CAREER: Digital Badges for STEM Education: Designing Networked Learning Environments That Promote High School Students’ STEM Identities and Learning Trajectories

May 1st, 2015 - April 30th, 2020 | PROJECT

The digital revolution has transformed how young people discover and pursue their interests; how they communicate with and learn from other people; and how they encounter and learn about the world around them. How can we identify best practices for incorporating new media technologies into learning environments in a way that resonates with youth, including their interests, goals, and the ways they use technology in their everyday lives? How do we resolve the need to document and recognize informal STEM learning and connect it to formal education contexts? What strategies can be developed for inspiring and tracking student progress towards the learning goals outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)? These questions are the underlying motivation for this CAREER program of research. Digital badges represent a specific kind of networked technology and have been touted as an alternative credentialing system for recognizing and rewarding learning across domains, both inside and outside of formal education contexts. While there is considerable enthusiasm and speculation around the use of digital badges, the extent to which they succeed at empowering learners and connecting their learning across contexts remains largely untested. This project seeks to fill this gap in knowledge. The approach taken for this program of study is a three phased design-based research effort that will be focused on four objectives: (1) identifying design principles and support structures needed to develop and implement a digital badge system that recognizes informal STEM learning; (2) documenting the opportunities and challenges associated with building a digital badge ecosystem that connects informal learning contexts to formal education and employment opportunities; (3) determining whether and how digital badges support learners' STEM identities; and (4) determining whether and how digital badges help learners to connect their informal STEM learning to formal education and employment opportunities. In Phase 1, an existing prototype created in prior work at Seattle's Pacific Science Center will be developed into a fully functional digital badge system. In Phase 2, the PI will also work collaboratively with higher education stakeholders to establish formal mechanisms for recognizing Pacific Science Center badges in higher education contexts. In Phase 3, the badge ecosystem will be expanded and students' use of and engagement with badges will be tracked as they apply to and enter college. The project involves high school students participating in the Discovery Corps program at the Pacific Science Center, undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Washington, and stakeholders in the K-12 and higher education community in Seattle. Educational activities integrated with this program of research will support: (1) mentoring University of Washington students throughout the project to develop their skills as practice-oriented researchers; (2) incorporating the research processes and findings from the project into university courses aimed at developing students' understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with using new media technologies to support learning; and (3) using the research findings to develop educational outreach initiatives to support other informal STEM learning institutions in their use of digital badges.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Team Members

Katie Davis, Principal Investigator, University of Washington


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: ISE/AISL
Award Number: 1452672
Funding Amount: 169811


Audience: Educators | Teachers | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Undergraduate | Graduate Students | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Higher Education Programs | Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Media and Technology | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Public Programs | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media