GeniConnect: Game-based Learning, Mentoring, and Laboratory Experiences - A Model for Industry-Afterschool Partnerships
This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). In particular, it touches on three of the ITEST Program's focal areas: (1) investigating coherent sets of experiences that support student competency; (2) modeling the roles business and industry workforce member's play in motivating students; and (3) develop examples of productive ways to support broadening participation through industry/afterschool partnerships.
Biotechnology, and genetics in particular, are rapidly advancing areas that will offer new jobs across the spectrum from technicians to scientists. Each year, U.S. companies spend nearly a billion dollars on STEM education programs. Yet we lack research-based models for engaging students with industry professionals to further their awareness of STEM careers and help them learn the content these careers demand. This three-year ITEST Strategies project, GeniConnect, focuses on middle school student engagement in genetics and biotechnology using game-based learning (Geniverse). With guidance and mentoring from industry professionals, research scientists, and community volunteers, 150 diverse students from Cambridge, MA will participate in an eight-week afterschool program. Students will also conduct hands-on experiments at the Biogen Idec Community Lab while becoming familiar with STEM careers.
The project framework will be guided by an evidence-centered design, aligned with project activities intended to develop better models to sustain successful industry and afterschool partnerships. Two key research questions guide the investigation: (1) How can a suite of experiences involving game-based learning, laboratory activities and mentoring by industry professionals foster student understanding and motivation in genetics and biotechnology and further student awareness of careers and real-world connections? This question forms the iterative design and pilot study components of the research. Analysis will help the team understand both foundational concepts needed for understanding modern genetics and the dimensions of motivation concerning students' feelings of relevance, personal interest and self-efficacy toward genetics and biotechnology; and (2) What methods and processes can aid industry groups and afterschool programs in forming meaningful and productive partnerships? This question forms the feasibility research. It explores the essential aspects of STEM professionals' engagement, preparation and relationship building with afterschool groups as well as how participation and program design aspects are valued. Data collection strategies will include survey, log data from the Geniverse platform, focus groups, and in-depth interviews; outcome measures will center on content knowledge, motivation, value, interest and self-efficacy. The contexts for research and design will be the home and afterschool program.
Project partners include the Concord Consortium, a nonprofit with extensive experience researching and developing STEM educational technology; Purdue University; and East End House, a nonprofit community-based organization serving under-resourced youth in Cambridge, MA. Project results will inform not only the research community of the design and delivery of effective afterschool STEM programs for career awareness and learning, but also supply afterschool programs and industry partners with a pathway for success. Using this framework, the project will create a STEM Partnership Toolkit to be distributed to approximately 500 community-based organizations and afterschool programs nationally that are member organizations of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.