GeniConnect will engage middle school afterschool students in a dragon genetics game and partner them with mentors from the real world of biotechnology. We will help students to make connections between genetics and their lives, with the goal of increasing their view of science as offering real possibilities and opportunities for their future.

The GeniConnect project’s central goal will be to develop and research a coherent series of student experiences involving game-based learning, industry mentoring and hands-on laboratory work in biotechnology and genetics. These eight-week-long experiences will be situated in real-world scenarios and furthered by direct connections to key industry partners. This project will address two primary research questions:

  1. How can a suite of experiences involving game-based learning, laboratory activities and mentoring by industry professionals foster students’ understanding and motivation in genetics and biotechnology and further students’ awareness of careers and real-world connections?
  2. What methods and processes can aid industry groups and afterschool programs in forming meaningful and productive partnerships?

We will investigate these questions and achieve the project goal via a set of well-defined objectives:

Adapt and tailor a game-based genetics learning environment. The Web-based environment Geniverse, developed by the Concord Consortium to support student learning of genetics, will form the first key aspect of the student experiences. Students will play Geniverse in the afterschool setting, individually and with other students or industry mentors, and will use and make direct content connections to the game in their hands-on laboratory experiences.

Provide and support industry mentoring. Mentoring will form the second central aspect of the student experiences. Mentors will be drawn from multiple high-profile biotechnology companies within walking distance of the EEH afterschool center, including Biogen Idec, Monsanto, Genzyme, Genentech and Amgen. Each of these firms has an ongoing relationship with EEH involving volunteers. Students will meet with industry mentors in person for eight hours, engaging in planned project activities and playing within Geniverse. Students will also reflect with their mentors on project activities through virtual laboratory tours and the regular exchange of "video postcards." Volunteer guest speakers from industry and special mentor events will provide students with exposure to multiple aspects of the work of practicing scientists and technicians.

Involve students in authentic laboratory experiences. Hands-on laboratory work will form the third key aspect of the student experiences, as students work in the Biogen Idec Community Lab, the longest-running community corporate science lab in the nation. Considered the gold standard in the industry, the lab offers students in-depth experiences with biotechnology techniques and has just re-opened after a fully state-of-the-art facility upgrade. The program for students will be punctuated with visits to the Community Lab, where students will perform hands-on experiments under the guidance of scientists.

Support students in extending experiences to the home. The project will provide full support for students as they bring their learning home. All participating students will have at-home access to technology, arranged in conjunction with Tech Goes Home, a local program that provides parents and caregivers and their children access to hardware and computer skills. This will enable students to continue work with Geniverse or communicate with mentors regardless of location. Hands-on experiences in the Community Lab will also follow students home in the form of portable lab kits aligned with lab experiences, permitting students to continue their learning across multiple settings.

Research students’ STEM content learning and career-related motivation. The project will employ a variety of measures to identify and understand how its suite of experiences helps students better understand key STEM concepts, increases their motivation in genetics and biotechnology and expands their awareness of STEM careers and real-world connections. An Evidence-centered Design (ECD) process (Mislevy, Steinberg, & Almond, 2003) will serve as a guiding framework for the project design, ensuring that all project activities are aligned, targeting common outcomes and providing useful evidence for the project’s goals. Measurement techniques will include written assessments, student and mentor interviews, and artifacts such as student video postcards and log files from student game play. Together these will offer a well-rounded view into students’ and mentors’ experiences and the project outcomes.

Develop a framework and toolkit for industry/afterschool partnerships. The project will generate an important model to guide industries and afterschool programs in forging partnerships. The project’s mentoring aspect builds upon EEH’s long-established experience creating relationships between their afterschool program and a variety of STEM industry professionals. This project will expand upon existing work from EEH to create a full framework and toolkit to aid other afterschool programs in establishing and sustaining such successful relationships.

Disseminate project activities and resources widely. Project findings will be presented in journals and at conferences, and Geniverse activities will be made freely available. The STEM Partnership Toolkit will be a highly valuable general resource for the field and will be made publicly available and widely disseminated to out-of-school time practitioners.

Principal Investigators

Frieda Reichsman
Chad Dorsey
Michael J. Delia
Aaron Rogat

Project Inquiries

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Interactive models, powered by real genes, enable students to do simulated experiments, generate realistic and meaningful genetic data and win star ratings for efficient experimentation.

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1513086. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Research and development will follow the pattern of Design and Development Research outlined in the Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development (NSF & US Department of Education, 2013) which emphasizes the need to follow an iterative development process, obtain pilot data on the program’s promise and collect evidence on the feasibility of implementation. Below we present the framework and logic model guiding this research and identify the involvement of each of these three elements.

GeniConnect Logic ModalLogic model and role of ECD framework. The logic model below demonstrates the relationship of the GeniConnect program components to the expected outcomes. This model includes both student and scientist experiences, and emphasizes the interconnected nature of the program’s experiences and outcomes. Through interaction with Geniverse and hands-on laboratory experiences, students will gain understanding of core genetics concepts. Through interaction with scientists and volunteers, students will gain an appreciation for the real-world context for this genetics learning. By synthesizing these two through continued engagement and facilitated reflection experiences, students will ultimately achieve motivational outcomes involving changes in disposition, such as higher value for genetics, greater personal interest in genetics and increases in self-efficacy related to project activities and skills.

Research Question #1

Research Question #1 and its sub-questions focus on students’ content understanding and motivation. These questions will form the iterative design and pilot study components of our project research.

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?

  1. In what ways can these activities increase student understanding of key genetics and biotechnology concepts?
  2. To what extent can such activities foster students’ ability to identify valued connections to real-world applications? To what extent can they increase students’ motivation and self-efficacy regarding relevant concepts and skills?
  3. How can student-mentor relationships expand student awareness of workforce activities and skills?

Research Question #2

As it is developed and refined, the GeniConnect program will exemplify a model whose practices are of broad value. Research Question #2 and its sub-questions explore these:

2) What methods and processes can aid industry groups and afterschool programs in forming meaningful and productive partnerships?

  1. How can relationships best be initiated and fostered between afterschool programs and companies or industry groups? What processes and methods are important for engaging and preparing industry professionals for participation with such programs?
  2. What aspects of participation, program design and mentoring relationships do participating industry professionals see as most valuable? How do these intersect with the goals and perceptions of afterschool programs?
  3. What aspects of program and activity structure are adaptable to professionals across other STEM industries? What supports are important to enable industry and afterschool programs to understand and enact these structures, tools, and activities?

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