resourced youth access to the ever-evolving array of tools and technology needed to be successful in today’s educational and professional world. Founded by DePaul’s Nichole Pinkard, associate professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media, the organization has gained traction over the last few years through successful outcomes, growing programs and funding from the MacArthur Foundation. Read on to learn just some of the ways the organization is making a difference.

Read the full story on Depaul’s Newline


Giving youth the tools to be engaged, articulate, critical and collaborative


The Digital Youth Network is, at its core, a design-based research project. The research team works with DYN mentors, students, families, and other practitioners to better understand the impact of DYN initiatives and learning environments on youth, educators, organizations, and communities, identifying critical practices and informing iterations of the DYN model. Current research questions include:

  1. How do we understand and represent learning and participation in informal (including online) environments and over time?
  2. What are the generative practices and supports within those environments that cultivate that learning and participation, including youth production, interests, and identity development?
  3. How we intentionally design learning tools and environments (face-to-face, online, and blended) to foster interactions that support the kinds of outcomes we care about?

The research team brings together individuals with varying interests and areas of expertise, including learning sciences, human-computer interaction, youth mentorship, and professional development. DYN research also frequently collaborates with distributed colleagues who contribute their expertise and focus to this work.

Broadening Participation in Computing through a Community Approach to Learning

Learning occurs in many different spaces, including museums, afterschool programs, churches, and home. The learning ecologies—the set of environments and social supports within those environments—that youth have access to have important implications on the interests, expertise, and ultimately the identities that young people adopt. When it comes to women, people of color, and youth from low-income households, research suggests that barriers—costs, location, program composition, stereotypes, and reduced visibility of learning opportunities—exist that prevent these youth from accessing computational learning opportunities. The Chicago City of Learning (CCOL) initiative is specifically designed to provide all Chicago youth with an opportunity to expand their learning ecologies. Through a partnership between the city of Chicago, the Digital Youth Network, and over 130 youth-serving organizations, local youth are connected with informal STEAM learning opportunities across the city. These citywide opportunities include online challenges, community showcase opportunities, and youth-focused face-to-face and blended programs. The content available to youth ranges from computer programming and video game design to making and e-textiles.

Qualitative work has pointed to social networks as a driving force for accessing and participating in computing communities. To foster these social networks and learning opportunities for underrepresented youth in Chicago, we are working with local organizations to create a computational making pathway in CCOL. This pathway is a cultivated network of mentors, peer groups, face-to-face and blended programs, online challenges, special opportunities, and showcase events that focus on 1) cultivating youth’s interests in computational making and 2) providing avenues for long term engagement and possible career opportunities. The pathway is being designed to be highly visible and desirable to youth. Through a design-based research approach that is informed by learning analytics and GIS mapping of participation, we seek to uncover factors that influence the participation, engagement and learning of youth around computational making, and use these principles to iterate on the design of the pathway.

Developing frameworks, tools, and social practices to support effective instructor use of online social learning networks in blended learning models 

In this work, we use the existing robust ecology of DYN to conduct design research in learning environments that are making use of networked technologies and online spaces. The goal of the work is to design supports for online educator-learner interactions. We are working with six focal educators across school and after school programs using Remix with both middle and high school students, from content ranging from e-fashion to world history. This multi-year study is organized around four primary research questions to better understand sociotechnical systems to support blended learning: (1) What types and patterns of online interactions create opportunities for and evidence of learning across multiple levels of analysis, including teachers, students, and community? (2) How can we design online social learning networks that support generative interactions that lead to learning outcomes? (3) What kinds of analysis and representations of online data can best be used by both practitioners and researchers to inform understanding of interactions within online social learning networks? (4) How can we support practitioners in effectively using the affordances of sociotechnical systems to creating learning ecosystems that develop students’ digital literacies? This work is supported by an NSF Cyberlearning grant.

