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AfricaUniversity Affairs

Harnessing Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa: NIH joins Africa Movement Thinking initiative

We are experiencing an explosion of data relevant to human health, from both biological and non-health sources, that currently exceeds our ability to capture and interpret. This gap applies to every field of biomedical and behavioral research. If we don’t invest in the data itself, applying known and developing new Data Science (DS) approaches, we are wasting an incredible opportunity to improve Human Health. This set of initiatives addresses that gap for Global Health research and Public Health application in low resource settings.

In the next decade, rapid advances in DS, including new approaches to the description, collection, storage, integration, and analysis of large, heterogeneous, structured and unstructured data sets, and new computational methods such as advanced deep learning, digital phenotypes, machine/artificial intelligence, and 3D imaging are expected to transform biomedical and behavioral research and lead to improved health for individuals and populations. Traditional datasets (e.g. national health systems, surveillance, surveys) are becoming deeper and richer while new sources of data based on new technologies and sensors (e.g. social media, geospatial data, mobile phones, wearables, electronic medical records, bioimaging, and genomics) are emerging that may be of greatest value when linked to DS. Progress in development of huge new data sets and advanced methods for mining them underpin advances in diagnostics, technology development, and the potential for precision public health. This initiative examines whether advances in DS developed and/or applied in the African context can be used to spur discoveries and innovations that ultimately promote significant improvements in health for African individuals, communities, and populations. We define DS as “the interdisciplinary field of inquiry in which quantitative and analytical approaches, processes, and systems are developed and used to extract knowledge and insights from increasingly large and/or complex sets of data” (NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science).

While advances in the United States and other high-income countries (HICs) are being actively explored and increasingly supported in both the public and private sectors, applications that are relevant, affordable, acceptable, and scalable in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are largely undeveloped. Moreover, in most cases applications and tools cannot simply be adapted from HICs for use in LMICS as they are generated from data collections biased towards European ancestry populations and may not apply to other genetic backgrounds (this is true, for example, for GWAS studies, clinical imaging data used as a basis for machine learning, and major disease biomarkers). However, we can leverage the momentum and knowledge generated in this field in HICs to stimulate new investment, knowledge generation and innovations for LMIC populations.

What is InventXR is solving for?

While advances in the United States and other high-income countries (HICs) are being actively explored and increasingly supported in both the public and private sectors, applications that are: relevant, affordable, acceptable, and scalable in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are largely undeveloped. 

  • We focus this initiative in Africa for several reasons: 
    • First, despite recent progress, Africa carries a disproportionate share of the global burden of disease. DS has the potential to significantly impact both quantitative and qualitative research and health on the continent. 
    • Second, the African population is growing faster than other world regions and some African leaders are eager to transition to knowledge-based economies that InventXR infrastructure is well designed for. Extensive mobile phone coverage in Africa has led to major innovations in banking, agriculture, and other sectors and has the potential to “leopard frog” in health care delivery systems, bringing the clinic to the patient through Point of Care (POC) technologies and self-management systems, with applications to rural and underserved populations worldwide. 
    • Third, this initiative is synergistic with and leverages the substantial investments NIH has already made in research and research training in Africa.
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AwardsMovement ThinkingResearchXR

Connecting Researchers in Sharing and Re-Use of Research Data and Software: University of California Office of the President

Sponsor: University of California, Office of the President, Oakland

Guenter Waibel

[email protected] (Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

Open science practices have gained widespread adoption, globally, with the help of federal funding and publisher policies, as well as the increasing visibility and growing awareness of the value of sharing work. This has been largely evident in light of the current COVID19 pandemic, with data sharing driving many areas of research, and open software resources must evolve to meet the needs of researchers. To meet the emerging demands and growing requirements of the research community who need support for both data and software sharing, Dryad and California Digital Library partnered in 2018 and Dryad and Zenodo partnered in 2019. These partnerships have allowed for the three organizations to re-think the data and publishing processes, explore ways for data curation, software preservation, and for output re-use to be tied together more seamlessly.

