Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Professional Development Needs and Outcomes for Education-Engaged Scientists: A Research-Based Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Professional Development Needs and Outcomes for Education-Engaged Scientists: A Research-Based Framework

Article excerpt


Involvement of scientists in education is essential to strengthen quality and access to US science education at the K-12 and higher levels. Yet little research evidence exists to help practitioners understand scientists' education and outreach interests, beliefs, and motivations, and the barriers that must be addressed to involve them effectively. The ReSciPE Project (Resources for Scientists in Partnership with Education) has offered professional development workshops and resources to a wide audience of working scientists who undertake individual or institutional education and outreach activities. While seeking to increase the effectiveness of these "education-engaged scientists," the project also conducted research on scientists' involvement in education. We report findings from qualitative analysis of 30 in-depth interviews and propose a comprehensive framework for addressing scientists' needs for professional development in this domain, placing these findings in context of national needs and efforts to engage scientists in education.


In recent years, funders and institutions have asked scientists to become more involved in communicating the "broader impacts" of their work with the public (NASA, 1996; NSF, 1997, 2001a, 2002, 2003; Dolan et al., 2004; Fraknoi, 2005). Eminent scientists and educators have called for scientists to participate in K-12 education (Alberts, 1991; Bybee, 1998; Colwell and Kelly, 1999; NRC, 1996). Many scientists are also motivated by personal, altruistic, and societal reasons to contribute to public science literacy and school science education fWier, 1993; FaIk and Drayton, 1997; Andrews et al., 2005). Scientists' contributions of materials, expertise, and enthusiasm have the potential to improve science education nationally-but these contributions must be mobilized effectively to realize genuine benefits and sustain scientists' involvement.

Scientists can contribute to education in many ways: as advocates and spokespersons; as experts on science and the scientific process; as people with exciting, true stories of exploration and discovery; as providers of data and facilities; and as role models for students and teachers (Bybee and Morrow, 1998; Morrow, 2000; Bower, 1996; NRC, 1996). These roles may be carried out at varying levels of involvement, in formal and informal education, and on behalf of students, teachers, or leaders of systemic change.

However, to contribute effectively in these roles, scientists need crucial skills and understanding (Laursen, 2006; Leshner, 2007). Scientists tend first to offer their content expertise, yet research topics are not always appropriate for K-12 science. Scientists may be more comfortable in high schools than at lower grades, where children may be reached before losing interest in science (Alberts, 1991). Cultural and language differences can inhibit effective interaction of scientists with educators (Bower, 1996; Morrow 2003; Richmond, 1996; Tanner, Chatman, and Alien, 2003). In sum, scientists need professional development to make their education work both effective and rewarding. Indeed, a poor experience with outreach can deter further participation (Andrews et al., 2005).

The ReSciPE Project (Resources for Scientists in Partnership with Education) grew out of the recognition that effective participation in education or outreach (E/O) work is a new professional expectation for most scientists. While a few programs have addressed broad E/O participation (Morrow and Dusenberry, 2004) or training for specific programs (e.g., SEP, 2007; CRS, no date), in general, professional development on education for working scientists has been rare. Between 2004 and 2007, ReSciPE has given 16 workshops on "Scientific Inquiry in the Classroom" to over 350 scientists and educators at laboratories, universities, and conferences across the US. The project also developed the ReSciPE Book, a selective online collection of annotated resources (ReSciPE, 2005). …

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