Exploring learning, participation, and mentorship in the Chicago Summer of Learning (CSOL) 2013

Chicago Summer of Learning, 2013
In the summer of 2013, the City of Chicago embarked upon a highly innovative 12-week initiative in collaboration with youth-serving organizations throughout the city to increase youth participation in and access to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) learning opportunities over the summer months. The DYN Remix platform hosted deep online learning pathways for content areas such as circuitry and fashion, introductory programming, and app creation, and DYN initiated a face-to-face summer CSOL program called Digital Divas with 38 urban middle school girls where they worked through computational pathways in Remix. The research is able to go deeper to understand the 38 participants from the Divas program, using both online participation data and adult mentor reflections and student archives. This work is designed to find out more about youth progress in an online system designed to foster self-paced work, incentives for participation, distributed mentorship (online, face-to-face, and blended), and how to look at learning outcomes or other indicators of success from online use data from a short term voluntary program. Exploratory findings are directly influencing the design of the larger-scale effort Cities of Learning 2014, in Chicago and other cities in the US. This work is sponsored by an NSF RAPID PRIME grant.

Identifying educator roles that support students in online environments
Potential generative outcomes of participation in online learning communities have been documented, alongside inequities in terms of who is participating. We analyzed four months of  online participation and interactions of six adult educators and their students in a blended school-day and online ELA unit. The student participants were middle school urban youth from an underserved primarily Latino/a community. This analysis looked specifically at the types and frequencies of adult-to-student actions within the online environment. The result of this work is the Online Learning Support Roles (OLSR) framework, a blended, multi-level approach to identify and explore online educator roles to support learning and participation. We define eleven roles played by educators, using as our starting point the parent roles to support child technology learning developed by Barron, et al, 2009.

Cultivating Digital Citizenship and Creative Production at Renaissance Academy

A collaborative multi-site research team carried out a longitudinal, multi-method study in order to document the dynamic DYN environment at one school on the south side of Chicago and to describe how learners benefited from participating. This work was intended to look at the outcomes and also to highlight the practices that were intentionally designed and emergent that made these sorts of outcomes possible. The work specifically set out to address issues of equitable opportunities and fostering learning across settings. Strategies included team ethnography (observation, documentation, and analysis of school day, after school, and online environments in addition to ongoing educator professional development sessions), collection of quantitative metrics of access, interests, expertise, and experiences over time for one student cohort (sixth through eighth grade) and comparative data from Silicon Valley eighth grade students, constructing technobiographies of 16 focal case students from the cohort, including visualizations of focal learners unfolding learning pathways over time and across settings, and ongoing communication and collaboration with DYN designers, educators, and mentors. This work was supported by the MacArthur Foundation and NSF LIFE (Learning in Formal and Informal Environments) Center.

Nacu, D., Martin, C.K., Pinkard, N. and Sandherr, J. (2015). Encouraging Online Contributions in Underrepresented Populations. Accepted for presentation and proceedings publication: RESPECT (Research in Equity and Sustained Participation in Engineering, Computing, and Technology) conference, Charlotte, NC, August 13-14, 2015.

Roberson, A., Martin, C.K., Erete, S., Pinkard, N. (2015). Flip the switch: Generating girls’ interest in STEM through e-fashion. Presentation at International Society for Technology in Education, June 28-July 1, 2015.

Sandherr, J., Martin, C.K., Nacu, D., Pinkard, N. (2015). Challenge Your Students: Building Self-Paced Learning Experiences. Presentation at International Society for Technology in Education, June 28-July 1, 2015.

Martin, C. & Nacu, D. (2015). Intentional and Inclusive Design to Create Social-Technical Learning Systems. Symposium at Digital Media and Learning Conference, Los Angeles, CA, June 11-13, 2015.

Nacu, D., Martin, C.K., Pinkard, N., Sandherr, J. (2015). Promoting online Latino youth voice through collaborative design. In C.K. Martin and D. Nacu (Organizers), Intentional and Inclusive Design to Create Social-Technical Learning Systems. Symposium at Digital Media and Learning Conference, Los Angeles, CA, June 11-13, 2015.

Martin, C.K., Nacu, D., Pinkard, N., Acholonu, U. (2014). Using a Networked Community to Support Equitable Access to Computational Learning: The Digital Divas. SIG-Learning Sciences Poster Session at American Educational Research Association Conference, April 16-20, 2015.

Barron, B., Gomez, K., Pinkard, N., & Martin, C.K. (in press). The Digital Youth Network: Cultivating Digital Media Citizenship in Urban Communities. Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Sandherr, J., Roberson, A., Martin, C.K., Nacu, D., Acholonu, U. (2014). Distributed Mentorship: Increasing and Diversifying Youth Access to Learning Networks. Panel at the 6th annual Digital Media and Learning Conference, Boston, MA, March 7 – 9, 2014.

