Investigating the Long-term Impacts of Informal Science Learning at Zoos and Aquariums

Date: 
Monday, December 1, 2014 to Monday, November 30, 2015
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Aquarium and Zoo Programs, Exhibitions, Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits
Audience: 
General Public | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
Discipline: 
Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Education and learning science | Engineering | Literacy | Mathematics | Technology
Organization:
Wildlife Conservation Society, Stanford University, Lancaster University, Zoological Society of London
Description or Abstract: 

Based on the number of visitors annually, zoos and aquariums are among the most popular venues for informal STEM learning in the United States and the United Kingdom. Most research into the impacts of informal STEM learning experiences at zoos and aquariums has focused on short-term changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. This Science Learning+ project will identify the opportunities for and barriers to researching the long-term impacts of informal STEM learning experiences at zoos and aquariums. The project will address the following overarching research question: What are and how do we measure the long-term impacts of an informal STEM learning experience at a zoo and aquarium? While previous research has documented notable results, understanding the long-term impacts of zoo and aquarium learning experiences will provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the impact of these programs on STEM knowledge, skills and application. This study will use a participatory process to identify: (1) the range of potential long-term impacts of informal science learning experiences at zoos and aquariums; (2) particular activities that foster these impacts; and (3) opportunities for and barriers to measuring those impacts. First, an in-depth literature review will document previous research efforts to date within the zoo and aquarium community. Second, a series of consultative workshops (both in-person and online) will gather ideas and input from practitioners, researchers, and other stakeholders in zoo and aquarium education. The consultative workshops will focus on two questions in particular: (1) What are the different types and characteristics of informal science learning experiences that take place at zoos and aquariums? and (2) What are the long-term impacts zoos and aquariums are aiming to have on visitors in relation to knowledge, attitudes, skills and behaviors/actions? Finally, visitor surveys at zoos and aquariums in the US and UK will be conducted to gather input on what visitors believe are the long-term impacts of an informal STEM learning opportunity at a zoo or aquarium. The data gathered through all of these activities will inform the design of a five-year, mixed-methods study to investigate long-term impacts and associated indicators of an informal STEM learning experience at a zoo or aquarium. One of the aims of the five-year study will be to test instruments that could eventually be used by the global zoo and aquarium community to measure the long-term impacts of informal STEM learning programs. Designing tools to better understand the long-term impacts of informal STEM learning at zoos and aquariums will contribute to our ability to measure STEM learning outcomes. Additional benefits include improved science literacy and STEM skills amongst visitors over time and an understanding of how education programs contribute to wildlife conservation worldwide.

Funder(s): 
NSF
Funding Program: 
ISE/AISL
Award Number: 
1451313
Funding Amount: 
114997

Team Members

Brian JohnsonPrincipal Investigator
Sarah ThomasSarah ThomasCo-Principal Investigator
Nicole ArdoinNicole ArdoinCo-Principal Investigator
Murray SaundersMurray SaundersCo-Principal Investigator

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