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This project was submitted by an applicant to the Digital Media and Learning Competition.

Badges for Personalized Learning in Science Using 3D GameLab

Working in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), we are proposing additional badge and science education development in 3D GameLab (see Figure 1), a Software as a Service (SaaS) based personal learning platform that has been in research and development for the last two years at Boise State University.  3D GameLab uses game mechanics (such as experience points, badges, awards and rankings) and a quest-based learning approach involving user choice to promote ongoing engagement and improved learning outcomes.  Over 2,000 users have completed more than 25,000 quests and earned  thousands of badges during our current closed beta development.

Figure 1.  Screenshot of 3D GameLab©, student view illustrating a group of existing science quests.

Early research results have been promising across a variety of subject areas in middle, high school, undergraduate and graduate education, with typical students completing more work on average (1.25-2X more work), and receiving higher course grades overall when compared to regular education courses. Data mining and the development of predictive learning models  to support successful learning outcomes are an integral aspect of the R&D development on this product.  See Appendix A for a summary of scholarly activity on 3D GameLab.

Figure 2.  Player scorecard in 3D GameLab,  a “bento box” display of badges, achievements, and progress toward standards

High school students will be able to create their own customized learning pathways in ocean, coastal and atmospheric science education, and have that learning recognized as official achievement of  the National Science Education Standards.

A. Content Alignment

We have contacted a Badges Stage One awardee, NOAA.  They have reviewed the capability in 3D GameLab, and fully support a partnership with our platform on this grant.  Peg Steffen, Education Coordinator, NOAA National Ocean Service is our contact at NOAA:            

B. Badges                                           

  • Content. We are proposing the use of NOAA’s Education Resources, primarily from to create personalized learning opportunities in coastal, ocean, atmospheric and climate science for high school students.  NOAA has wealth of existing educational content, scientific data, and digital media on oceans and coasts, climates, weather and atmosphere, marine life, and freshwater, which may be readily adapted for this project. 
  • Skills/Competencies. Skills and knowledge will be drawn directly from the National Science Education Standards for 9-12 grades.  We are also able to adapt content to the Next Generation Science Standards that will be released later this year.  Emphasis will be placed on science as inquiry, in which students learn skills such as observation, inference, and experimentation.  Standards include:
    • Unifying concepts and processes in science.
    • Life science standards:  biological evolution, interdependence of organisms, matter/energy/organization in living systems, behavior of organisms.
    • Earth science:  Energy in the Earth system, origin and evolution of the earth system.
    • Science & technology standards: Abilities of technological design, understanding about science and technology.
    • Science in personal and social perspectives:  Personal and community health, population growth, natural resources, environmental quality, natural and human induced hazards, Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges.


Discrete vs. dynamic. The badges represent levels in achievement of competencies, and will be tied to learner analytics that visually illustrate progress toward completion of national science standards at the 9-12 grade level.  Per the science standards recommendation, emphasis will be placed on promoting inquiry, and less emphasis will be placed on activities that demonstrate and verify science content.  When clicked, the badge shows an overview of the achievement, as well as links to quests completed to earn the badge (see Figure 3). 

Figure 3.  Example view of pop-up detail for hypothetical “Deep Sea Explorer” badge.  Remaining quests to complete the badge are highlighted in red and link directly to quests.

  • Scarcity and granularity.   All achievements are tracked and displayed in real time, with aggregation of various quests leading toward the achievement of a particular badge.  An individual badge will represent a completed science standard in one of five different categories listed above.  As a proposed modification, each badge will show specific science standards achieved to earn the badge.
  • Qualifications. The badges will convey that the learner is qualified as an inquirer of science, in a variety of areas, and that they have a thorough knowledge of a content area in science.  This might qualify them for college and work apprenticeships in ocean, air, and environmental studies, among other fields.  Prerequisites include completion of 8th grade.
  • Role and identity. 3D GameLab allows uses to create their own avatar to represent their identity.  The quest groups, badge names and graphics will illustrate growth and achievements in scientific roles over time.  These have not been fully identified yet, but an example set of badges might include roles and titles such as observer, surveyor, data collector,  coral scientist, deep sea explorer, environmental ecologist, or robotic engineer, or whale biologist.
  • Level.   See above.  Levels have yet to be identified, and will require thoughtful discussion between project directors, instructional designers, and subject-matter experts from NOAA.

Opportunities and privileges. Earning badges “unlocks” both new learning opportunities, as well as privileges.  3D GameLab functionality permits designers to associate automated prerequisites with quests, and privileges with badges.  Privileges might include things like the ability for students to create their own quests in the system.  Figure 3 above shows a display of a privilege on a badge.


  • Performance/Assessment.  The instructional design team will determine the criteria for each badge and set of badges.  These criteria are associated with individual quests that can be marked to require teacher approval before awarding points.  Designers can create quests that involve peer assessment of work assignments.
  • Permanence. Badges will exist permanently as they represent a specific era of educational achievement in grades 9-12. 
  • Portability.  Yes, the badge is portable across grades 9-12 because it is evidence of achievement of grades 9-12 national science content standards. 
  • Design. Badges will be displayed in a “bento box” style playercard (see Figure 3 above).  Branding will include the use of NOAA’s name and/or logo, as well as identification of the specific standards achieved.  Badges in a given group of science standards will all be color-coded the same color to represent achievement in that standard.  The culminating badge in each category (a “super” badge) will be rimmed in gold to distinguish it from badges representing smaller steps along the way.  We do not yet have the final “look” of the badges designed.
  • Transparency/Meaning.   Much like a Facebook widget that displays a group’s name, their supporters, and has clickable links, our proposed widget will have the same type of interface.  With a heading such as, “I’m a certified scientist!” at the top, clickable badges representing individual areas of achievement, and a “Mozilla Open Badge Certified” statement at bottom, viewers will understand that these badges represent areas of educational achievement aligned to completion of competencies in science education.
  • Protection. Groups of quests that are associated to awarding the badge will be “locked.”  It will require the teacher to complete a pre-training in the use of a quest group, as well as a verification that they are a certified teacher in order to unlock access for her class of students. In this way, only certified teachers are able to sign-off on completion of the badges.
  • Endorsement. Endorsement by NOAA, National Research Council, and the College Board would enhance the validity of these badges and their use in the educational system.


C. Technology                     

3D GameLab is a Software As Service (SaaS) based application programmed in Ruby on Rails on the server side and Javascript + jQuery on the client side.                             

  • Issuing. Badges will be issued and managed locally via the 3D GameLab player scorecard.  Off-site display options will be provided through a modifiable widget that is fully interoperable with the Mozilla infrastructure.
  • Interoperability. 3D GameLab is starting to build an ecosystem of badges that represent various learning paths, content, and skill achievement as an aspect of lifelong learning.  The badges will be issued in a manner that meets the specifications for the Open Badge Infrastructure, thus transferrable to a variety of display interfaces outside 3D GameLab.
  • Software and widgets.  Much like Facebook developers provide WYSIWYG tools for creating widgets and “like” buttons, we will create a user interface to generate plug-in code in HTML5, XFBML, and IFRAME that will allow users to export the badge to their own site.






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