This project is a one-day, invitational workshop bringing together researchers and adjacent community members with diverse backgrounds to discuss needs, challenges, and priorities for re-using research data and software. The goal of the meeting is to develop pathways for consistent engagement with individuals and groups across the diverse scientific disciplines in order to be connected with and responsive to researchers’ needs and goals. Meeting topics include dataset re-use, deposition guidance, curation standards and requirements, integrations and relationships between data and code, and advocacy and adoption. The anticipated outputs are a set of requirements and needs to better enable data and software sharing and re-use.

InventXRLearn TechResearchXR

SusChEM: Design Principles Inspired by Symmetry for Controlling Singlet Fission in Structurally Well-Defined Covalent Dimers: University of Colorado at Boulder

Niels Damrauer

[email protected]

In this project funded by the Chemical Structure, Dynamic & Mechanism B Program of the Chemistry Division, Professors Niels H. Damrauer and Tarek Sammakia of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder are synthesizing new organic molecular systems that contain two chromophores (i.e., parts of the molecules that can absorb light) and using spectroscopy to explore their photophysics. The goal is to develop design rules for how the arrangement of the chromophores controls excited state reactivity following visible light photoexcitation. The particular reaction of interest is important in certain next-generation strategies to increase the efficiency of solar cells by limiting waste heat production that generally occurs when higher energy solar photons are absorbed. This proposal establishes a fundamental research program where students are exposed to a considerable breadth of ideas in synthesis, spectroscopy, and applications of electronic structure theory. A specific outreach effort in collaboration with local high school teachers is part of the funded work that aims to provide sophisticated but affordable spectroscopic tools and curriculum ideas to Colorado high school science programs. <br/><br/>Singlet fission is a photophysical phenomenon observed in certain organic materials wherein light absorption produces a spin-allowed singlet excited state that then non-radiatively converts to a pair of triplet excitations. If these triplets can be further transformed to charge carriers, it is possible to envision device scenarios where the solar spectrum is more efficiently utilized compared to devices in operation today. This research is predicated on the idea that molecular dimers are the fundamental unit for singlet fission and that they can provide a platform wherein synthetic manipulations that control the spatial juxtaposition and covalent interaction of chromophores are called upon to affect key photophysical rate constants. The most important design opportunity that is being tested relates to dimer point group symmetry and the idea that it can control the interference (constructive vs. destructive) of pathways in the quantum mechanical description of diabatic coupling for singlet fission. Other strategies will call on substituents to affect the relative energy of charge transfer states.

 

InventXRLearn TechResearchXR

II-New: Multi-Dimensional Drone Communication Infrastructure: Southern Methodist University

Joseph Camp

[email protected]

The next wave of applications for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones range from delivery of consumer goods or Internet connectivity during natural disasters to defense scenarios such as autonomous combat or search and rescue, all of which require coordination of multiple entities across various altitudes from in-flight to ground-based stations. However, there are two important challenges to realizing such applications. First, positioning many antennas to communicate in three dimensions is non-trivial since the load capacity in terms of power and weight is highly restricted, and the drone body may block reception on the opposite side of the antenna. Second, large-scale antenna arrays are increasingly being used to increase channel quality in a given direction. However, there is limited antenna scale on a single UAV, and the challenge of distributing the antenna array across a drone swarm is extremely complex due to constant mobility, varying relative positions, and the inability to update the channel state of all transmitting nodes. In this project, the goal is to build MuDDI, a Multi-Dimensional Drone Communication Infrastructure, which will enable indoor and outdoor experimentation with UAVs to address research issues related to 3-D connectivity, distributed antennas across a drone swarm, and 3-D swarm formations that optimize the transmission to intended receivers.<br/><br/>To enable these research activities, there are four key development tasks to design such an infrastructure: (i.) building a programmable drone platform to enable hybrid beamforming on each drone to enable directional transmissions across the extremes of all three physical dimensions, which requires antennas on each face of the drone and switching elements to dynamically allocate limited radio frequency (RF) processing chains to these antennas, (ii.) designing a test infrastructure for large-scale distributed beamforming across UAVs for the experimental analysis of the various channel feedback mechanisms that have been set forth but have yet to be evaluated on drones with in-flight vibrations and mobility patterns and various swarm formations, (iii.) constructing and incorporating a large-scale antenna array over the surface of the ceiling and surrounding walls to capture various resulting transmission patterns of a single drone seeking 3-D connectivity, distributed drone swarm creating various formations, and a massive multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) ground station, and (iv.) integrating a massive MIMO control station that can enable directional transmissions to, and track the mobility of in-flight systems, enabling research on the various beam widths and multi-user beam patterns that may be simultaneously allocated among large antenna arrays.<br/><br/>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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AwardsInventXRMovement Thinking

