The Circuit: A Platform for Increasing Access to, Deepening and Researching patterns of Family and Adult Participation in Informal Science
This project will research and develop the Circuit, a mobile phone and web-based application that will empower families and the general public to discover the broad spectrum of informal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) opportunities that exist in most communities. These informal STEM resources include science and children's museums, science and computer camps, maker spaces, afterschool programs, citizen science and much more. There is currently no "one-stop" searching for these resources. Instead, participants must conduct multiple, inefficient Internet searches to find the sought for STEM resources. The Circuit will enable users to efficiently search a rich informal STEM database, identifying resources by location, geography, age levels, science discipline, type of program and other factors. The Circuit builds on SciStarter, an existing online platform that connects thousands of prospective and active citizen scientists to citizen science projects. SciStarter has made possible the collection and organization of several thousand citizen science projects that would otherwise be scattered across the web. The Circuit will build on SciStarter's technical achievements in the citizen science sector, while systematically encompassing the offerings of established national networks. By integrating existing networks of informal STEM resources, the app will afford the public with unrivaled access to informal STEM opportunities, while collecting data that reveals patterns of engagement towards understanding factors of influence between different types of STEM experiences.
The app will provide researchers with new opportunities for researching how families and adults participate in the ecosystem of informal STEM resources in their communities. The Circuit will develop web tools to aggregate and organize digital content from trusted, currently siloed, informal STEM networks of content providers. These include science festivals, science and children's museums, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and Discover Magazine (3 million readers), the largest general interest science publication. Each content partner will feed the app with information directly or through their membership and encourage adoption of The Circuit within their respective communities. The project will design digital tools, including APIs (application program interfaces) to acquire and share digital content, embeddable tools to record and analyze data about movement, engagement, and persistence across domains, and social media tools and related APIs to distribute, track, and analyze content, engagement and demographics. (An API is a code that allows two software programs to communicate with each other.) The project will conduct small-scale, proof-of-conduct studies, to test the viability of the platform to support future, independent full-scale research. An analytics dashboard will be designed and tested with partners, researchers, and evaluators to ensure access to data on patterns of visits, clicks, referrals, searches, "joins," bookmarks, shares, contributions, user-locations, persistence, and more, within and across domains. Because each partner will feed their analytics into the shared dashboard, this will provide unprecedented and much-needed data to advance research in informal STEM learning. The Circuit will allow the tracking of patterns of engagement across networks and programs. Anonymized analytics of behavioral data from end users of The Circuit will support new approaches to advance evidence-based understanding of connected informal STEM learning by exhibiting engagement patterns across informal STEM domains. Through volunteer participation by the public, the Circuit will explore the geographic and demographic patterns of participants in the system, and derive important design lessons for its own and future efforts to create curated systems of connected learning across STEM education in informal settings.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.
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