Project Q&A With: Intel and Society for Science and the Public Badges

Project Q&A With: Intel and Society for Science and the Public Badges

Intel and Society for Science & the Public (SSP) Badges will feature SSP’s premier high school science competitions, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) and the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), which reward independent scientific and engineering research. A badge system based on the Intel STS and the Intel ISEF will enable and reward independent research and encourage participation in science fairs for middle school and high school student researchers, teachers, mentors, judges, volunteers, and the community at-large. A digital badge system that provides a visual demonstration of achievement will enhance and further elevate accomplishment in the eyes of the students themselves as well as college admissions officers looking for achievements that set these students apart.

What are the 3 most important things about building a badge system you would share with another organization just getting started?

  1. Focus early and hard on the technology, especially with the integration to your existing web, database, and communications channels. This has been a challenge.
  2. Having a well-planned communications strategy with badge recipients is critical, as sometimes instructions for registration and claiming badges can be complicated.
  3. Seek simplicity in badge design! At first we struggled with designing badges that had too much wording and too many branding interests. Over time, we realized simple is best. Also, our original badges for the Intel competitions are skeumorphic in design (giving the impression of a textured 3D surface with a glossy finish). Our newest SSP badges, however, drop skeumorphism in favor of a cleaner, flatter look more in keeping with a native digital environment and the latest design trends.

SSP and Intel have designed, developed, and implemented a digital badging program targeting audiences that participate in our shared educational programs, the Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS) and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). To date we have: designed badging criteria and eligibility; completed the design/build/launch of a badging website; and offered badges to over 5,000 students and participating adults in the Intel ISEF 2012 (beta group) and Intel ISEF 2013, and the Intel STS 2013.

Acceptance of badges for our beta group, with 1,152 badges offered to a select group of Intel ISEF 2012 participants, was 21%. That acceptance rate increased to 49% for badges offered to Intel STS participants, where we offered 3,268 badges to 1705 participants. Currently we are offering badges to 2,500+ participants in the May 2013 Intel ISEF, with acceptance rate results pending.

Next steps in our project are to: a) launch badges for participants in our affiliated science fairs, which will significantly increase the amount of badges being offered (we estimate to tens of thousands initially); b) align with the Open Badges Infrastructure; and c) establish future plans for badging beyond the terms of this grant.

Who were you addressing with your badge system design?

Students competing in the Intel STS (U.S. high school seniors) and students and adult volunteers participating in the Intel ISEF (high schools students and adult volunteers from over 70 countries, regions, and territories)

What were your initial goals for the badges? Did those goals change at all throughout the design process?

Our initial goal for the program was initially and remains today to provide added incentive, reward, and recognition to the students who compete in our programs, and the adults who support them. We are constantly seeking new ways to reward this level of achievement and encourage new program participation.

What types of badges are you using (participation, skill, certification, etc.)? Are there levels or pathways represented in your badges? If so, please describe.

Badges are awarded for general program participation, and then for specific achievements. Badges are also provided to adult volunteers for various volunteer activities they provide including judging and language interpretation.

How was the criteria for the badges determined. What pedagogies (if any) informed the learning and badge system design?

Badges are awarded both based on participation (so entry as basis for badge) in the two programs, and also by achievement (winning a certain award or being selected as a finalist/semifinalist) so the criteria is directly tied to the existing program structure.

What are three things you learned about badge system design? What would you do differently if you were to start over?

  1. Technology: including building the badging infrastructure and having it interact with our existing database, web, and communication systems.
  2. Branding: working to meet the challenge of conveying the established “brands” of these two programs within a new design structure
  3. Communications: Building awareness and understanding of badging to our audience who knows so well the existing awards structure. Additionally, educating generally on the badging concept has been a challenge.

If we were to start over its likely we would focus more time and resources on the branding effort and engage earlier in the process with an outside vendor on the technology build. We also found that the biggest challenge is in getting the navigation and user experience right on the badging website, including writing the content in such a way that properly explains the concept of digital badging and how recipients could use them to their advantage.

What is left to do? What is left unanswered?

We continue to work on increasing awareness and the perceived “value” of badges, both to our direct audience (participants) and to those to whom badges might become something to consider (future employers, academic institutions, etc.) We also intend to better, and more seamlessly, integrate the badging platform with the rest of our web platform, so that, for example, a student member of SSP would be able to display and manage badges on his/her SSP profile badge and would not have to go to a separate badging web page.

Also, to ensure the future of badging in these programs, there must be real value perceived by potential funders.

What are the 3 main challenges to widespread adoption of your badge system for your organization?

We feel we already have widespread adoption of the badging system, with our two largest programs now providing badges. As mentioned above, we feel the program will be even more popular once we integrate the badging platform fully with our main website. Future growth also depends on future funding.

What is your badge system testing strategy? How have you or will you be testing your badge system prior to deployment?

We engaged in a beta test of our badging system in December 2012, with numerous technological issues arising and then solved. Badging acceptance rates for that beta test are included above.

What is the success of your badge system contingent upon?

  1. Technology
  2. Communications
  3. Audience interest

What have you done, or do you plan to do, to evaluate your badge earner community?

We continue to assess technological issues and open rates and acceptance rates to evaluate our progress. We may engage in a survey to potential badges earners to assess their input.

Please describe any impact your badge system may have already had on your organization and your learners.

We have been able to offer new value to more than 5,000 program participants in one year, including many – applicants to our programs – whom we did not provide recognition and reward in the past.

How would you characterize the impact your badge system will have on the badge ecosystem?

We intend our badge system will bring a large, youthful, and interested audience to the badging ecosystem. Many of our student participants will be future leaders in STEM arenas, and this exposure early in their development could provide significant boost to the future value and understanding of digital badges.

What plans do you have to scale your badge system?

Our next phase is to offer digital badges to SSP-affiliated science fairs, of which there are 450+ globally, reaching millions of students each year who apply to enter their science fairs. Effective implementation at this level could drastically increase the numbers of students (and potentially adult volunteers) receiving badges and entering the digital badge community. We do have concerns about how to properly scale our system to meet potentially tens of thousands of users, and plan to investigate our options as we continue to roll it out.

How successfully are you getting institutional buy-in, or adoption from your learners?

We feel like our success rate, measured by badge acceptance, is increasing with each phase of badging we offer. We are excited to now have students clamoring “Where is my badge” rather than “What is this badge thing?” Our next challenge seems to be educating the outside world to the value of these badges as related to our programs.

For those who want to follow the development, implementation, and adoption of your badge system, what social media sites will you be posting updates to?

SSP Facebook and SSP blogs are the main sites to find updates. We also occasionally will have coverage in our SSP enewsletter (currently reaching over 60,000 subscribers)

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