Evaluation of a Training in Science Education Outreach Course Summary
As interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education grows (Olson & Riordan, 2012), the need for professionals to clearly communicate sophisticated concepts associated with these areas also increases (Fischoff & Scheufele, 2013). This evaluation focuses on a 3 credit university course “Training in Science Education Outreach” which utilizes a novel course structure. The course’s main aim is to teach graduate and undergraduate students how to speak to the public about science, focusing specifically on language science. The structure of the course is non-traditional in that a portion of the required course hours must be completed at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in the form of hands-on science demonstrations for visitors. Students performed interactive science demonstrations covering a range of language topics from the physiology of the larynx (producing speech) to the Stroop task, a task demonstrating how reading is automatic for a literate person. Demonstrations lasted around 5 minutes, or longer depending on visitor interest. Other course activities include guest speakers, lectures, and discussion. Fifteen undergraduate and graduate students from the fall 2014 course participated as well as 71 groups of COSI visitors. Groups ranged from one to thirteen people. The course had three goals: 1) increase students’ knowledge about language and their confidence in engaging in scientific discussions, 2) train the students to present a successful science demonstration, 3) improve COSI visitors’ experience as a result of interacting with a student. The corresponding evaluation goals to measure the effectiveness of this novel course model were: 1) To what extent was there an increase in students’ knowledge of language for and confidence in discussing science with the public? 2) What was the quality of the students’ science demonstrations, as evidenced by accuracy, engagement, and appropriateness? 3) In what ways, if any, did the demonstrations improve the COSI visitors’ overall experience? Data from a combination of student questionnaires, student observations, and interviews with COSI visitors revealed a positive impact from the course on all three goals. Specifically, taking the course significantly improved students’ views of their ability to communicate effectively with the public and observation scores found that 80% of the students in the course could successfully perform a science demonstration by the end of the course. Students that failed to meet this criteria either presented inaccurate information, provided too little information, was not sufficiently engaging, or some combination of the three. Average student interest in science outreach increased by 15% from the beginning to the end of the course. In addition 92% of students reported increased language knowledge, although overall scores on a test of language myths did not show much improvement. Visitors provided an accurate piece of information from the demonstration 76% of the time, indicating that they learned something new from the 5-minute interaction. Finally, 98% of COSI visitors interviewed after experiencing a science demonstration said the demonstration improved their visit to COSI. This multi-faceted evaluation of a unique course model suggests that, overall, the course was effective at teaching students skills in interacting with the public, generally improving their confidence as (language) science communicators, and enriching COSI visitors’ experiences. Appendix includes instruments.