The Youth STEMM Award is an achievement-based award for students in Years 9 to 13, designed to support and inspire the next generation of STEMM professionals (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine). Participants log STEMM-related activities across four core strands. Students can work towards a Bronze, Silver or Gold level Award, inspire the next generation, engage the public, develop skills and shape their future career in the STEMM sector.

Award ceremony for Youth STEMM Award participants 2017

The crucial part of the Youth STEMM Awards programme is the process of logging the activities the children take part in. Previously it’s been done in a paper leaflet – the participant would meticulously fill out the sheet; writing down dates, locations and titles of the events and tasks they’ve completed. These leaflets would then be circulated between the teachers and assessors who would confirm and sign off the activities.

Naturally, we thought that would be a great opportunity for us to take this logging process and make it worthy of the 21st century. No more paper leaflets –  instead we built a digital portal that enabled students to easily submit and keep track of their activities. This also meant easier management and assessment processes for the YSA Team and teachers.

Here comes the e-portfolio.

Participant's e-portfolio dashboard

Building a bespoke online application is not an easy task. We quickly found that industry-standard Content Managements Systems wouldn’t cut it – the functionality required was too specific to fit either WordPress or Drupal. We decided to built our application from scratch with a little help from Laravel. Laravel is a PHP framework for Web Artisans, which means people who do not like reinventing the wheel and want a stable and tried out base for their projects. This sounded like a perfect approach for us.

Our saviour

We found Laravel incredibly rewarding to work with – part of that lies in the helpful community and its Composer-driven expandability. Laravel provided us with the tools to make the process of building the app as frictionless as possible. Without the benefit of having a working backend (a freebie when working with WordPress or Drupal) we had to set everything up ourselves. Thankfully, Laravel has got strong MVC roots and we could split the tasks up between our developers to suit their strengths. From designing the database, setting up methods to retrieve and edit data, to displaying the pages using Blade templating – despite the amount of work required, the tasks never seemed daunting

Strand progress and participant's badges

The e-portfolio is still a growing platform – we’re always adding new features and improving the experience. The current version already goes above and beyond the initial requirement to replace the paper leaflet. Each participant has their own profile with a dashboard displaying all the activities and their respective status. We wanted to keep e-portfolio fun to use and part of that is the gamification of the programme – each activity pushes the completion bar further and there’s also colourful badges for completing specific goals. The users also get notifications and can use the internal messaging system for queries and clarification from their coordinators.

School coordinator's view - management and data visualisation

The other side of the e-portfolio is the moderation and management process. School coordinators have their own accounts used to approve activities and provide comments if there’s any issues. On top of that there’s external moderation via e-mail links. This is supervised by the YSA Team who can easily keep track of their participants. Through the power of data visualisation (courtesy of D3.js, DC and Crossfilter) the supervisors can measure the impact of the programme and continuously improve it by creating opportunities that will fill the gaps.

We're still working to make e-portfolio even better

E-portfolio is our most complex digital project yet. It’s also one of the most rewarding ones. Seeing the whole process through – from the design stages to the actual working app – has been an incredible learning opportunity.

We can’t wait to see where the e-portfolio will take us next.

You can find more information about the Youth STEMM Awards on their official website (also created by MADE).