About National Science Teachers Assosciation:

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), founded in 1944 and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. NSTA's current membership of 55,000 includes science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in and committed to science education. Click here to read a fact sheet about NSTA.


Albert Byers Associate Executive Director, Services National Science Teachers Association

abyers@nsta.org http://learningcenter.nsta.org and http://learningcenter.nsta.org/help/activity_awards.aspx

NSTA has built a recognition system that incorporates micro-credentials (badges) and local leader boards to affirm teachers’ investment of their most precious non-renewable resource, their time. Much of teacher professional development impact is measured by “seat time” and with little documentation of knowledge gain beyond teacher perception surveys at the end of the experience. When a micro-credential/certificate may document teacher learning, and is linked with a teacher-generated digital report sharing reflections, digital samples of student work and images of classroom enactment, our system and suite of tools allows us to advance toward level four of Guskey’s five levels of evaluation for professional development (2003). NSTA’s badges cover a wide array of experiences where teachers may earn recognition in areas such as: a) serving on a national committee or advisory board, b) making contributions to our community forums, c) publishing articles in our journals or book chapters, d) aggregating and sharing digital resource collections via our forums, e) passing SciPack web modules, or f) completing learning goals in their personalized PD learning plans. While certain badges are intentionally designed to recognize and increase community activity and research is emerging that supports how this may be employed across various networks and courses (Hickey & Soylu, 2012; Wei, Chen, & Zhu, 2015), there is also research emerging that examines how technology-enabled badging systems modeled after our system may support and enhance professional learning for teachers (Gamrat, Zimmerman, Dudek, & Peck, 2014). Within NSTA’s efforts, we see the potential of our platform and strategies to empower teachers’ personal learning goals through a micro-credentialing system that seeks to affirm teachers’ gains in knowledge, participation in professional learning communities, and change in classroom practice via a system that is scalable to our nation’s 2 million teachers of science. A list of the current badges, levels, and point structures and levels may be reviewed if desired: http://www.learningcenter.nsta.org/help/activity_awards.aspx. Our system is unique in that it simultaneously focuses on the needs and intrinsic motivation of the individual adult learner, leveraging a recommender system to suggest high impact content and experiences to support his or her personalized growth needs (Byers, Koba, Sherman, Scheppke, & Bolus, 2011), and converging psycho-emotional roles for engagement and recognition as they progress along their learning journey. There are over 12,000 digital assets and opportunities in our portal ranging from e-books, e-chapters, and e-journal articles, web seminars and their archives, virtual conferences, self-directed on-demand web modules, and moderated third-party courses from institutions of higher education. We move this learning beyond click-next home along experiences by integrating collegial conversations within a collaborative moderated learning community, analyzing how the strategies and graphical user interface facilitates on-going discourse (Perez-Lopez, Cambridge, & Byers, 2012). NSTA does not merely state what the acquired skills and knowledge are when a badge is earned, but documents teacher change in classroom practice beyond the badge with a digital PDF report the teacher generates that showcases personal reflections with images of classroom enactment and samples of student work.Through a forthcoming algorithm that will analyze a myriad of data such as: a) what resources teachers have in their libraries, b) what web seminars, virtual conferences, and onsite conference sessions they have attended, c) what self-directed web modules they are completing or have completed, d) what learning goals they are pursuing, and d) personal demographics like subjects and grade levels taught, we will be able to increase “connectedness” among like-minded colleagues with similar learning pursuits. References: Guskey, T. R. (2003). What makes professional development effective? Phi Delta Kappan, 84(10), 748-750. Byers, A. S., Koba, S., Sherman, G., Scheppke, J., & Bolus, R. (2011). Developing a web-based mechanism for assessing teacher science content knowledge. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 22(3), 273-289. doi: DOI: 10.1007/s10972-011-9227-2 Gamrat, C., Zimmerman, H. T., Dudek, J., & Peck, K. (2014). Personalized workplace learning: An exploratory study on digital badging within a teacher professional development program. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(6), 1136-1148. doi: 0.1111/bjet.12200 Hickey, D. T., & Soylu, F. (2012). Wikifolios, reflections, and exams for online engagement, understanding, and achievement. Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, 1(1), 64-71. Perez-Lopez, K., Cambridge, D., & Byers, A. (2012). Simple and computational heuristics for forum management in the NSTA learning center: A role for learning analytics in online communities of practice supporting teacher learning. Paper presented at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Maui, Hawaii. Wei, X., Chen, W., & Zhu, K. (2015). Motivating user contributions in online knowledge communities: Virtual rewards and reputation. Paper presented at the 48th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, HI.


