DIG: Scientists in Alaska’s Scenery – Frontier Scientists Summative Evaluation Report

May 1st, 2012 | EVALUATION

Frontier Scientists (FS) is an NSF-funded University of Alaska - Fairbanks (UAF) and WonderVisions (WV) collaborative project whose mission was to excite the general public about ongoing science in Alaska and the Arctic. The Frontier Scientists website (www.frontierscientists.com) covers a wide range of topics including: humanities, geology, biology, marine science, archaeology, ecology, chemistry, and more. At the time of the summative evaluation, it included 53 video clips (the major focus of the website), as well as a number of blog posts, narrative descriptions, and short bios.This summative evaluation examined the nature of the website user experience, with a particular focus on their use of one stack of 8 videos about grizzly bears. The evaluation used a naturalistic methodology and consisted of two phases: (a) a critical review of the website; and (b) depth interviews with 25 respondents for a total of approximately 46 hours of contact time.The summative evaluation concluded that the Frontier Scientists website and videos are a valuable contribution to the current array of informal science education materials available to the public. The ability to get to know real scientists doing real work in the Arctic was a major strength of this project, and the data clearly indicated that viewers appreciated the accessibility of the scientists. The opportunity to learn about new research findings was another major strength of the Frontier Scientists project. All respondents learned new things when they watched the videos, and appreciated the opportunity to learn more. The FS website and videos made an important contribution showcasing beautiful and authentic Arctic scenery, flora, and fauna. Seeing these images stirred in many respondents a desire to visit, or re-visit, the Arctic. The evaluation identified some challenges that continue to face the Frontier Scientists project, the most significant being the overall diffuse nature of the website, including a general target audience, and an unclear overarching purpose. Other challenges that remain are primarily technical, and many of these website revisions have already been started. (Responding to evaluation findings has been an integral component of this proof-of-concept phase of the FS project, and continues during the writing of this report.) Making the video clips shorter and more focused, revising the titles of many video clips so they convey a more accurate depiction of what the video is about, replacing some of the still shots with moving images, fixing the variable audio quality, and refining the organization and user interface of the website, will all go a long way towards taking the project to the next level. Additional specific recommendations are included in the report. A short note from the PI and Co-PI (May, 2012): Frontier Scientists (FS) funded for one year has been an exciting demonstration project for the scientists, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, WonderVisions, Selinda Research Associates, Alpine Internet Solutions, Anchorage Daily News blog page, Nature News Network Blog, and the general public who have found the FS website and FS App. The logistical challenges scientists face every year to accomplish their research in the Arctic and Alaska in the short summer makes collaborative effort the method and the mantra. Likewise, to get Frontier Scientists up and running took collaborative effort.At this point, Frontier Scientists has developed a rhythm. Every week a blog is posted, every month new videos are released through a press release to our mailing lists. Soon to come is the broadcast of these videos on Alaskan TV in a series called Frontier Scientists. Scientists have identified the value of these videos about their work and have contacted Frontier Scientists for new videos. Perhaps the scientists see that their stories are told well and they have editorial control of the content. They see that the format of the video without a narrator eliminates poorly worded descriptions of their science. Agencies such as USGS, NPS, BLM are happy to collaborate in video stories about their scientists. The use of the videos has been made easy -anyone can download the videos. The creative commons copyright through YouTube has been attributed to the videos. FS has also made the videos available on DVD if requested. For example, the Co-PI was able to observe people choosing & watching the Petroglyph videos at the Alutiiq Museum on Kodiak Island. The videos had been incorporated as part of a display. In the following report by Selinda Research Associates you will read their recommendations for the website and content improvements. FS has already completed those changes. FS has responded quickly to their good suggestions. A big task in front of FS is to connect better with the general public. We have the infrastructure in place with the website and the App. The next step will take collaborative effort with tourism entities we look forward to that challenge. The appendix of this report includes the interview protocol used in the study.



Team Members

Deborah Perry, Evaluator, Selinda Research Associates, Inc.
University of Alaska - Fairbanks, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Arctic Social Sciences
Award Number: 1058800
Funding Amount: 300000

Related URLs

DIG: Scientists in Alaska's Scenery


Audience: Adults | Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM | Nature of science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Interview Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Summative
Environment Type: Media and Technology | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media