Academic journal article Adult Learning

Elevating Adult Civic Science Literacy through a Renewed Citizen Science Paradigm

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Elevating Adult Civic Science Literacy through a Renewed Citizen Science Paradigm

Article excerpt

Abstract: America's adult populace has failed to keep pace with the rapid inundation of science-centric knowledge affecting nearly every facet of personal, familial, and communal life. With three out of every four American adults considered scientifically illiterate, adult civic science literacy (CSL) has reached alarmingly low levels. The purpose of this research is to determine if the CSL of adults can be elevated through a renewed citizen science paradigm (RCSP)--incorporating nonformal outdoor adult education and structured experiential learning--in which volunteers conduct scientific research in an unfamiliar domain while maintaining the basic tenet of data collection in citizen science programming. From 67 program volunteers, 23 adults were purposively selected on the basis of their complete participation throughout the program. Data were collected through a repeated measures design, self-report surveys (n = 23) and quantitatively analyzed. The results revealed the RCSP statistically significantly elevated the CSL--science vocabulary knowledge (p < .001) and science process understanding (p < .001)--of participating adults while collecting more than 30,000 pieces of scientific data for the supporting agency that funded the program.

Keywords: civic science literacy, citizen science, outdoor education, experiential learning


With advancement in the scientific community's knowledge and understanding of the sciences occurring at an unprecedented rate, the state of science literacy among American adults is alarmingly low. Only one in four American adults are considered scientifically literate (Brainard, 2008) and the average American adult's understanding of science is less than desirable (Jenkins, 1999; Mervis, 2007; Ruvinsky, 2007). The problem of adult science illiteracy is far from new and remains largely unaddressed. In 1983, educational researcher Paul Hurd (as cited in National Commission on Excellence in Education) revealed concern regarding the growing disconnect of Americans and science: "We are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate" (p. 12). The sentiment was shared by former National Science Foundation director John Slaughter after uncovering "a growing chasm between a small scientific and technological elite and a citizenry ill-informed, indeed uninformed, on issues with a science component" (p. 12). A quarter of a century later, empirical evidence unveils the state of scientific knowledge among American adults continues to be grossly deficient (Jenkins. 1999: Mervis. 2007; Ruvinsky, 2007).

Natural, physical, and health science topics are a recurrent theme in nearly every facet of public life and partisan politics, facets touching each and every American in some manner on a daily basis. Toward the betterment of the adult citizen's personal, familial, and communal lives, there ix an important need to improve the adult populace's science literacy, more specifically, their civic science literacy (CSL). CSL is broadly defined as having the scientific vocabulary and science process understanding for making science-centric decisions in one's life, including the ability to propose, vote on, and execute science-centric policy. Although our nation's adult citizenry continues to lack the CSL necessary to effectively act in a science-centric society (Coleman, 1976: Miller, 1993: Miller, 1998), "the reputation of science as boring and only for nerds is beginning to change" (Brainard, 2008, p. A9).

While continuing professional education has become the mainstay for science literacy development in professional realms, there are limited forums for American adults seeking CSL for personal, social, or political purposes. With formal education failing to be a feasible option for many American adults, an unprecedented number of them are participating in nonformal education programs centered amid natural science topics with the aim of improving their CSL. …

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