Augmented Reality Experiences in 21st Century STEM Careers

Sponsor: Education Connection

Jonathan Costa [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Christine Broadbridge (Co-Principal Investigator)
Karen Wosczyna-Birch (Co-Principal Investigator)
Katherine Shields (Co-Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The project will develop and research a series of next generation augmented reality (AR) digital learning labs and incorporate the labs into an existing curriculum, STEM 21. AR has been proposed as an effective means of motivating previously disengaged students through authentic experiences. By focusing the intervention in high schools with a large proportion of underrepresented students1, the project addresses the lack of opportunities for underrepresented youth to be engaged in rigorous STEM learning that incorporates emerging technologies, aligned with 21st century workforce skills. AR is an emerging technology that brings digital information into the physical world, overlaying digital artifacts onto the physical environment that can then be accessed via a mobile phone, a tablet, or wearable technology. STEM21 is a project-based learning model which has been successfully replicated in high schools with diverse study bodies and has resulted in improvement in student self-reported interest in STEM and STEM-related postsecondary study; science achievement; soft skills; and sense of belonging and self-regulation. The STEM21 curriculum includes six existing project-based high school biology, chemistry, engineering, earth and energy, and manufacturing courses. The AR learning labs will be specifically designed to heighten student motivation for STEM learning, increase interest in STEM-related education and careers, and deepen collaboration skills. AR facilitates many of the components of project-based learning: it offers students multiple types and sources of information to synthesize and evaluate, grounds the learning process in authentic real-world experiences, and provides virtual and face-to-face communication for collaborative problem solving. The AR learning labs will be hosted on the project?s web-based learning platform and will be able to be accessed by students and teachers on any mobile device with an Internet connection. The project will support teacher professional development thru includes a summer Institute, onsite and virtual coaching, and professional learning communities. At project end, the project AR learning lab series and curricular resources will be published under an Open Education Resource (OER) license and disseminated statewide with the support of the CT State Department of Education (CSDE).

The project’s research will investigate the contexts and conditions that support the integration of new technologies, such as AR, into core STEM content and will contribute to the limited research on effective pedagogy and pedagogical environments to achieve equitable STEM learning in high school settings. The AR learning labs will be tested, iterated, and implemented in ten diverse high school settings (30 Classes with a total of approximately 900 students) over the three-year project to assess their effectiveness. The research will contribute to the limited literature on the integration of AR with STEM instructional methods to concurrently enhance STEM-related non-cognitive skills and technical AR skills among secondary students. Researchers will assess student outcomes in STEM motivation and interest, and in collaboration skills associated with participation in the project model. In addition, researchers will examine differences in student experiences in diverse secondary school settings and among underrepresented students, thereby providing information relevant to future scaling. Additional areas of study include how student experiences and outcomes vary in relation to a range of STEM subjects and AR applications present in the learning labs, and how engagement in AR lab activities relates to STEM motivation and interest. Formative assessment results, feasibility and usability data, and yearly analyses of the outcomes and fidelity of implementation will be used to design, develop, and test the AR learning Lab series and curricular resources iteratively. Researchers will use measures that have demonstrated reliability and validity with similar student populations.

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.

