Astronomy From the Ground Up: Research and Evaluation Executive Summary
Astronomy from the Ground Up (AFGU) was a five year project directed by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) and funded by the NSF Informal Science Education (ISE) division (DRL- 0451933). The primary partner institutions were the National Optical AstronomyObservatory (NOAO) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC). Between 2006 and 2008, the AFGU project hosted 6 onsite and 6 online workshops. The project provided professional development for informal science educators in the area of astronomy educational
programming. The project’s primary goal was to encourage more astronomy-related programming to the public through participant institutions, with a target audience of educators
from nature centers and small science centers.
The main workshops were held in two different formats; one set was held during an intensive three day in-person workshop (onsite workshops) and the other was a three week online workshop experience (online workshops). Both workshops and the supplementary materials were offered free of charge to the participants. Participants took part in either the online or the onsite workshops, but not in both. While the experiences were different in duration and nature of contact, significant effort was made by the ASP team to match the workshops in terms of type of content, workshop activities, and level of support. The team promoted a cohort approach, so that participants became familiar with other individuals within their
workshop, benefiting from other participants within the AFGU community. One of the goals of the summative evaluation of AFGU was to compare the relative benefits and affordances of the online and onsite formats, so as to inform the ISE community about future endeavors in professional development training.
This executive summary covers the relative advantages and disadvantages in the onsite and online workshop approach. For example, online workshop participants had slightly lower overall gains the onsite workshops, in most cases there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups. Further, the online group had significant gains in every learning outcome. During the case studies and telephone interviews, online group participants commented on how without the online option, they would not have been able to participate in AFGU due to their small staff and budget size, even with funding for the travel being provided. One individual even noted that if she was to attend a workshop she would have to close her institution during that period. This finding emphasizes the need for online professional development opportunities. Future projects attempting to reach a target audience of informal science educators at small institutions should consider offering online professional development so as to better include this population.