Larson, K., Ito, M., Brown, E., Hawkins, M., Pinkard, N., & Sebring, P. (2013). Safe Space and Shared Interests: YOUmedia Chicago as a Laboratory for Connected Learning. Digital Media + Learning Research Hub.

Martin, C.K., Nacu, D., Pinkard, N., & Gray, T. (2013) Educator roles that support students in online environments. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, Madison, WI, June 2013.

Levinson, A, Stringer, D., Matthews, J., Hutton, M., Rogers, M. (2012). Digital Media and Gender: Women and Girls Engaging with Technology. Symposium at the 4th annual Digital Media and Learning Conference, San Francisco, CA, March 1 – 3, 2012.

Nacu, D., Pinkard, N, Schmidt, R., Larson, K. (2012, March) Remixing iRemix: Data Visualizations to Understand Learning and Development in Online Social Learning Networks. Presentation at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, San Francisco, CA, March 1 – 3, 2012.

Richards, K.A. & Gomez, K. (2011). Participant understandings of the affordances of RemixWorld. International Journal of Learning and Media 2(2-3), 101-21.

Zywica, J., Richards, K.A., & Gomez, K. (2011). Affordances of a scaffolded-social learning network. On the Horizon, 19(1), 33-42.

Martin, C. K. & Barron, B. (2009, June). Learning to collaborate through multimedia composing. Part of the Repertoires of Collaborative Practice symposium. In C. O’Malley, D. Suthers, P. Reimann, & A. Dimitracopoulou (Eds.), Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Practices: CSCL 2009 Conference Proceedings (pp. 25-27). New Brunswick, NJ: International Society of the Learning Sciences (ISLS).

Martin, C.K. and Barron, B. (2009). The pursuit of computational thinking: Gender patterns throughout middle school. In the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) 2009 Conference Proceedings. Amsterdam, Netherlands: August, 2009.

Martin, C.K,, Barron, B., Austin, K. and Pinkard, N. (2009). A Culture of Sharing: A Look at Identity Development Through the Creation and Presentation of Digital Media Projects. Presentation at the International Conference on Computer-Supported Education (Lisbon, Portugal) March, 2009.

Austin, K. (2008). “Fostering 21st Century Skills: Tool-Based Instructional Change.”

Austin, K. (2008). Establishing and Negotiating Teaching and Mentoring in an Informal Setting. International Conferences on Learning Sciences, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June, 2008.

Gomez, K, Austin, K, Zywica, J, Hooper, P, Pinkard, N. (2008). Instructional Environments Designed to Increase Quality of Access to Technology and Expertise in the New Social Futures. American Education Research Association Annual Conference (New York City, NY) March.

Gray, T., Pinkard, N., Gomez, K. & Richards, K. (2008). Developing instructional practices of mentors through the creation of professional learning communities. American Educational Research Association Annual Conference (New York City, NY) March.

Pinkard, N., Barron, B. Martin, C. K., Rogers, M., Gomez, K., Zywica, J. (2008). Media Arts Program: Fusing School and After-School Contexts to Develop Youth’s New Media Literacies (2008). In Proceedings of the 8th international conference on International Conference for the Learning Sciences, 3. Utrecht, NL.

The Digital Youth Network: Cultivating Digital Media Citizenship in Urban Communities

Available now from MIT Press. amazon button.


The popular image of the “digital native”—usually depicted as a technically savvy and digitally empowered teen—is based on the assumption that all young people are equally equipped to become innovators and entrepreneurs. Yet young people in low-income communities often lack access to the learning opportunities, tools, and collaborators (at school and elsewhere) that help digital natives develop the necessary expertise. This book describes one approach to address this disparity: the Digital Youth Network (DYN), an ambitious project to help economically disadvantaged middle-school students in Chicago develop technical, creative, and analytical skills across a learning ecology that spans school, community, home, and online.

The book reports findings from a pioneering mixed-method three-year study of DYN and how it nurtured imaginative production, expertise with digital media tools, and the propensity to share these creative capacities with others. Through DYN, students, despite differing interests and identities—the gamer, the poet, the activist—were able to find some aspect of DYN that engaged them individually and connected them to one another. Finally, the authors offer generative suggestions for designers of similar informal learning spaces.


