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Whitten-Newman ExplorOlogy® Program

[2011]
A summative evaluation at a natural history museum
Sam Noble Museum, Norman, OK

The Sam Noble Museum contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to evaluate their Whitten-Newman ExplorOlogy® Program. The program offers hands-on, immersive experiences in scientific field research to classroom teachers, and middle and high school students. The evaluation study explored how participants experienced the program and how their sense of self and identity was affected during the year following the program’s completion.

How did we approach this study?

The Whitten-Newman ExplorOlogy® Program offers an in-depth program experience to a select number of teachers and students. We chose to conduct an exploratory study, focusing on 16 participants’ meaning-making and identity work over time, beginning with their participation in the program and following them over the course of approximately one year. This approach was selected as the best way to examine the effect of participants’ program experiences in-depth, over time. Data was collected using observations and in-depth interviews.

What did we learn?

As evidenced by the year-long study, the Whitten-Newman ExplorOlogy® Program had deep and long-lasting effects on most participants. For instance, as a result of the program, students viewed themselves as more socially confident, better communicators, and more effective collaborators. Further, the National Research Council (2009) posits that informal science programs can help participants develop science identities by “helping them to identify and solidify their interests, commitments, and social networks, thereby providing access to scientific communities and careers.” In this sense, the program contributed to students’ science identities by confirming that they love science or can realistically pursue science as a career. Likewise, as a result of the program, teachers and scientists were better able to envision themselves as individuals who can effectively facilitate science experiences for others. Findings also show that while the program had significant effects on its primary audience of students and teachers, it was less successful at affecting those surrounding the participants (i.e., friends, parents, other teachers). The primary effect on others was some increased awareness about program opportunities.

What are the implications of the findings?

In many ways, the program’s purposeful structure contributed to the successful achievement of the above outcomes. Participants undergo a rigorous selection process when applying for the program which results in a group of students and teachers who have a strong interest in science and are highly motivated to participate in the program. Findings show students and teachers greatly appreciated participating in a program with others who were equally passionate about science and learning. Thus, an ideal program environment persisted which enhanced participants’ understanding of science and encouraged them to become more socially confident. The real-world aspect of the program also proved successful, as the program emphasized authentic scientific research with scientists who are passionate about their work and allowed students to conduct field research, including excavating fossils and collecting samples of pond life. These kinds of experiences confirmed participants’ view that science is interesting and fun. The loftier goal of affecting others, in addition to the primary participants, is a challenge not unique to this program. Building awareness of the program and Museum offerings beyond families and select students will take time as the Museum continues to establish long-term relationships with participants’ communities.

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