RAPID: Using Popular Media to Educate Youth About the Biology of Viruses and the Current COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, May 1, 2020 to Friday, April 30, 2021
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Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media, Public Programs, Museum and Science Center Programs, Library Programs
Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | General Public | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
Education and learning science | Life science
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of settings.

This RAPID was submitted in response to the NSF Dear Colleague letter related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This award is made by the AISL program in the Division of Research on Learning, using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The project will develop and research an integrated package of high-quality, widely accessible media and other outreach materials designed to engage middle school youth, educators, and libraries in learning about viruses in relation to COVID-19. There is an immediate need to provide youth with accurate, engaging, and accessible materials to help them understand the basic biology underlying the COVID-19 pandemic, including the routes of COVID-19 transmission and mechanisms to prevent its spread. This is particularly important for those without science backgrounds or interests so that the rumors, hearsay, and gossip circulating among youth can be replaced with research-based information. Since 2007, the project team and partners have focused on developing and studying new ways of educating youth and the public about biology, virology, and infectious disease. The project will develop a web-accessible package of customizable graphics, illustrated stories, and essays--all of which can be easily incorporated into free-choice and directed on-line learning as well standards-based lesson plans for Grades 6-8. These resources will be disseminated broadly and at no cost to youth and educators of all kinds, including schools, libraries, museums, and other established networks for formal and informal science education. The project web package will be linked to multiple websites that serve as important educational resources on science and virology for youth, the general public, and educators. A prominent university press will publish and promote the illustrated stories and support distribution of 7,000 free copies.

The project will conduct research examining how richly-illustrated science narratives impact youth understanding of and curiosity about science. The research will help develop the foundation for better understanding how to educate youth about COVID-19 (and future pandemics) while generating new knowledge about effective methods for public science outreach during a major unanticipated natural event. For formative evaluation, the project will use an innovative rapid response feedback method. Youth will be invited to provide timely, specific comments on the serialized stories through a curated portal. As new excerpts are related online, different questions will be posed to youth who are selected because of specific characteristics (e.g., low or high initial science interest). These data will guide story development in real time and provide a mechanism to gauge the story appeal, comprehensibility, and initial impacts. The project will address two research questions: (1) How effective are illustrated stories in having positive impacts among participants on COVID-19 knowledge, science identity, attitudes, and interest in science careers?; and (2) How do story lines and characters have differential impacts on virus knowledge, epidemiology, and youth attitudes towards science and science careers? To conduct this research, the project will conduct online surveys using adapted items from prior research conducted by the project team. Additional items will assess COVID-19 knowledge, attitudes, personal experiences with the virus, well-being, and exposure to public health messaging about the virus. Research findings will be shared widely to inform the field about new ways delivering science education content during the advent of rapidly evolving global and educational challenges.

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.

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Team Members

Judy DiamondPrincipal Investigator
Julia McQuillanJulia McQuillanCo-Principal Investigator
Patricia Wonch HillPatricia Wonch HillCo-Principal Investigator
Elizabeth VanWormerElizabeth VanWormerCo-Principal Investigator

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