Big Astronomy in Chile through Dome+
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The team of Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), Michigan State University (MSU), California Academy of Science (the Academy), Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), and Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), will bring together experts in astronomy, STEM education, and planetarium show production. This work will tell the story of the people and places that make "big astronomy" possible, particularly the search for exoplanets and understanding of how planets form. The show and related materials will be presented in dozens of venues around the USA and internationally. Through a planetarium show and learning experiences that extend beyond the theater, the team will take visitors to extreme sites of the NSF ground-based observatories on the mountains of Chile and meet the diverse people who enable amazing discoveries in astronomy. In addition, the project develops the Dome+ model, which ensures engagement does not end with the planetarium. Dome+ will include additional content, weekly virtual sessions with STEM professionals, and a suite of closely linked outreach activities. Dome+ will serve as a model to extend engagement and increase the impact of future planetarium shows. Project goals include 1) increasing awareness of the research in astronomy being made at the NSF-funded observatories in Chile, 2) increasing awareness and interest in diverse STEM career opportunities at large observatories and related institutions in the USA, 3) increasing knowledge of science enabled by big observatories, 4) increasing Latinx perceptions as someone who can have a career at a major observatory, and 5) developing the Dome+ model and identify best practices for implementation. Iterative and summative evaluation of the project by collaborators at MSU will address four main questions: How does the Dome+ model affect visitors' perceptions of diversity of careers in STEM? How does the Dome+ model affect visitors' interest and understanding of Chile as an ideal observing location for astronomy? How does the Dome+ model support visitors' interest and understanding of the science of exoplanets? How do planetariums implement Dome+, and how does implementation affect the outcomes for visitors? The impact assessment component of this project takes places in four phases. The goals of the first phase are to leverage the expertise of the research team to inform the creation of the planetarium show and to set up a robust research agenda to be achieved in Years 2-4 of the project. The goals of the second phase are to collect preliminary data from visitors on their responses to planetarium show content and to use this information to advise on edits to the show and to develop the content and format of the web-portal and educational materials. The goal of the third phase is to then collect data on how effectively the technology-rich environments of the three components of the Dome+ model (planetarium show, web-portal, educational materials) work in concert to reach the intended goals of changing visitors' perceptions of diversity in STEM, engaging visitors with astronomy content on exoplanets, and exposing visitors to the wonders of astronomy research in Chile. The goal of the fourth phase is to perform data analysis, synthesize findings and make recommendations for future implementations of the Dome+ model for practitioners. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.