Informal science learning at biological field stations
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As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal Science Learning program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. This Exploratory Pathways project brings together scientists and science curriculum experts with field station leaders to study informal science learning at biological field stations. The objective is to understand and evaluate the unique qualities of field stations as centers of informal and enduring science learning for the non-science community. There are over 400 field stations and represent a science communication mechanism that if available to most US citizens. This project is a collaboration between Texas A&M University and Colorado State University.Field stations typically engage in informal science learning. While there are great examples of informal learning through outreach activities at field stations, little is known about what is happening in the aggregate at these establishments. This project documents the outreach work of field stations and explores the connections between how the outreach activities engage learners, incorporate science topics, and address science learning. By creating an Outreach Ontology, a multidimensional framework around the outreach activities, this work provides a valuable resource and reference to informal science researchers who seek to understand what informal learning projects are undertaken at field stations, and how these activities fit into the broader context of informal science learning. This project will help field stations collaborate on improving informal STEM learning activities by bringing them together to discuss their efforts and by developing a publicly available, searchable database detailing their activities. A particular benefit to advancing informal STEM learning by investigating field stations is the broad range of people and communities that are involved with and affected by field station outreach activities.