August 5, 2020 - Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic isn't slowing down the Rubin Observatory Education and Public Outreach (EPO) team as they continue to develop the Rubin EPO program, which includes a variety of interactive, online experiences. But adjustments have still been necessary; the team was in the midst of a user-testing campaign for its formal education materials—a suite of "Investigations" for teachers of advanced middle-school through college students, and related support materials—when in-person events started to be canceled. The Tucson Festival of Books, a huge event drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the University of Arizona campus, was one of the events at which the EPO team planned to conduct user testing, but the Festival was canceled just days before it was scheduled to begin.
Ardis Herrold, Rubin Observatory Education Specialist, quickly redesigned EPO's user-testing campaign to thrive in an all-virtual environment, and partnered with the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) to host an online user-testing workshop for teachers on July 20-24, 2020. Online user testing allows a much broader group of teachers to participate, even if it doesn't always allow for the in-depth conversations and connections that happen when teachers and EPO staff interact in person. Despite the limitations, the workshop exceeded expectations, producing a wealth of valuable feedback that will be used to refine and strengthen the material EPO is developing for teachers.
NESTA provided support for the five-day workshop, helping Ardis to promote and facilitate the event. More than 120 teachers registered for the free workshop; many participated live and sessions were also recorded for teachers who couldn't attend the live sessions. Each day of the workshop began with a science talk on a theme related to that day's Investigation topic. The talks were given by scientists who are currently contributing to the Rubin Observatory Construction Project, and who plan to use Rubin data to do science when the facility is operational in 2023. Recordings of these science talks will be edited and made publicly available in the fall.
Teachers who attended the workshop and completed all the "homework" assignments were awarded certificates to confirm their participation in the workshop. Each day's homework included a comprehensive survey about the day's featured Investigation, as well as surveys about specific support materials that are also being developed by the EPO team. Photos of workshop highlights are available in the Rubin Gallery.
The teachers who participated gave the workshop rave reviews, including one who wrote, "My mind is just blown away with everything that I have been exposed to and learned. I have so many ideas for my students after attending this workshop and I can't wait for the telescope to be up and running!" Another commented "I can't believe that all these resources are so professionally done and will be available for free for teachers to use."
Ardis and the EPO team are still compiling and analyzing more specific feedback about the Investigations and support materials, and will use the results to improve the final products. These will be available online, at no cost to teachers, when Rubin Observatory begins operations in 2023. To learn more about the Rubin EPO program, visit the Rubin website. If you're an astronomy teacher for advanced middle school, high school, or introductory college-age students, and want to get involved with Rubin Observatory, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial support for Rubin Observatory comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Cooperative Agreement No. 1258333, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science under Contract No. DE-AC02-76SF00515, and private funding raised by the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded Rubin Observatory Project Office for construction was established as an operating center under management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). The DOE-funded effort to build the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera (LSSTCam) is managed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science. NSF supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.
NSF and DOE will continue to support Rubin Observatory in its Operations phase. They will also provide support for scientific research with LSST data.
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