Exploring the potential of digital education frameworks to build understanding of socioecological impacts of Alaskan environmental change


Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) is one of NSF's 10 Big Ideas. NNA projects address convergence scientific challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic. The Arctic research is needed to inform the economy, security and resilience of the Nation, the larger region and the globe. NNA empowers new research partnerships from local to international scales, diversifies the next generation of Arctic researchers, enhances efforts in formal and informal education, and integrates the co-production of knowledge where appropriate. This award fulfills part of that aim by supporting planning activities with clear potential to develop novel, leading edge research ideas and approaches to address NNA goals. It integrates aspects of the natural environment and social systems, addresses important societal challenges, builds significant educational opportunities, and engages local and Indigenous communities.

As the Arctic warms, social and environmental changes threaten the Arctic, its inhabitants, and their ways of life. Mitigating the effects of these changes must include educating young people about the complex interactions involved since their generation will experience the growing impacts over time. Many science concepts, such as rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, are challenging to teach and understand because they are literally invisible, while their effects, such as salmon killed by the heat stress of warming water, are all too visible. This project is exploring effective ways to teach challenging issues of social and environmental change, and potential mitigation solutions, through interactive educational game play with embedded assessments that are evidence-based and culturally responsive, rooted in Alaska Indigenous knowledge and values. The ultimate goal of the project is to use the findings from this exploratory research to develop and assess the educational potential of an interactive STEM simulation framework for students in Alaska, the Arctic, and beyond.

WGBH Educational Foundation (GBH), in partnership with the University of Fairbanks Alaska; and Raven's Group, a consultancy; will lead an inclusive and meaningful research process towards designing an engaging and effective educational STEM simulation framework. The team will join together educators, game designers, researchers, Alaskan Indigenous and non-Indigenous families, and community centers in brainstorming sessions, interviews, focus groups, mechanics testing, and culturally responsive assessment development. Through this formative work, the team will develop the framework's content, learning goals, and standards-aligned curriculum along with embedded assessments designed to scaffold students' progress and demonstrate how well the students have reached the learning goals of the framework.

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.

Logistics Summary

Given the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing uncertainty around travel and in-person meetings in 2021, the project is revising its original plans to restructure some or all its work as remote - with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication technologies including video conferencing. This project will still perform its proposed planning activities and engage academic scholars, industry partners, and local Alaska Native partners. The goal of this effort is to design a digital simulation learning game that introduces the changing Arctic to 4th – 6th graders. Field work in support of this planning grant will include in-person or remote/virtual meetings and interviews in Alaska. Raven’s Group, LLC (a program development and evaluation group focusing through an Indigenous lens on K-14 opportunities for Alaska Native and rural Alaskan youth) will facilitate testing, evaluation, surveys and interviews as needed. Oversight for all research efforts will come from GBH and from co-PI Dr. Amy Vinlove at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). All project activities will be grounded in culturally responsive approaches and methodologies. UAF will be responsible for the project’s Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Principal Investigators

Co-Principal Investigators

Research Collaborator(s)

Institutional Collaborator(s)

Project PI(s)
Funded Institutions
WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston MA
Other Research Location(s)
Fairbanks, Alaska
Remote sites across AK
Project Start Date
Oct 2020
Award Year
Funding Track