Project Profile

Culturally situated immersive virtual learning and engineering design to build STEM capacity in Dine communities


The goal of this project is to develop and test hybrid immersive learning environments to engage Diné (Navajo) middle school students in place-based virtual scientific investigations, hands-on physical experiments, and engineering design projects. The curriculum units will support technology-infused science learning on the past, present, and future of (1) energy in the Navajo Nation (specifically the transition from coal to other energy sources); and (2) water (both shortage and quality issues). The curriculum will build on the rich history of Diné traditional ecological knowledge and practices. The immersive virtual environment will support scientific investigation through situated, place-based investigation, with connections to cultural and historical context, and visualizations not accessible in real-world environments. The physical engineering design activity will involve engineering design projects to design solutions to meet community needs. This project is a partnership between Arizona State University Polytechnic School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Ke?yah Advanced Rural Manufacturing Alliance (KARMA), the Department of Diné Education, and a cohort of middle schools across the entire Navajo Nation. This approach has the potential to inspire the next generation of Diné engineers and scientists to use their knowledge to strengthen their communities. This project will directly impact 1800+ middle school students and 60+ teachers across 15+ schools across all five agencies of the Navajo Nation. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (ICT) careers.

The project will develop and test two hybrid culturally-situated immersive learning environments for schools in the Navajo Nation centered around the energy and water futures. A Community Participatory Design-Based Research approach will be used to collaborate with Diné community members (including elders, leaders, teachers, and engineers) to co-design and revise the curriculum. This study will advance knowledge of blending virtual 3-D immersive learning environments with hands-on project-based learning in culturally-situated contexts to support students in designing energy and water futures. It will also generate new knowledge of how Diné knowledge can be used in engineering design and intersect with STEM and continue evolving community participatory approaches to research. The study will use mixed-method approaches to study student and teacher experiences with and impacts of the curriculum, through research questions on (1) teachers? and students? experiences with the hybrid learning environment, (2) how students use their cultural capital, and how students perceive Diné cultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes intersecting with STEM, and (3) the pre-post impacts of the experiences on student learning and affective measures. The project will also provide professional development to teachers in the Navajo Nation to adapt and implement the curricula, using a train-the-trainer model to scale and sustain the program beyond the duration of the grant.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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Co-Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
Project Duration
2023 - 2027
Arizona State University, AZ
Project Status