Penn State to build digital education credentials for NASA

Press Release From: Pennsylvania State University
Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Penn State will be receiving a $500,000 subcontract from Texas State University, the recipient of a larger grant from NASA to provide professional development for teachers using NASA-related science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content. Based on its success leading the NASA Aerospace Education Services Project, Penn State will contribute by building and developing a digital badge system.

“We’re very excited to help Texas State University provide personalized professional development for educators in this country,” said Kyle Peck, professor of education and co-director of the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL). “Penn State has been working with digital badges for about a year and a half now, so we knew we could provide value to this project.”

Peck will work alongside Teaching and Learning with Technology  (TLT) to develop the digital badging system, which will enable teachers to pick and choose from many topics and themes to customize their professional development -- a relevant form of professional development a la carte.

“By putting modern technology to work for teachers,” said Peck, “the badging system will be an effective and efficient way to reach more teachers in need of quality professional development with more relevant activities at a lower cost.”

Peck compares the system to -- teachers can search for exactly the type of badge they’re interested in.

A science teacher could, for example, earn a series of digital badges related to teaching students about the solar system. An engineering teacher could learn more about bringing engineering into the middle and high school curricula. Each badge requires successful completion of a number of tasks or requirements, and the teacher’s work is reviewed before the badges are awarded.

Teachers also have the choice between earning stamps or badges. Stamps -- somewhat less prestigious -- look like beautifully designed passport stamps, while badges, which take a bit more work to earn, look like embroidered scout badges. Click on either and you’re taken to a Web page detailing the tasks needed to earn it.

Once a stamp or badge is chosen, the user adds it to an itinerary. The user can then write and post updates in a log as each task is completed. After the required tasks are completed, the user submits the log for review. The log will be reviewed, feedback will be provided, and once the work is approved the user will be able to see the stamps and badges earned.

“Teachers can also print out certificates of accomplishment after earning badges -- for example, if a teacher wanted to show their principal,” said Peck. “They can also compile reports to show which badges they’ve earned, hours it took to complete, feedback and other useful information.”

A prototype of the system has been built outside the University, and TLT has been tasked with creating a system infrastructure here at Penn State onto which the existing badge content can be transferred. TLT will also support the creation, review and distribution of new badges.

It’s a task for which they’re well prepared. A group in the unit -- including Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student and instructional designer in the College of Information Sciences and Technology -- has been working with TLT for the past 18 months on a Penn State digital badging system called the Lifelong Learning Landscape. The experience has given them the background and software base necessary to take on the project for NASA.

“Now we’re building on that work with this grant from NASA,” said Brad Kozlek, director of TLT Studio. “By supporting the research related to technological innovations in education, we will then be able to build upon the outcomes to improve the education experience at Penn State.”

Ultimately, Peck said the goal is for the system to be available for as many as 250,000 teachers across the U.S.

“Not only will we be helping people learn, but we’ll be promoting digital badges, as well,” said Peck. “Promoting the concept of digital badges as a new form of educational credential in its early stages will help Penn State become recognized as a leader in digital badges.”


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