Empowering Informal Educators to Prepare Future Generations in Wireless Radio Communications with Mobile Resources
Wireless radio communications, such as Wi-Fi, transmit public and private data from one device to another, including cell phones, computers, medical equipment, satellites, space rockets, and air traffic control. Despite their critical role and prevalence, many people are unfamiliar with radio waves, how they are generated and interact with their surroundings, and why they are the basis of modern communication and navigation. This topic is not only increasingly relevant to the technological lives of today's youth and public, it is critical to the National Science Foundation's Industries of the Future activities, particularly in advancing wireless education and workforce development. In this project, STEM professionals from academia, industry and informal education will join forces to design, evaluate, and launch digital apps, a craft-based toolkit, activity guides, and mobile online professional learning, all of which will be easily accessed and flexibly adapted by informal educators to engage youth and the public about radio frequency communications. Experiences will include embodied activities, such as physically linking arms to create and explore longitudinal and transverse waves; mobile experiences, such as augmented reality explorations of Wi-Fi signals or collaborative signal jamming simulations; and technological exploration, such as sending and receiving encrypted messages.
BSCS Science Learning, Georgia Tech, and the Children's Creativity Museum (CCM) with National Informal STEM Education Network (NISE Net) museum partners will create pedagogical activity designs, digital apps, and a mobile online professional learning platform. The project features a rigorous and multipronged research and development approach that builds on prior learning sciences studies to advance a learning design framework for nimble, mobile informal education, while incorporating the best aspects of hands-on learning. This project is testing two related hypotheses: 1) a mobile strategy can be effective for supporting just-in-time informal education of a highly technical, scientific topic, and 2) a mobile suite of resources, including professional learning, can be used to teach informal educators, youth, and the general public about radio frequency communications. Data sources include pre- and post- surveys, interviews, and focus groups with a wide array of educators and learners.
A front-end study will identify gaps in public understanding and perceptions specific to radio frequency communications, and serve as a baseline for components of the summative research. Iterative formative evaluation will incorporate participatory co-design processes with youth and informal educators. These processes will support materials that are age-appropriate and culturally responsive to not only youth, with an emphasis on Latinx youth, but also informal educators and the broader public. Summative evaluation will examine the impact of the mobile suite of resources on informal educators' learning, facilitation confidence and intentions to continue to incorporate the project resources into their practice. The preparation of educators in supporting public understanding of highly technological STEM topics can be an effective way for supporting just-in-time public engagement and interests in related careers. Data from youth and museum visitors will examine changes to interest, science self-efficacy, content knowledge, and STEM-related career interest. If successful, this design approach may influence how mobile resources are designed and organized effectively to impact future informal education on similarly important technology-rich topics. All materials will be released under Creative Commons licenses allowing for widespread sharing and remixing; research and design findings will be published in academic, industry, and practitioner journals.
This project is co-funded by two NSF programs: The Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. 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 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and information and communication technology (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.