 

 

"Research
AwardsInventXRMovement ThinkingThe Research University

Researching the Integration of Robotics into Middle School Physical Science Courses: Examining Instructional and Learning Outcomes

Sponsor: TERC Inc

Debra Bernstein [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Michael Cassidy (Co-Principal Investigator)
Karen Mutch-Jones (Co-Principal Investigator)
Kristen Wendell (Co-Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

As computing has become integral to the practice of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the STEM+Computing program seeks to address emerging challenges in computational STEM areas through the applied integration of computational thinking and computing activities within STEM teaching and learning in early childhood education through high school (PreK-12). Robotic technologies provide innovative ways of engaging students in computational thinking (CT) practices within STEM fields, but teachers may be reluctant to use robotics if they do not feel confident with the technology, or when they feel unprepared to make the technology relevant to their subject areas. This project responds to such reluctance by designing, testing, and refining a professional development program for middle school physical science teachers to: 1) develop and strengthen skills in robotics, programming, and identifying ways of using robotics to enhance the teaching and learning of physical science concepts, and 2) design integrated curriculum units that advance student CT skills and support learning in the physical sciences. The project will develop a comprehensive, 50-hour professional learning experience for middle school teachers who will develop learning modules that integrate computational thinking with physical science. After the professional learning experience, teachers will be supported in revising an existing physical science unit to incorporate computational thinking and robotics using a Hummingbird Bit robotics kit. The professional learning plan will begin with a 5-day summer session where teachers will examine exemplars of robotics integration in STEM lessons, explore robotics resources, and consider ways that robotics and CT can be used to enhance student learning in a curriculum unit on force and motion. During the following academic year, teachers will design and implement a lesson that integrates robotics with study of force and motion, and this experience will be followed by two professional learning days where teachers will discuss the successes and challenges of the implemented lessons. Prior to spring semester, teachers will meet together again for a day of lesson planning.

This project aims to advance knowledge about how to support teachers as designers of technology-enhanced instruction that integrates computing and CT with topics in physical science. The specific goals of project are to: 1) Design, test, and refine a professional development model that enables middle school physical science teachers to design instructional units that incorporate robotics to enhance student CT practices and support disciplinary learning objectives, 2) Identify the types and levels of supports that enable teachers to successfully implement integrated robotics units to increase engagement and interests among diverse learners, and 3) Conduct research to refine the professional development model and document the impacts of engaging students with computational technologies on learning of physical science and CT. Over the course of three years, the project will engage 22 teachers and approximately 1,120 middle school students. Project research will proceed in a design-test-revise cycle in pursuing answers to the following research questions: 1) How can a professional development intervention enable integration of robotics into physical science courses? 2) To what extent does teacher enactment reflect the goals and principles of the approach to integration, and what challenges do teachers face during enactment? 3) How does participation in integrated robotics lessons support student learning in the discipline? And 4) What opportunities does participation in integrated robotics lessons provide for students to engage in computational thinking practices? A variety of data sources will be used to collect the quantitative and qualitative data to be used in the mixed-methods analysis of teacher, student, and classroom outcomes.

InventXRLearn TechResearchXR

RET Site: Sustainable Development-Research Experience for Teachers: South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Robb Winter

[email protected]

This Research Experiences for Teachers in Engineering and Computer Science Site: Sustainable Development-Research Experience for Teachers (SD-RET) at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSM&T) will expose middle and high school mathematics and science teachers in rural America to engineering and science research projects and a curriculum development strategies to improve the teaching and learning of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. To align with the educational and training needs of the 21st century and to increase the interests of students, particularly underrepresented minorities, in learning STEM disciplines, the SD-RET provides the teachers an access to the various engineering and science technologies and the tools to integrate engineering/science projects into K-12 curriculum.<br/><br/>This SD-RET project will directly involve at least 30 rural teachers over the three project years. During the 6-week summer program each year, the rural teachers will conduct research in the engineering and science research laboratories at SDSM&T as research assistants (referred to as SD-RET RAs) with formal/informal mentoring from the faculty and graduate/undergraduate students. The engineering and science research projects will focus on implementing the technologies to address challenges in sustainable development such as air quality, water resources and treatment, sustainable energy, and sustainable materials. In addition, the SD-RET RAs will enroll in a 2-credit graduate course entitled "STEM Education in Secondary Classroom" for pedagogical and curriculum development training based on state and national standards. By integrating the lab research experience and curriculum development skills, the SD-RET RAs will translate their engineering and science research experience into their STEM curriculums. The SD-RET project will provide multiple follow-up activities to enable the implementation of the SD-RET experience. The SD-RET Assessment Advisory Board will evaluate the project and provide feedback for continuous improvement. Beyond the 30 SD-RET RAs, this project has the potential to extend impacts to colleagues of the SD-RET RAs at the same schools, pre-service teachers enrolling in the curriculum development course, and educators who access to the SD-RET website.

