YouthAstroNet: Research on the scale-up of innovative technology experiences in astronomy and science imaging

YouthAstroNet: Research on the scale-up of innovative technology experiences in astronomy and science imaging


The Youth Astronomy Network (YouthAstroNet) project will support and research the scaling-up, broadening of participation, and sustainable implementation of an innovative online platform for learners ages 11-14. It features customized access to robotic telescopes, support for authentic engagement with scientific and computational analysis tools and practices, opportunities to pursue space science-related activities and investigations of personal interest. It also includes live and asynchronous interaction with peers, educators, and diverse adult volunteers from related STEM and information and communications technology (ICT) fields who serve as online role models and mentors. YouthAstroNet’s in-school and out-of-school activities engage learners to plan and request remote observations from robotic digital imaging telescopes, to analyze and enhance telescopic images, and to create and share reports on their astronomical findings. The project draws on a growing collection of educator-contributed resources that support culturally-relevant adaptations of the program for different communities. Prior research has demonstrated that these learning experiences and other specific program factors promote gains in important skills and content knowledge along with science affinity, STEM career interest, computer affinity and science identity, especially for youth from groups historically underrepresented in STEM. The insights generated by this project will help educational stakeholders and the developers of learning innovations understand how promising interventions can be effectively scaled up in ways that sustain impact on learners while providing both equity of access and equitable participation. Over the course of the project, YouthAstroNet will expand its reach to 500 educators in both school and community settings, and up to 15,000 students ages 11-14, particularly underrepresented minority students in under-resourced schools and communities. The project begins with a leadership cadre of experienced YouthAstroNet educators, teen advisors, and the project’s advisory board to optimize the intervention and its online professional development (PD) model for broadened participation, sustainable adoption, and spread. Over the following three years, the project team will then strategically recruit 150-200 new educators each year into the program from a variety of institutional contexts -- teachers of Earth and Space Science in grades 5-9, and out-of-school educators from afterschool programs, libraries, museums, and community centers -- focusing especially on the recruitment of participants from groups underrepresented in STEM. Recruited educators will be randomly assigned to one of four different conditions of initial PD training, implementation coaching by peer leaders, and access to STEM expertise, with decreasing involvement of the project team. This tests how different strategies for educator PD promote (or inhibit) the successful adoption and integration of a technology-rich learning innovation into different settings, and to examine the conditions under which YouthAstroNet is most impactful on student and educator outcomes. The project aims to answer the following research questions: 1) Does a focused version of the YouthAstroNet intervention, optimized for scale-up, produce equal or better results (as measured by student and teacher outcomes) than the original project? 2) How do student experiences, teacher practices, and student and teacher outcomes differ between the YouthAstroNet program and other STEM programs of similar duration? 3) How do student experiences, teacher practices, and student and teacher outcomes differ between novice educators and those who have previously participated in the program? 4) Under which conditions of PD support is the intervention most successful in producing gains in STEM interest, identity and career interest – especially for female and underrepresented minority students? Research instruments include previously validated pre- and post-surveys for students that measure STEM knowledge, interest, affinity, and identity, along with online participation analytics. Educators will complete pre- and post-PD, and post-implementation surveys, using a concerns-based adoption model to measure their progress in readiness to integrate the project into their program and to gather relevant data on classroom, organizational, and community contextual factors. Studying the broad implementation of YouthAstroNet will produce generalizable findings of how innovative technology experiences that promote STEM and ICT career interest can be adopted and adapted in sustainable ways on a large scale. This project is funded by the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program, which supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements, contexts and processes contributing to increasing students' knowledge and interest in STEM and ICT careers. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



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2021 - 2026


Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory Cambridge, MA

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