Connecting Tennessee to the World Ocean: Formative Evaluation Report

February 24th, 2011 | EVALUATION

In October 2009, the Tennessee Aquarium began an ambitious program, Connecting Tennessee to the World Ocean (CTWO), funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CTWO consists of several individual projects, all intended to increase the ocean literacy of Aquarium audiences and to promote their adoption of an ocean stewardship ethic. This formative evaluation report summarizes the extent to which the Aquarium has made progress toward these goals in the first year of the project and provides an information base for identifying opportunities to strengthen implementation of four CTWO components. The four project components and their key associated evaluation findings follow. 1. Classroom-based activities. The Aquarium renovated classroom spaces, updated educational technology and teaching materials, and introduced new ocean-related programming for visiting school groups. Aquarium educators have integrated recognized best practices of science education into their programming, particularly by adopting inquiry-based, hands-on, active learning approaches to helping students learn ocean literacy and stewardship messages. Of children who participate in Aquarium programs, 85% could write at least one statement about what they had learned about the ocean during the program, and 54% could write two statements. 75% of these children could also write a statement communicating an ocean-specific stewardship message, and about a third of these connoted an understanding of the importance of ocean stewardship specifically for inland persons. The Aquarium also expanded access to ocean-related programs to underrepresented student groups; in the first year of CTWO, 27,954 students from underrepresented groups were admitted free (a nearly 200% increase over the previous year), and 8,271 students participated in ocean-related programming in their own schools conducted by Aquarium outreach educators. 2. Web-based activities. The Tennessee Aquarium strengthened use of web-based media to communicate ocean literacy and stewardship messages by adding extensive ocean-related educational content to the main Aquarium website and by using social media outlets to pique web visitors' interest in the ocean and ocean life. In the first year of CTWO, the educational pages were viewed 236,398 times in 180,429 unique visits, and the Aquarium's 38 ocean-related YouTube videos were viewed 15,780 times. At the end of the first year, the Aquarium had over 3,500 Twitter followers and 31,000 Facebook fans, and these social media outlets generated many positive, enthusiastic responses. Many members of the Aquarium's internet audience had come to regard the Aquarium as a source of ocean-related educational content, with over two-thirds of survey respondents saying they would visit the Tennessee Aquarium website for ocean-related educational content. 3. Civic engagement series. During the first year of CTWO, the Aquarium hosted the first two of its series of lectures on ocean topics, with these first two lectures featuring Sylvia Earle and James McClintock and attended by a total of 240 people. 89% of respondents to a follow-up survey conducted 30 - 60 days after each lecture volunteered an ocean-related response when asked to summarize the main point of the lecture, 67% could describe at least one thing they learned about the ocean or life in the ocean, and 39% could describe a specific behavioral change indicative of an ocean stewardship ethic. 4. Professional development. By the end of 2010, 10 Aquarium staff members had participated in professional development opportunities to build their capacity for delivering ocean literacy and stewardship messages to Aquarium audiences. These Aquarium staff members were able to describe a number of ways that the training they received would help them achieve CTWO goals. These findings, and the more detailed findings presented in the full report, are intended to provide a starting point for discussions at the Tennessee Aquarium about how to strengthen CTWO. Points recommended for discussion include how to engage students in more stages of the scientific method when exploring ocean topics, how to emphasize the connection of inland persons to the ocean when communicating stewardship messages, how the popularity of the Aquarium's social media might draw users into more in-depth ocean learning, how the Aquarium may capitalize on lecture attendees' enthusiasm for learning more and sharing what they learned, how to expand the lecture series to broader audiences, and how to institutionalize the benefits of Aquarium staff members' professional development. The appendix of this report includes the observation tool and surveys used in the study.



Team Members

Christopher Horne, Evaluator, Tennessee Aquarium
Tennessee Aquarium, Contributor


Funding Source: NOAA
Award Number: NA09SEC4690041
Funding Amount: 1300000

Related URLs


Audience: Adults | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Evaluators | Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Geoscience and geography | Life science | Nature of science
Resource Type: Coding Schema | Evaluation Reports | Formative | Observation Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Survey
Environment Type: Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits | Aquarium and Zoo Programs | Community Outreach Programs | Exhibitions | Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Media and Technology | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media