“If we are going to reach minority kids in our schools, we need to empower them to be creative and thoughtful, much as the Digital Youth Network is doing. Their research demonstrates how it is possible to measure student growth in creativity and engagement that standardized tests ignore. The book shows the way to transforming education in America.” —Allan Collins, Professor Emeritus of Learning Sciences, Northwestern University, and co-author of Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America

“So rarely are we offered the opportunity to really learn from the development of innovative educational youth program. Through careful observation and thoughtful analysis, this book reports on an unprecedented collaboration between mixed method researchers, program designers, and educators,  demonstrating  research and practice brought together in service of improving the life opportunities of underserved youth. It is a must-read for learning scientists, educators, media artists, technology makers, and anyone who cares about making a difference in today’s pressing problems of educational inequity.” —Mizuko Ito, Professor in Residence, University of California Humanities Research Institute, and author of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media

“A rare book, informed by rigorous research, written with clarity and verve, and filled with concrete insights and tools that educators in a range of settings can use right away to put digital literacy to work for youth.” —Elisabeth Soep, Youth Radio, co-author of Drop That Knowledge, co-editor of Youthscapes

Ryoo, J. J. Book Review: The Digital Youth Network: Cultivating Digital Citizenship in Urban Communities. In Urban Education, September 2013, 48: 759-764.



Empowering Youth Through Media Production and Critique

 Our pods are production oriented, meaning students learn these new skills through the process of creating. Our mentors have developed scaffolded-learning experiences that allow students to learn the basics or choose to become experts in any medium over time.

Current Program / Fashion
DYN Studio
Current Program / Poetry / Design
Past Program
Past Program / Game
Past Program / Film
Past Program / Writing

Facilitate the ability to become creators, designers, builders & innovators




iRemix is a cloud-based social learning platform available to schools and organizations seeking to safely connect youth with extended learning and mentorship opportunities. Create your own customized private social learning network that is completely controlled by you.

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ExploreChi is a space for youth to build new skills and discover new interests. Users can take on media production challenges at their own pace, get feedback from expert mentors and earn badges to represent the media skills they’re developing.

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CurateIt is an online gallery & learning tool designed in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, Little Black Pearl & Yollacalli Arts Reach.

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Spokes is a tool for growing from a consumer into a media producer. Build shelves of your favorites & create original media in response.

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Social discovery tool empowering youth to find and participate in new learning activities in their city.

Experience Discovery (xDisc) is a social discovery tool empowering youth to find, share and engage in new learning opportunities across the city. xDisc goes beyond simply presenting a list of programs to users, it builds on their interests and social connections to suggest new pathways of participation.

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Envision new possibilities


We all can relate. Working so hard, with nose to grindstone, failing to stop to take in the work, or smell the roses, as it were. That’s how it was for us here at Digital Youth Network, then one September Saturday afternoon we found ourselves wading and weaving through 1200 youth and families who reflected every diversity of our great city and who were excitedly engaged in making “stuff”, connecting with each other, and reveling in the talent of Chicago’s youth.

That’s when we had to stop and say to ourselves – “What we have achieved here is amazing!”. That moment of awe turned into something greater – a consideration of our history and all of the amazing people and organizations that have made Chicago City of Learning what it is.


YouTube / Chicago City of Learning – via Iframely

A Snapshot of the Chicago City of Learning Back to School Jam, September 19, 2015 (Chicago Art Department).

In the summer of 2013, the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s office did something that no other city had done before – connected its learning opportunities through an initiative called Chicago Summer of Learning. With funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and largely “powered by” a Mozilla Foundation platform, Chicago Summer of Learning made the programs of hundreds of organizations easy to find online and the achievements of youth easy to identify via digital badges. That summer, thousands upon thousands of the youth who engaged in programs earned badges that indicated their participation and skill development. The Chicago Summer of Learning initiative was deemed a success.

The Evolution of Chicago “Summer” of Learning

It quickly became clear that this “initiative” was actually an “infrastructure” – an infrastructure for a connected learning ecosystem. Enter Digital Youth Network (DYN).  Our youth-centered, DePaul University-based organization has been an engine for learning innovation in Chicago for the past 12 years, with the support of the MacArthur Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

DYN was borne from a question that challenged Dr. Nichole Pinkard, now a professor at DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media and head of its Design School. That single question, “How do we address the digital literacy divide that Chicago’s South Side youth face?” led not only to more questions, but to action and “intervention”, propelling DYN from working in the after-school space, to collaborating in formal school spaces, to innovating in library spaces, including our co-design of the now-national YouMedia model.

