CAREER: Redefining Scientific Literacy at the Community Level - Researching Science Learning using a Social Network Approach

Saturday, May 1, 2021 to Thursday, April 30, 2026
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Community Outreach Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Professional Development and Workshops
Undergraduate/Graduate Students | Administration/Leadership/Policymakers | General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Learning Researchers
Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | General STEM | Health and medicine | Literacy
North Carolina State University

Developing solutions to large-scale collective problems -- such as resilience to environmental challenges -- requires scientifically literate communities. However, the predominant conception of scientific literacy has focused on individuals, and there is not consensus as to what community level scientific literacy is or how to measure it. Thus, a 2016 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report, “Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences,” stated that community level scientific literacy is undertheorized and understudied. More specifically, the committee recommended that research is needed to understand both the i) contexts (e.g., a community’s physical and social setting) and ii) features of community organization (e.g., relationships within the community) that support community level science literacy and influence successful group action. This CAREER award responds to this nationally identified need by iteratively refining a model to conceptualize and measure community level scientific literacy. The model and metrics developed in this project may be applied to a wide range of topics (e.g., vaccination, pandemic response, genetically-modified foods, pollution control, and land-use decisions) to improve a community’s capacity to make scientifically-sound collective decisions. This CAREER award is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) and the EHR CORE Research (ECR) programs. It supports the AISL program goals to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. It supports the ECR program goal to advance relevant research knowledge pertaining to STEM learning and learning environments.

The proposed research will conceptualize, operationalize, and measure community level scientific literacy. This project will use a comparative multiple case study research design. Three coastal communities, faced with the need to make scientifically-informed land-use decisions, will be studied sequentially. A convergent mixed methods design will be employed, in which qualitative and quantitative data collection and analyses are performed concurrently. To describe the i) context of each community case, this project will use qualitative research methods, including document analysis, observation, focus groups, and interviews. To measure the ii) features of community organization for each community case, social network analysis will be used. The results from this research will be disseminated throughout and at the culmination of the project through professional publications and conference presentations as well as with community stakeholders and the general public. The integrated education activities include a professional learning certificate for informal science education professionals and STEM graduate students. This certificate emphasizes high-quality community-engaged scholarship, placing students with partners such as museums, farmer’s markets, and libraries, to offer informal learning programs in their communities. This professional learning program will be tested as a model to provide training for STEM graduate students who would like to communicate their research to the public through outreach and extension activities.

Funding Program: 
ECR-EHR Core Research, AISL
Award Number: 
Funding Amount: 

Team Members

K.C. BuschPrincipal Investigator

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