University of Colorado at Boulder

Science Outreach

Our group has studied a variety of science outreach programs. We are especially interested in how scientists become involved in education and public outreach and what support they need to be effective. Some of our work goes beyond STEM disciplines to include outreach by university faculty across disciplines.

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Scientist Involvement in Outreach

The ReSciPE Project—Resources for Scientists in Partnership with Education—offered professional development for scientists engaged with outreach to K-12 education. E&ER's study of the scientists who participated in ReSciPE's workshops examined these scientists' motivations and activities in education, and the barriers to their participation. The study findings offer an empirical basis for designing professional development for education-engaged scientists and suggest how scientists can foster more effective science education partnerships.

Laursen, S. & Smith, L. (2009). Helping scientists become effective partners in education and outreach. Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, 90(1), 3.

Thiry, H., Laursen, S. L., & Hunter, A.-B. (2008). Professional development needs and outcomes for education-engaged scientists: A research-based framework and its application. Journal of Geoscience Education 56(3), 235-246.

Laursen, S. L., Thiry, H., & Hunter, A.-B. (2008). Professional development for education-engaged scientists: A research-based framework. In Garmany, C. D., Gibbs, M. G., & Moody, J. W. (eds.), EPO and a Changing World: Creating Linkages and Expanding Partnerships, The 119th Annual ASP Meeting. ASP Conference Series, v. 381. San Francisco: Astronomical Society of the Pacific, pp. 289-297.

Thiry, H. (2007). Resources for Scientists Partnering with Education (ReSciPE): Quantitative analysis of post-workshop surveys. (Report to ReSciPE). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado at Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research.

Thiry, H. & Hunter, A-B. (2007). Evaluation of the Resources for Scientists Partnering with Education (ReSciPE) project: Findings from the interview study. (Report to ReSciPE). Boulder, CO: University of Colorado at Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research.

Andrews, E., Hanley, D., Hovermill, J., Weaver, A. & Melton, G. (2005). Scientists and public outreach: Participation, motivations, and impediments. Journal of Geoscience Education 53(3), 281-293.

The PBO (Plate Boundary Observatory) Nucleus project, hosted by UNAVCO, involved scientists in a variety of roles to support its curriculum workshops on plate tectonics for middle and high school science teachers. E&ER’s evaluation findings from a survey of these scientists reveals their attitudes about the role of scientists in education, and how these may be shifting.

Laursen, S. (2008, July). Scientists’ Participation in Education and Outreach for the PBO Nucleus Project. (Report to UNAVCO) Boulder, CO: University of Colorado at Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research.

Evaluation of ReSciPE was supported by the National Science Foundation under award EAR-0450088. Evaluation of the PBO Nucleus workshops was supported by the National Science Foundation under award EAR-0453975 to UNAVCO. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in these reports are those of the researchers, and do not necessarily represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.

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Design of Outreach Activities

Some of our work describes inquiry-based activities created as tools for outreach, especially for developing public understanding of how science and scientists work.

Laursen, S. L., & Brickley, A. (2011). Focusing the camera lens on the nature of science: Evidence for the effectiveness of documentary film as a Broader Impacts strategy. Journal of Geoscience Education 59, 126-138; doi:10.5408/1.360482 Abstract>>

Laursen, S., & Brickley, A. (2011). “A scientist has many things to do”: E/O strategies that focus on the processes of science. In J. B. Jensen, J. G. Manning, & M. Gibbs (eds.), Earth and Space Science: Making Connections in Education and Public Outreach, ASP Conference Series vol. 443, 116-124. Abstract>>

Upward and Outward: Scientific Inquiry on the Tibetan Plateau (20-minute documentary film, written by Roslyn Dauber and Sandra Laursen). Learn more about the film>>

Laursen, S. L. (2006). Getting unstuck: Strategies for escaping the science standards straitjacket. Astronomy Education Review, 5(1), 162-177. Retrieve fulltext>>

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Outcomes of Outreach Programs

A few of our studies have examined the impact of specific outreach programs. Such studies also highlight the challenges of evaluating outreach. As evaluators for the Biological Sciences Initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder, E&ER studied a classroom outreach program in which graduate student scientists visit K-12 classrooms to present inquiry-based science lessons. Benefits to students and teachers suggest the potential and limitations of short-term classroom interventions, while graduate student scientists described their professional growth as teachers and significant influences on their career paths.

Laursen, S. L., Thiry, H., & Liston, C. (2012). The impact of a university-based school science outreach program on graduate student participants’ career paths and professional socialization. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 16(2), 47-78. Download a copy

Laursen, S., Liston, C., Thiry, H., & Graf, J. (2007). What good is a scientist in the classroom? Participant outcomes and program design features for a short-duration science outreach intervention in K-12 classrooms. CBE-Life Sciences Online 6, 49-64.

Thiry, H., Laursen, S. L., & Liston, C. (2007). (De)Valuing teaching in the academy: Why are underrepresented graduate students overrepresented in teaching and outreach? Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering 13(4), 391-419. DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.v13.i4.50

Laursen, S., Thiry, H., & Liston, C. (2005). Evaluation of the Science Squad Program for the Biological Sciences Initiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder: II. Influence of Squad participation on members’ career paths. (Report to the Biological Sciences Initiative) Boulder, CO: University of Colorado, Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research.

Laursen, S., Liston, C., Thiry, H., Sheff, E. & Coates, C. (2004, November). Evaluation of the Science Squad Program for the Biological Sciences Initiative at the University of Colorado at Boulder: I. Benefits, costs and trade-offs. Report prepared for the Biological Sciences Initiative. Boulder, CO: Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado, Boulder.

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Evaluating University Outreach & Engagement

Many universities seek to share faculty expertise and university resources beyond the confines of campus, yet evaluating the impact of such efforts on external audiences is a challenge. We examined the needs, opportunities and challenges for evaluating faculty outreach activities across colleges and disciplines at the University of Colorado Boulder. The study focused on the potential for evaluating outcomes for audiences external to the university as the intended beneficiaries of outreach. In addition to the needs assessment, we carried out three "demonstration projects" to gain further insight on the opportunities and challenges for evaluation, and to offer concrete examples for others of both possibilities and pitfalls.

Laursen, S., & Archie, T. (2012).  Approaches to Evaluating the Outcomes of Faculty Outreach, Part I:  Needs, Opportunities and Challenges.  [Report to the Office of University Outreach] Boulder, CO: Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado Boulder. Executive summary Full report

Laursen, S., & Arreola-Pena, M., with Posnick, P. (2012).  Approaches to Evaluating Faculty Outreach, Part II:  Demonstration Project—Evaluation of CU Contemporary Dance Works. [Report to the Office of University Outreach] Boulder, CO: Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado Boulder. Executive summary Full report

Laursen, S. (2012).  Approaches to Evaluating Faculty Outreach, Part III: Demonstration Project—Evaluation of Teacher Professional Development Workshops on Sound and Hearing Health.  [Report to the Office of University Outreach] Boulder, CO: Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado Boulder. Executive summary Full report

Laursen, S., & Snow, S., with Regan, C. (2013).  Approaches to Evaluating Faculty Outreach, Part IV: Demonstration Project—Girls at the Museum Exploring Science, GAMES. [Report to the Office of University Outreach] Boulder, CO: Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado Boulder. Executive summary Full report

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