 

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AwardsInventXRNSFThe Research University

Interdisciplinary Graduate Training in the Science, Technology, and Applications of Augmented and Virtual Reality

Sponsor: University of Rochester

Mujdat Cetin [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Jannick Rolland (Co-Principal Investigator)
Michele Rucci (Co-Principal Investigator)
Zhen Bai (Co-Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) promises to become one of the most disruptive technologies of the 21st century, revolutionizing how we interact with each other, with our environment, and with devices and systems. VR uses advanced display and immersive audio technologies to create an interactive, three-dimensional (3D) environment. AR uses digital technology to overlay virtual objects onto the physical world to provide information and embellish our experiences. Current and envisioned application areas include education, healthcare, professional training, architectural and product design, remote interaction, and entertainment. Continued progress in the burgeoning field of AR/VR requires researchers with Ph.D. training and research experience spanning multiple disciplines including electronic and computing systems, perceptual and cognitive neuroscience, optics and imaging, computer vision, acoustics and audio, and human-computer interfaces. To address this need and realize the transformative potential of AR/VR technologies, this National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Award to the University of Rochester will facilitate the development of a structured, multi-disciplinary Ph.D. training program on AR/VR. The project anticipates training 62 PhD students, including 12 funded trainees, from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Optics, Biomedical Engineering, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Computer Science, and Neuroscience. In addition, the project will benefit approximately 300 other STEM graduate students who will participate in aspects of the training and professional development. Trainees will gain the vision and skills to advance AR/VR technologies as well as an appreciation for the broader cultural and societal implications of these technologies. The project will train inclusive cohorts of scientists and engineers to contribute to society as technical leaders in industry, academia, and government.

The project will train a new cohort of Ph.D. students with a unique set of competencies in the AR/VR domain. It will help shape how future scientists and engineers will be trained not only in AR/VR but more broadly in human-data-system interfaces. The project will advance interdisciplinary research with an innovative theme: integration of quantitative models of human perceptual-cognitive processes into cross-layer design approaches to create and quantitatively evaluate new AR/VR technologies and applications. Research thrusts integrated with the training program in a cross-cutting manner will advance the scientific foundations of AR/VR systems and impact the design of next-generation AR/VR systems. These research thrusts, corresponding to four layers of the AR/VR problem domain, are: (1) AR/VR platforms and computation, (2) perceptual-cognitive aspects of AR/VR design, (3) machine intelligence for AR/VR systems, and (4) AR/VR interfaces and applications. The training program contains three new innovative courses addressing the diverse backgrounds of incoming trainees, exposing them to AR/VR challenges and providing competency to work on AR/VR projects within multi-disciplinary teams as well as a variety of structured professional development activities. In addition, the training will include industry internships and immersive professional development encounters with industry leaders. Both the graduate training model and its outcomes will be widely disseminated to the broader academic community through organized events and a web presence.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary or convergent research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

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.

"Research
AwardsInventXRNSFSuperintendents

Technology-Human Integrated Knowledge Education and Research (THINKER)

Sponsor: Clemson University

Laine Mears [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Amy Apon (Co-Principal Investigator)
Deborah Switzer (Co-Principal Investigator)
Mary Kurz (Co-Principal Investigator)
Joshua Summers (Co-Principal Investigator)
Laura Stanley (Former Co-Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

The pervasiveness of new digital technologies in manufacturing is changing the way that data are generated, interpreted and shared over networks of machines, robotics and software systems. This “industrial internet of things” holds great promise for improving the quality and productivity of manufacturing in the United States. However, the ability of human workers to effectively interface with such digital systems is limited, potentially leading to disruptions in cognition that may negatively affect output and job satisfaction. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award prepares master’s and doctoral degree students at Clemson University to advance discoveries at the nexus of humans, technology, work, and health, through the convergence of human factors, robotics, cognitive sciences, artificial intelligence, systems engineering, education, manufacturing and social behavioral sciences. This will be achieved through the design and integration of human digital technologies that enhance humans’ physical and cognitive interaction and abilities in manufacturing environments. The project anticipates training fifty (50) M.S. and Ph.D. students, including twenty-two (22) funded trainees, from electrical engineering, industrial engineering, computer science, manufacturing, systems integration, psychology, and sociology. These students will interface with a parallel program of undergraduate and technical college students in a controlled manufacturing environment to test deployment and integration across multiple academic levels.

