Project Q&A With: Planet Stewards: Personalized Learning in 3D GameLab

Project Q&A With: Planet Stewards: Personalized Learning in 3D GameLab

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) teamed up with 3D GameLab at Boise State to create Planet Stewards, a personalized high school competency-based curricular experience. Using NOAA’s content and 3D GameLab’s game-based learning platform, students are engaged by choosing among web-based quests, and earning experience points, levels, and badges to demonstrate their achievements in weather, climate, coastal, ocean, and lake science, all aligned to National Science Standards. Whether students are in the field, in the classroom, or engaging in a virtual or game-based experience, Planet Stewards will advance environmental literacy and promote a diverse workforce that encourages stewardship and increasing informed decision making for the Nation.   

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

  1. Review Dan Hickey’s work on lessons learned and common themes.
  2. Plan out the badge system in advance. Use flowcharts, paper, whatever. Design with the end in mind, align to standards, and work backwards.
  3. Have a purpose for the badge beyond earning the badge as an aspect of student identity.

Planet Stewards created 15 career pathways (quests and badges) for middle and high school students in five areas of the NOAA sciences. The project includes 147 quests, 21 total badges, 10 achievements, and a separate teacher training and badge, all hosted in 3D GameLab, a quest-based learning platform. A pilot was conducted with approximately 20 teachers in spring 2013, and launches to the public (up to 500 science teachers across the US) in July 2013. See

Who were you addressing with your badge system design? High school science teachers around the US.

Goals/aims for the badges/badge system: What were your initial goals for the badges? Did those goals change at all throughout the design process?

Goals were to encourage interest in science career pathways for high school students, and provide an engaging curricular experience. Those goals did not change.

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

15 career pathway badges representing a career (Marine Biologist, for example). Three completed career pathway badges earned in one area of science would earn a “specialist” badge, such as in Ocean science.

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

Badges and quests were aligned to the Next Generation Science Framwork and standards. The 8 recommended scientific and engineering principles guided the assessment.

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

The badges need a “so what” answer. I’ve earned the badges, now what can I do with them? We should put more work into creating meaningful answers to this question.
Focus more deeply and narrowly. We completed 20 career pathway badges. It would have been more effective to focus on 10, and go more deeply on the quest design and learning activities. We thought big, but require additional funding to accomplish our larger vision.

What is left to do? What is left unanswered?

We are launching the public version in July of 2013. Sustainability questions linger, mostly around the partnership that was created (a wonderful experience!). How do we keep the content alive without burdening both sides with cost?

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

  1. Who are badges for? How can they be used? They need real-life applications.
  2. Integrity: who is issuing the badge, and can that issuer be trusted in a scaling SaaS platform?
  3. Who maintains the quests/badges for Planet Stewards? When resources change, who is responsible for modifying/updated resources?

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

We are deployed. We tested using a staging server and multiple instances of creating/pushing badges.

What is the success of your badge system contingent upon?

  1. Badge Integrity
  2. Partner sustainability
  3. Having a purpose for badges

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

We are collecting learning analytics and will data mine activity to identify pattern discovery.

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

We were able to use our OBI function with our preexisting teacher training. We were surprised at how interested educators are in badges, and once they had experienced pushing their own badges, began to consider how to design learning around collections of badges for their students.

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

We are an early adopter of teacher badges and career pathway badges. We publish our learning, give talks, and meet with others who seek us out for advice.

What plans do you have to scale your badge system?

We are commercializing our badge platform, and have plans to scale our user base to over 40,000 by year end.

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

We’ve started. There is interest on the part of learners (but still important questions they want answered about the purpose of badges). We’ve had organizations who do teacher training also approach us about offering their training in our platform so they could associate quests and badges to their work.

Once your badge system is built, how self-sustaining is it? How much do you anticipate maintenance to be?

We are still working on “fixes” related to badging, but they are particular to the function of our platform that allows users to “clone” content and badges. This is more in regards to the logic of the platform, than badge coding, per se.

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?


  • Dawley, L. & Stratton, J. (June 2013). Designing badges: Lessons learned. Invited presentation at
  • Sheehy, P. (June 2013). Epic leadership. ISTE invitation-only workshop. San Antonio, TX.
  • Haskell, C. (August, 2013). Game-based learning as curriculum. Invited presentation at the Serious Play Conference, Seattle, WA
  • Haskell, C. (May, 2013). Blowing up the grade book. What games have taught us about how to save our schools. Keynote presentation at Western Canadian Conference on Computing Education. Vancouver, BC.
  • Haskell, C. (May, 2013). The game-based classroom: The complete quest-based approach to learning. Featured session at Western Canadian Conference on Computing Education. Vancouver, BC.
  • Dawley, L. (April 2013). 21st century learning platforms: It ain’t your momma’s school anymore. Invited presentation at develop.Idaho 2013. Boise, ID.
  • Haskell, C. (April, 2013). Quest-based learning: Changing the game of education through choice. Invited Research in Review webinar for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL).
  • Haskell, C. (January, 2013). Game on: Student success through game-based learning. Invited presentation at the conference of the Idaho Educational Technology Association, Boise, ID.
  • Haskell, C. (January, 2013). Game over: Unpacking the quest-based learning experience. Invited presentation at the conference of the Idaho Educational Technology Association, Boise, ID.
  • Dawley, L. & Haskell, C. (January, 2013). Planet Stewards: Personalized Learning in 3D GameLab. Invited presentation at the workshops of Digital Media and Learning HASTAC grant winners, Irvine, CA.
  • Dawley, L. (2012, April). Game-based teacher professional development. Tweetchat hosted by NROC.
  • Culatta, R., Dawley, L., de Boor, T., Hickey, D. & Knight, E. (2012, August). Connected education and badges. Invited panel discussion. Moderator: D. Cambridge, Connected Educator Month.
  • Haskell, C. (2012, August). The game-based class: Using game-based pedagogy to spark engagement and ignite success. Serious Play Conference, Redmond, WA.
  • Dawley, L. (2012, August). Quest-based learning in 3D GameLab: Access, choice and powerful new modes of learning. Invited keynote at the St. Clair County RESSA annual conference, Marysville, MI.
  • Dawley, L. (2012, June). Oh, the games we play! Invited keynote address at Pearson Digital Learning conference, Sun Valley, ID.
  • Haskell, C. (2012, June). The game-based classroom: The complete quest-based approach to learning management. Invited keynote address at the iSTEM Summer Institute, Meridian, ID.

No comments