STEM Matters: Investigating the Confluence of Visitor and Institutional Learning Agendas

Thursday, September 15, 2016 to Monday, August 31, 2020
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Project Descriptions
Environment Type: 
Public Programs, Aquarium and Zoo Programs, Professional Development, Conferences, and Networks, Professional Development and Workshops, Exhibitions, Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators
Ecology, forestry, and agriculture | Education and learning science | General STEM | Life science
Franklin County Historical Society, New Knowledge Organization Ltd., Oregon State University, Garibay Group

The project will conduct a nation wide study to address three broad questions:

(1) How does the public view zoos and aquariums and how do these institutions affect STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) learning outside their walls?

(2) How do visitors experience zoos at different stages in their lives and how do zoo visits affect their knowledge and perspectives concerning environmental issues and conservation?

(3) What are the entry characteristics of visitors and how do those characteristics play out in behaviors during a visit?

The project is designed to advance understanding of how informal STEM learning emerges through the intersection of institutional pedagogy and learning goals and the characteristics of individuals and their social and cultural backgrounds. As the first institutional study that advances a field-wide research agenda, the project will map how to implement a national collaborative effort that can help refine program delivery and cooperation between zoos, aquariums and other STEM learning institutions.

The study will describe zoo and aquarium visitors based on a broad understanding of demographics, group, and individual perspectives to expand understanding of how these factors influence visitor learning and how they view the relevance of educational messages presented by zoos and aquariums. The project will result in reports, workshops and a handbook presenting findings of practical value for educators, a research platform and research tools, online discussion forums, and directions for future research. The project, led by New Knowledge Organization (NKO), will be carried out through the collaboration of NKO with other informal research organizations and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) with its 230 informal science learning institutional members. This project is supported by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds research and innovative resources for use in a variety of settings, as a part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments.

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Team Members

Joe E HeimlichPrincipal Investigator
John FraserPrincipal Investigator
Martin StorksdieckCo-Principal Investigator
Cecilia GaribayEvaluator
Kelly RiedingerProject Staff

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