Strengthening elementary and middle schoolteacher science content knowledge and science teaching abilities is a national imperative in the United States and research supports one of the highest positive correlations in improving student learning is the teacher, as she sits at the nexus of curriculum, assessment and instruction. Research also shows that if teachers do not have a keen understanding of their subject matter, they tend to shy away from the subject, spend little time on it and at worst case facilitate misconceptions that are deeply seated, resistant to change and hard to overturn. Unfortunately for many elementary and many middle level pre-service teachers they have little formal training in the sciences before entering the profession. The challenge then is how to provide just-in-time, just-enough, and just-for-me professional learning experiences that are at scale and sustainable. Online learning systems and networks that bridge and coherently integrate into onsite local experiences are one viable alternative. Our portal has 170,000 users, with approximately 40,000 unique visitors per month who spend hours online completing self-directed web modules, participating in web seminars, creating and sharing collections and posting comments in our integrated discussion forums. The NSTA LC currently has over 170,000 teachers who spend hours online each week completing self-directed, on-demand web modules and formal online courses, participating in web seminars and virtual conferences, and sharing online digital resource collections through moderated discussion forums.

The NSTA LC currently has over 90,000 personally uploaded resources, over 14,000 teacher-generated public collections, and over 60,000 user-generated posts on 5,800 topics across our public and private forums. One does not need to be a member of NSTA to access over 4,200 free digital resources, personal diagnostic tools, and the integrated community forums. Our internal analytics reveal over the same period: a) 4,583 new collections were added, c) 76,086 users downloaded 13,478 SciPacks and Science Objects to their personal libraries, d) 1,800 teachers completed SciPacks and Science Object web modules last year equating to 52,000 hours of learning, d) 87 ninety-minute web seminars were offered with 5,125 participants spending a total of 7,689 hours in attendance, and e) 1,300 teachers participated in total across three full day virtual conferences investing a total of 10,280 contact hours. These data exclude the time users spend in creating and rating collections, and in reviewing and contributing posts to the integrated community forums.

Learning Recognized:

We have multiple ways our learning is recognized. Our system is not an individual program in and of itself, but is used often times in a blended way that extends and enhances local onsite professional learning experiences within districts or universities. There are currently over 70 institutions of higher education and 90 districts that leverage our NSTA Learning Center to support their local professional learning efforts. See: http://learningcenter.nsta.org/group/etextbook.aspx for a list of universities and http://learningcenter.nsta.org/impact/testimonials.aspx for testimonials from teachers, district specialists, and university professors for examples in how this occurs.
The NSTA LC is driven both by emerging technological affordances and by the end-user needs of teachers, schools, districts and universities. Face-to-Face professional learning experiences may continue online in a blended fashion where moderated discussion may continue as teachers go back to their classrooms implementing what they have experienced in the workshop. Samples of student work may also be shared online and discussed. Online learning experiences such as web seminars or virtual conferences that are thematically aligned to the context of local efforts may extend coherence and learning beyond the original face-to-face experience. The goal of the NSTA Learning Center is to enhance the personal learning of educators by providing a suite of tools, resources, and opportunities within a collaborative learning community that supports their long term growth based on their unique learning needs and preferences.
Districts and Universities document learning and participation as part of their overall experience, and leverage tools such as PD Indexer as a pre-post assessment tool that precedes and captures increased knowledge of disciplinary core ideas in science as a program or intervention unfolds. The indexer has multiple-choice assessment items randomly drawn across many of the specific science subject matter content areas addressed within SciPack/Science Objects in the disciplines of Earth and space science, life science, and physical science. Teachers complete 15–25 items in a content area, such as plate tectonics, and the results are saved for comparison to the post-test once the SciPack/Science Objects on the same content area is completed. There is also a separate set of items at the end of each Scipack that teachers must pass before they are awarded a micro-credential (badge) and printable PDF certificate. Administrators have access to a back-end set of web dashboards that document user engagement in the online community, as well as their frequency of log-in for the SciPack, their percentage of completion of each Science Object within the SciPack, their scores on the formative quiz at the end of each Science Object, and the summative final assessment score at the end of the SciPack. Again, this is but one data point, and many districts and universities incorporate other evaluation measures beyond this single online assessment, such as teacher’s level of community involvement and nature of their contributions to the discussion forums as well.


