Planning a design-based implementation research agenda to investigate digital badges as transformative assessment in informal science learning
Young people's participation in informal STEM learning activities can contribute to their academic and career achievements, but these connections are infrequently explicitly recognized or cultivated. More systemic approaches to STEM education could allow for students' experiences of formal and informal STEM learning to be aligned, coordinated, and supported across learning contexts. This Science Learning+ planning project brings together stakeholders in two digital badge systems--one in the US and one in the UK--to plan for a study to identify the specific structural features of the systems that may allow for the alignment of learning objectives across institutions. Digital badge systems may offer an inventive solution to the challenge of connecting and building on youth's STEM-related experiences in multiple learning contexts. When part of a defined system, badges could be used to represent and communicate evidence of individual learning, as well as provide youth and educators with evidence-supported indicators for other activities in the system that might be interesting or valuable. Properly designed and supported badge systems could transmit critical information within a network of informal STEM programs and schools that (1) recognize context-dependent, interest-driven learning and (2) provide opportunities to explore those interests across multiple settings. This project advances the field of informal STEM learning in two ways. First, the project documents and analyzes the processes by which two small groups of informal science education organizations and schools negotiate the meaning and value of badges, as proxies for learning objectives, and how they decide to recognize badges awarded by other institutions. This process builds capacity within the target systems while also beginning to identify the institutional, cultural, and material capacity issues that facilitate or constrain the alignment process. Second, the project conducts a pilot study with a small number of youth in the US and UK to investigate factors associated with an individual youth's likelihood of: a) identifying badges of interest; b) connecting the activities of various badge systems to each other and to non-badging institutions, such as school or industry; c) determining which badges to pursue; and d) persisting in a particular badge pathway. Findings from this pilot study will help identify institution- and individual-level factors that might be associated with advancing student interest and progression in STEM fields. Deepening and validating the understanding of those factors and their relative impact on student experiences and outcomes will be the focus of investigations in future studies.
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