As Chicago Summer of Learning evolved into the year-round Chicago City of Learning (CCOL), DYN stepped up to lead and facilitate the work involved in building a robust city-wide infrastructure designed to address the opportunity gap that exists between more- and less-resourced youth. Such an infrastructure might be powered by a technical platformand we built one based upon our expertise in creating our own social learning network – iRemix. But a truly robust learning ecosystem infrastructure is powered through the dynamic interplay of several critical components that together, in addition to the platform, serve to make visible and connect learning opportunities for youth across spaces and places.

A Network of Youth-Serving Organizations

The first critical component of a thriving learning ecosystem is a community of youth-serving organizations. Our 100+ CCOL organization partners are the key to Chicago City of Learning’s success so far. They include numerous small neighborhood-based organizations, as well as our big city agencies and many of Chicago’s museums and cultural institutions. As a collective, they share a mission to support the positive development of youth across a broad age span, and therefore quickly “get” the need to make their opportunities more visible and accessible.

In the Fall of 2013, we asked our CCOL partners to imagine Chicago as a college campus, and their programs as the available “courses.” In small groups, they made connections between each individual organization’s “course offerings”, forming unique “departments” that our youth could “major” in, like “Civic Leadership and Community Development” and “Green Studies.” Our partners were abuzz with the vision of Chicago’s youth traversing the city, exploring their passions, and building an interest-based “transcript.” That day, we, this network of youth-serving organizations, dubbed ourselves “Chi-Y.O.U.” – Chicago’s Youth Owned University.

A Common Language: The DYN Badge Framework

It’s not enough to have youth-serving organizations in the same room – they have to begin to speak the same language. In Chicago City of Learning, we use digital badges, to “translate” youth experiences and achievements into a “language” that can be used across formal and informal spaces. The DYN badge framework provides the basic units of that shared language – enabling organizations, and schools, to identify and recognize youth achievements in the same way across different experiences. The badge framework identifies important dispositions, skills, and knowledge sets demonstrated by learners in the context of their experiences. It also recognizes when youth showcase those abilities to a broader audience.

Digital badges are terrific tools – an efficient way to share a wealth of data, including evidential artifacts, about learning. However, because they were still a shiny new toy, we found that they often became the focus, and could be a distraction from the learning that they represented. So, DYN developed a 12-hour badge design process that led with learning in two important ways. First, we firmly grounded our professional development and the Chicago City of Learning work in the values and principles of connected learning.

YouTube / Chicago City of Learning – via Iframely

Chicago Art Department developed a series of Connected Learning videos for DYN’s CCOL training series; this one highlights the design principle of “Openly Networked”.

Second, in the badge design process itself we required organizations to unpack their programs, starting first by calling out their targeted learning outcomes and thinking about the ways in which youth demonstrated those outcomes. Only after such deconstruction did we delve into the badge framework, with organizations identifying the types of badges that best fit the kinds of evidence of learning that they gather and assess as youth participate. Many organizations have told us that this process, while lengthy, not only helps them better articulate their program goals, but also gives them a chance to reflect on and question the focus and efficacy of their work.

In 2014, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Pittsburgh followed Chicago’s lead and implemented their own Summers of Learning. Washington, D.C. joined in 2015. We shared our badge framework and training approach with our colleagues, resulting in a shared national framework and approach. We envision a future in which a Chicago youth shares select disposition and skill badges from her digital backpack on her Howard University application, and the admissions officer knows exactly how to “read” them, because of the strength of the learning ecosystem that District of Learning has built.

Pathways to Opportunities: Equity by Design

We all know that “if you build it”, they won’t necessarily come! We also know that if what you build is situated in a societal context that has not changed structurally, then those who are less resourced are least likely to find “it” and reap its benefits. In order to achieve equity within a robust learning ecosystem, one must do so “by design”.