This project responds to the critical need to help shape and better prepare the STEM graduate student of tomorrow through an innovated curriculum that focuses on the new digital and smart manufacturing, automation, and associated data systems. The training and research takes a human-centered design approach in the emerging digital manufacturing enterprise (i.e., Industrial Internet of Things), by quantifying physical and human cognition and developing augmented technologies (e.g. augmented reality aids for worker empowerment) to improve worker behaviors and attitudes in the manufacturing enterprise. This project will focus on an automotive industry exemplar (i.e., vehicle assembly operation), employing a factory setting which includes parts manufacture, structural and subassembly operations, robotics, kitting, logistics, and a full-scale vehicle assembly line, together with parallel programs in undergraduate and technical college curricula. The multi-level educational approach is expected to drive improved team communication, generate knowledge on worker behaviors and attitudes, and prepare students for leading implementation of the technologies under study in manufacturing and other industries.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education training. The program is dedicated to effective training of STEM graduate students in high priority interdisciplinary research areas through comprehensive traineeship models that are innovative, evidence-based, and aligned with changing workforce and research needs.

"Research
AwardsInventXRMovement ThinkingNSFThe Research University

Innovations in Development: Community-Driven Projects That Adapt Technology for Environmental Learning in Nature Preserves

Sponsor: University of Maryland College Park

Jennifer Preece [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Tamara Clegg (Co-Principal Investigator)

ABSTRACT

While low-income and minority communities suffer disproportionately from poor environmental conditions, members of these communities tend to be under-represented in participatory scientific projects and informal science learning opportunities. There are many benefits to community-driven STEM projects, both for individuals’ experiential learning and for the betterment of communities. Expanding participation also contributes to a more complete understanding of complex environmental problems, including STEM content and skills. This project engages members of racially and economically diverse communities in identifying and carrying out environmental projects that are meaningful to their lives, and adapts technology known as NatureNet to assist them. NatureNet, which encompasses a cell phone app, a multi-user, touch-based tabletop display and a web-based community, was developed with prior NSF support. Core participants involved in programs of the Anacostia Watershed Society in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and the Reedy Creek Nature Preserve in Charlotte, NC, will work with naturalists, educators, and technology specialists to ask scientific questions and form hypotheses related to urban waterway restoration and preservation of native species. They will then collect and analyze data using NatureNet, requesting changes to the technology to customize it as needed for their projects. Casual visitors to the nature centers will be able to interact with the environmental projects via the tabletop, and those who live farther away will be able to participate more peripherally via the online community. This study is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) 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 research project, led by researchers from the University of Maryland, College Park, with collaborators from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and the University of Colorado, Boulder, will provide answers to two questions: 1) How do community-driven informal environmental learning projects impact participants, including their motivation to actively participate in science issues via technology and their disposition toward nature preserves and scientific inquiry, and 2) What are the key factors (e.g., demographic composition of participants, geographical location) that influence the development of community-driven environmental projects? Researchers will gather extensive qualitative and quantitative data to understand how community projects are selected and carried out, how participants approach technology use and adaptation, and how informal learning and engagement on STEM-related issues can be fostered over a period of several months and through iterative project cycles. Data will be collected through motivation questionnaires; focus groups; interviews; tabletop, mobile, and website interaction logs; field notes from participatory design and reflection sessions; and project journals kept by nature preserve staff. Through extensive research, iterative design, and evaluation efforts, researchers will develop an innovative model for community-driven environmental projects that will deepen informal science education by demonstrating how members of diverse communities connect environmental knowledge and scientific inquiry skills to the practices, values, and goals of their communities, and how technology can be used to facilitate such connections.

 

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