Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Scientists and Public Outreach: Participation, Motivations, and Impediments

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Scientists and Public Outreach: Participation, Motivations, and Impediments

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Public funding agencies are increasingly requiring "broader impact" components in research grants. Concurrently, national educational leaders are calling for scientists to partner with educators to reform science education. Through the use of survey and interview data, our study examined the participation of researchers, faculty members, and graduate students from federal research laboratories and a Research I university, who were involved in K-12 and public outreach activities.

We found that scientists were often recruited into K-12 outreach activities by local departmental liaisons, colleagues, or professors. Scientists most frequently gave presentations, tutored, and organized or judged science fairs. Outreach participation varied by career stage, job type, and gender. The strongest motivating factors were a desire to contribute and enjoying their outreach experiences. For graduate students and researchers, a third motivating factor was the chance to improve their teaching and communication skills. Scientists of all types, however, viewed outreach as a form of volunteer work that was auxiliary to their other responsibilities. Time constraints due to other, higher priorities, the lower value placed on outreach by departments, and a lack of detailed information about outreach opportunities were significant barriers to participation. Even so, only a few scientists viewed their outreach experiences negatively, mostly due to classroom management, logistical, or organizational problems, or a lack of outreach skills.

INTRODUCTION

Outreach has been defined as "a meaningful and mutually beneficial collaboration with partners in education, business, public and social service. It represents that aspect of teaching that enables learning beyond the campus walls, that aspect of research that makes what we discover useful beyond the academic community, and that aspect of service that directly benefits the public" (Ray, 1999). Science outreach may include tutoring, mentoring, giving presentations or facilitating inquiry, supporting teachers, judging science fairs, developing resources and curricula, interacting with children or teachers in summer or after-school programs, and so forth.

Historically, outreach from universities to the public has been viewed as important to a democratic society and the economy (Kezar, 2000; Boyer, 1996). Today, there is a nation-wide call to realign university missions to fulfill their service duties to civil society (see for example Rice, 2003; Dyer, 1999; McGrath, 1999; Ray, 1999; Byrne, 1998; Votruba, 1996). Universities are being asked to practice what the late Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, called the "scholarship of engagement" (Boyer, 1996). The scientific community, in particular, is being asked to participate in education reform. Leaders of the National Science Foundation and National Science Board call for scientists to help reform science and math education by engaging in "effective equal partnerships with K-12 schools" (Colwell and Kelly, 1999). Scientists are needed to help coordinate precollege and college-level academic requirements, assist with teacher preparation and professional development, develop instructional materials, and improve research on learning. They can serve in various roles, such as advocates, resources, or partners to students, teachers, schools of education, science centers, and advisory boards (Bybee and Morrow, 1998). Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academy of Science, calls these partnerships "an important national priority" (Alberts, 1993). At the same time, public agencies that fund scientific research are increasingly requiring that researchers invest some of their funding in education or outreach activities that have a "broader impact" (NSF 2002; NSF 2001; NSF 1997; NASA, 1996). Research projects funded by NASA, for example, place "significant emphasis on delivering the benefit of [their] research endeavors to [their] public audiences" (Christian, 2003). …

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