At DYN, our team has developed a conceptual framework for designing learning pathways. This research-informed framework proposes that issues of identity, social capital, and equity are central and critical to the design of pathways that enable youth to pursue their interests into the future. These pathways must affirm new possible futures by supporting youth’s development of specific dispositions, knowledge, and skills; by connecting youth to socially networked peers and mentors; and by providing youth with special opportunities that translate into the social and cultural capital that they need to access pathways to college and career. Within the context of Chicago City of Learning, we have co-designed, with several writing organization, a pathway to support youth interest in writing, which has begun to be taken up by teachers in classrooms.

YouTube / inPOINTS – via Iframely

Chicago City of Learning’s Young Author Playlist unlocks a special opportunity for 5 Chicago youth (Chicago Art Department).

And this year, for the first time, we were able to connect youth to pathways to employment through our role in the 100K Opportunities Initiative, which held its launch event in Chicago. The historical data that CCOL holds enabled us to identify and refer 2100 youth to the 100K application and hiring process based on the badges that they had earned during their 2014 One Summer Chicago jobs. These badges, earned by reporting to work 100% or 80% of the time, were evidence of the reliability that employers seek from entry-level employees. This was the first time that we were able to make a connection between badge-earning and pathways to jobs!

YouTube / Chicago City of Learning – via Iframely

Highlights from the 100K Opportunities Youth Fair and Forum (Chicago Art Department).

Learning pathways are critical components of robust learning ecosystems – those that are constructed intentionally to make visible the way forward, those that emerge as youth pursue their interests and discover their passions, as well as those that youth design for themselves. Our work to build equitable pathways for youth within the Chicago City of Learning ecosystem has revealed the challenges inherent in designing for equity. And while we are inspired and energized by the paths that the youth who have connected to CCOL are blazing into the future, there is still much to be learned.

Data-Informed Action and Intervention

So, we have a platform that powers the infrastructure; we have a community of partner organizations whose offerings “populate” the learning ecosystem; we have digital badges that make more visible both the achievements and achievement patterns of youth; and we have frameworks and tools for identifying and designing interest-based pathways for youth to pursue toward college and career. These components are the makings of a robust, city-wide learning ecosystem, and this system generates a host of data that can, and should, create feedback loops that inform ongoing planning, action, and “intervention”.

As CCOL enters its 3rd year, we are at that “tipping point”, where there are enough data available, and enough reliable data, to inform action and even intervention. Just this past summer, we used data to examine the types of programs that were being offered across the city, with a special interest in computer science, a field that in which youth of color and girls are woefully under-represented (and one in which DYN holds specific expertise and resources). CCOL data indicated that the “coding and games” offerings (the dark blue part of the pinwheels in the graphic below) were fairly scarce, more likely to be downtown, and likely to be cost-prohibitive for lower income families.

Chicago program offerings by category and zip code.

We knew that these were data that we could act on. We couldn’t create programs in every neighborhood that was lacking them, but we could bring programs to neighborhoods across the city. We went mobile! With the support of Best Buy and in partnership with a community church, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Public Library, we rented (and bedazzled) a van and equipped it with trained digital mentors, laptops, and Wi-Fi. Our van visited South Shore, Garfield Park, and Chinatown – all neighborhoods with a wealth of programming, but scarce computer science opportunities. Our van also popped up in parks and events, enabling youth to “get connected” to our online offerings and hands-on making.

YouTube / inPOINTS – via Iframely

The CCOL Destination: Chicago Van “pops up” at La Villita Park (Chicago Art Department).

Building a City’s Learning Ecosystem

We are beginning to see how designing an equity-centric, robust learning ecosystem can make a city smarter – maximizing its abundant resources toward the education and development of all of its children. As the steward of Chicago City of Learning, DYN has had the privilege to partner with dedicated individuals from the city’s great community-based organizations, youth-serving agencies, schools, and cultural institutions. We all share a mission to connect youth to robust learning experiences that enhance and support their paths to exploring their interests, discovering their talents, and charting a course, enriched by formal and informal learning, to college and career. In Chicago, this has been a collaborative and collective process. Together, we built this City of Learning.


Program Founder, Associate Professor DePaul University, College of CDM
Co-Founder + Director of Digital Strategy & Development
Director of Operations & Professional Development
Learning Pathways Program Director
Lead Researcher
Lead Developer
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Curriculum Developer - Badge Pathways Program
Research Associate
Educational Designer
Project Coordinator Chicago City of Learning
User Experience Researcher



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