Several weeks ago, I paused to reflect on what Chicago City of Learning has become over the span of just 2 short years (it’s still hard to believe). And just two weeks ago, in the company of over 100 friends – #StateofCCOL! – we had the privilege of celebrating the collective gains that we have made in this movement to build an infrastructure for connected learning among those who touch the lives of Chicago’s youth.
Partners at the annual State of Chicago City of Learning meeting
One thing made clear in the lovely room at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, in and of itself, was how critically central a network of youth-serving organizations is to the development and sustainability of a living, breathing connected learning ecosystem. Because of the commitment and partnership of the 150+ organizations who have joined us and joined together to make their program opportunities visible on our site and articulate their program outcomes using digital badges, our learning ecosystem thrives in our great city.
A map of where programs in Chicago City of Learning are located
But this ecosystem work is not about each organization “representing” itself and its youth’s achievements. Rather, it is about the potential energy generated by the inter-connectedness across organizations. By definition, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms interacting as a system. And while the first step in building a connected learning ecosystem is to establish the community – to identify and convene the “organisms”, as it were – a connected learning ecosystem’s life-sustaining power and vibrancy is the result of the dynamic ways in which its organizations continuously organize, connect, and exchange.
Chicago City of Learning partners’ connections to the work
This is what was so exciting about our 2nd annual State of Chicago City Of Learning meeting last week. Our community conversations were replete with “eco-speak”, as these thoughts shared out by tables indicate:
“access to the entire city”
“bringing organizations together in an open sharing environment”
“collaborative, not competitive”
“sharing other organizations’ opportunities with students”
“connecting private and public organizations”
“creating pathways to other opportunities (jobs, scholarships)”
These connections to the work harken back to the moniker we gave ourselves two years ago, when we envisioned what it would look like to turn Chicago into a “campus of learning” for our youth. “Chi-Y.O.U.” – Chicago’s Youth Owned University – represented our hopes and dreams for what we, working together, might provide the city’s young people – a system designed for their pursuit of interests within and across all of our program offerings.
The digital badge that Chicago City of Learning partners earn after completing our first professional development series
Our treasured, inspired, and inspiring community of youth-serving organizations is the heartbeat of the connected learning ecosystem that we have built here in Chicago. And the data that we are beginning to examine together are enabling us to better organize, more intentionally connect, and deliberately partner in ways that facilitate youth in accessing and, ultimately, crafting pathways to opportunity.