Our badges have different levels and points associated with them. Community engagement badges such as commenter, disseminator, aggregator, and advocator are tiered. The SciPack badges reflect a minimum of contact hours, and privately, the score received on the final assessment at the end of the SciPack. Our PD Plan and Portfolio tool awards points for creating golas. In addition, the tool captures and documents teacher reflections, anonymous samples of student work, augmented lesson plans, images of change in classroom practice, and external URL’s that if desired, teachers may embed that point to YouTube videos of classroom practice.


As stated earlier, our assessment include online multiple choice tests, as well as self-reflections, and if desired, digital collections of documents or URLs.


We faced challenges in balancing and differentiating the importance of motivational badges to stimulate activity in our community/network (commenter, aggregator, disseminator, advocator), and those that document acquisition of new knowledge, skill, and application in the classroom (SciPack/Science Objects and our PD Plan and Portfolio tool). We do not want to over simplify how difficult it is to earn certain badges and thus trivialize their importance (community participation badges), and conflate these badges with micro-credentials that are difficult to earn, such as those awarded when completing an 8-10 hour SciPack web module. Through research-informed and data-driven decisions over multiple iterations through internal and external third-party evaluators, we continue to improve and enhance our system and its utility. In our forthcoming new release of the NSTA LC, this process will be simplified, streamlined, responsive, and explicated more clearly. We are building more robust back-end analytics given the large data exhaust already being generated, informed by “big data” topology such as the volume, velocity, veracity, variability, and visualization of this data to better inform our decision process and maximize the chance for increased community connectedness and enhanced learning to improve teacher effectiveness.

Next Steps:

Several end-user (teacher) dashboards will be added to the system, whereby large data sets along certain areas, such as community participation and learning goals, will be easily visualized and compare to others in the network, with suggested recommendations and actions. We will also be able to effectively increase the granularity, import and veracity of connecting with other like-minded colleagues based on the nature of the data we have from users existing participation across a number of variables (e.g., content in libraries, conferences and web seminars attended, web modules completing or completed, demographic info, etc.). Finally, we will be launching a new effort called “Teacher Learning Journeys.” Envision personalized online learning treks, explorations, and expeditions, linking a series of digital destinations, where like-minded teachers with similar leaning goals may collaborate and are connected via a community. Free online advisors assist teachers at online destinations along various expeditions and serve as learning guides. Teacher stamps, badges, points, and certifications may be awarded to document learning at key destinations along their personalized learning journey. University expert panels may validate learning through reviewing digital teacher portfolios or logs, as well as through online self-directed assessments to award CEUs or graduate credit for a fee if the expedition is meritorious of this distinction. In essence it will be a sequence of learning resources and experiences along certain topic areas that teacher may traverse at the time, place and pace of their choosing. Learning is not anywhere, anytime, but everywhere, all the time. NSTA will recommend and launch certain teacher learning journeys, and user will be able to create, share, augment and rate their own learning journeys as well. We will be able to “connect” users as they complete their learning journey. For a YouTube description of this vision see below:
It will indeed catapult and catalyze our efforts on a national scale.