Digital Badges for STEM Education
This National Science Foundation Early Career Development project investigates how networked technologies can be leveraged to develop learners’ STEM identities and connect their STEM learning across informal and formal contexts. We are developing and implementing a digital badge system to recognize and reward the skills and achievements of a diverse group of high school students participating in a science-based afterschool program at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center. This work aims to develop strong STEM identities among students who are currently underrepresented in STEM subject areas and encourage these students to pursue future STEM learning and career opportunities. The research findings will be used to develop educational outreach initiatives, distributed widely, to support other formal and informal learning institutions in their use of digital badges to support STEM learning. Read more about our work on our project website.
Project ConnectedLib teams faculty members from the library and information science (LIS) schools at the University of Washington and University of Maryland and public library partners to build public librarians’ capacity to incorporate digital media into their work with youth to promote connections across their learning contexts. The public library partners are Providence Public Library, Seattle Public Library, and Kitsap Regional Library. Each of these library systems serves a variety of traditionally underserved youth populations, including rural, immigrant, and low-income youth. We will develop, implement, and evaluate customizable professional development resources that support librarians from a broad range of public libraries in their efforts to leverage new media technologies and promote youth’s connected learning experiences in libraries. We will disseminate the toolkit widely to libraries serving diverse youth across the country. Read more about our work on our project website.
NatureCollections: Can a Mobile App Connect Kids with Nature?
A mobile app may seem an unlikely candidate for getting kids outside and changing their relationships with nature. That is, however, exactly what we are doing with this project. NatureCollections harnesses kids’ enthusiasm for technology to re-connect them to the outdoors and spark their feelings of connection to nature. The NatureCollections app engages elementary school children in an exploration of the natural world. Leveraging children’s love for collecting things (stickers, baseball cards, shells, etc.), NatureCollections lets them take pictures of nature, identify what they find, and share and curate their photos in categories such as plants, birds, and landscapes. We are currently evaluating the effectiveness of the app at getting kids outside, and the role of nature exploration in affecting connectedness to and fascination with nature. Read more about our work on our project website.
Investigating Digital Badges in After-School Settings
Digital badges are given as an award for an achievement or work accomplished. Common in video games and on social network sites, badges serve as a visible accomplishment and are shared with a larger online community that could include teachers and peer communities. But do they measurably increase learning outcomes and inspire students to strive for success? The purpose of the study was to look at whether digital badges and badging systems successfully motivate learning in afterschool settings serving high school students. We explored how students and educators engage with and experience badges, looking in particular at motivation levels, learning pathways, the availability of novice to expert trajectories, and any implementation challenges faced. We also explored how badging systems fit into the broader public school framework, with specific attention given to how the Common Core standards were integrated and assessed.
Impact of Gamification in a Classroom Setting
Gamification has quickly become a buzzword in education, engendering a range of hopes and fears around introducing gaming elements (e.g. leaderboards, badges, points) into formal learning environments. In fact, there’s even a school designed entirely around games and game culture. Despite the recent flurry of activity and speculation about gamification in education, we know little about whether introducing gamified activities promotes or undermines students’ learning and motivation. This research project seeks to fill this gap in knowledge by investigating students’ experiences in a gamified informatics course taught at the University of Washington’s Information School. Our research team is exploring the extent to which gamification influences undergraduate students’ engagement in the course material and ideas, and whether it contributes to their learning and achievement. We seek to identify design opportunities for enhancing the learning experience in future iterations of the course, as well as in gamified courses more generally.
Informal Learning in Online Fan Communities
This project explores the learning that takes place in online fan communities, with a particular focus on the skills youth develop through their fan-based activities; the roles that identity, motivation, and emotion play in young people’s informal learning online; and the novice to expert trajectories made available in different online fan communities. Our research group examined each of these areas of inquiry through an ethnographic investigation of online fan communities currently popular among U.S. teens and content analyses of 4,500 fan fiction reviews. We are currently using visual analytics techniques to explore the corpus of data on Fanfiction.net, the world’s largest repository of fanfiction.
Bullying in a Networked Era
The American Academy of Pediatrics has identified bullying as a serious health risk for adolescents. In today’s age of social media and smartphones, this health risk has taken on new forms and extended its reach. While traditional forms of bullying have been steadily decreasing over the course of the last two decades, cyberbullying has emerged as a major concern among parents, teachers, and other professionals working with young people. Because cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon, it is not yet clear what strategies educators should adopt to stem its rise. Our research seeks to provide knowledge of youth’s lived experiences of cyberbullying, the coping strategies they employ, and the key risk and protective factors associated with both bullying perpetration and victimization. Recent and ongoing studies include content analyses of comments from a 2013 viral blog post about cyberbullying in which over 2,000 people shared their personal stories of bullying and coping, and analyses of survey data from 2,079 students in grades 8-12 investigating the risk and protective factors associated with cyberbullying victimization among adolescents. Through this research, we aim to inform efforts to reduce the prevalence of and negative consequences associated with cyberbullying among adolescents.
Music as a Catalyst for STEM Education
How can the appeal of Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering (STEM) be broadened in a culturally sensitive yet rigorous way? This project investigates contexts and mechanisms through which the “universal language” of music may help improve students’ interest in and knowledge of STEM. As a starting point, music’s potential as a “hook” and mnemonic device generally goes unexploited in middle school and beyond. We are quantifying this potential in studies conducted at STEM outreach events throughout Washington state. In related work, we are researching longer-term opportunities for students to create original music as a means of personalizing and synthesizing STEM content. While the logistics of such opportunities are challenging, our hypothesis is that students who forge creative connections between STEM and music will experience profound growth in both disciplines. This latter work is being conducted through retrospective analysis of past science/music projects and through piloting of new science/music courses.
New Media in the Lives of Bermuda’s Youth
The purpose of the study was to investigate adolescents’ sense of identity and the role that parents, friends, and digital media technologies play in the construction of the self. A questionnaire was administered to a sample of 2,079 adolescents (57% female) between the ages of 11 and 19 years (M = 15.4 years) attending grades 8-12 in public and private schools in Bermuda. The qualitative portion of the study consisted of in-depth interviews with a purposefully selected sub-sample of 32 of these respondents.
The findings suggest that adolescents’ digital media use may either enhance or diminish their interpersonal and intrapersonal experiences depending on their use. For example, going online to express and explore different aspects of one’s identity had a negative impact on self-concept clarity, partly as a result of the negative impact of online identity exploration on friendship quality. In contrast, going online to communicate with one’s friends enhanced self-concept clarity through its positive effect on friendship quality.