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«Astronomical Society of the Pacific Prepared by: Martin Storksdieck, Ph.D. Lynn D. Dierking, Ph.D. Melissa Wadman, M.A. Mika Cohen Jones, M.S. May ...»

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Amateur Astronomers as Informal Science

Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey

Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Prepared by:

Martin Storksdieck, Ph.D.

Lynn D. Dierking, Ph.D.

Melissa Wadman, M.A.

Mika Cohen Jones, M.S.

May 2002

Institute for Learning Innovation 166 West St., Annapolis, MD 21401

(410) 268-5149 Fax (410) 268-2179 http://www.ilinet.org

Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 2 Table of Contents Introduction



Description of the sample

Gender & Age Distribution


Training in Astronomy

Participation in Astronomy-Related Activities

Interest in Astronomy

Participation in Astronomy Clubs

Findings from Amateur Astronomers Currently Engaged in Outreach Activities

Frequency of Amateur Astronomers’ Participation in Outreach Activities

What Initiated Participation in Outreach Activities

Relationships with Schools and Other Formal/Informal Institutions

Types of Educational Outreach

Organization of Outreach Activities

Audiences for Educational Outreach

Topics Presented in Educational Outreach Activities

Type of Presentation Materials Used in Educational Outreach

Perceived support needs of Amateur Astronomers

Materials and resource needs of amateur astronomers

Workshops: Training in Skills

Additional Comments Shared by Amateur Astronomers Currently Engaged in Outreach Activities.................. 33 Findings from Amateur Astronomers Currently Not Engaged in Outreach Activities................38 Relationship between Engagement and Interest in Public Education

Impediments to Engaging in Educational Outreach Activities

Supports To Encourage Participation in Educational Outreach Activities

Primary Audiences You Would Like to Serve


Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 3

List of Tables

Table 1: Age distribution

Table 2: Age by gender

Table 3: Current occupation of respondents

Table 4: Respondents training in astronomy, physics, astrophysics, or related scientific fields

Table 5: Formal and informal training in astronomy-related subjects

Table 6: Participation in astronomy-related activities

Table 7: How long (in years) have you been interested in astronomy?

Table 8: Areas of astronomy interest

Table 9: Level of public interest in selected policy issues (1990–99)

Table 10: Approximate years of membership

Table 11: How often do you participate in outreach activities?

Table 12: What initiated your participation in educational outreach?

Table 13: Formal or informal association or cooperation with local schools

Table 14: Cooperation with local observatory, planetarium, research institutes or professionals

Table 15: Types of educational outreach activities

Table 16: Type of educational outreach activities (collapsed scale)

Table 17: How engage in educational outreach

Table 18: Initiation & scheduling of educational outreach efforts

Table 19: Audiences for educational outreach

Table 20: Community groups served by amateur astronomers

Table 21: Formal sector served by amateur astronomers

Table 22: Topics presented in educational outreach activities

Table 23: Interest in folklore, mythology and story telling by gender

Table 24: Presentation materials used by amateur astronomers in educational and public outreach?

Table 25: Source of slides used by amateur astronomers

Table 26: Use of computers

Table 27: Types of presentation materials used as a function of availability and cost

Table 28: What sources of information do you use to prepare your educational outreach?

Table 29: Please specify astronomy magazines and journals

Table 30: Cross-tabulation of astronomy magazines and journals used by amateur astronomers

Table 31: What would help facilitate more/improve educational outreach?

Table 32: Obstacles to responding to requests?

Table 33: Kinds of resources which would help you in your outreach efforts

Table 34: Format of resources

Table 35: Preferred locations for workshops

Table 36: Preference for where workshops held

Table 37: Preference for workshop time

Table 38: Preference for workshop length

Table 39: Attendance at a workshop at a regional or national amateur astronomer conference/star party

Table 40: What kind of training would you seek in a workshop?

Table 41: What kind of technical skills would you like to have covered in a workshop?

Table 42: Most important thing which would help in my educational outreach efforts

Table 43: Interest in educational outreach amongst those NOT currently engaged in educational outreach................ 39 Table 44: Interest in public education and educational outreach

Table 45: Cross-tabulation between interest in outreach and current outreach practice

Table 46: Impediments to engaging in educational outreach

Table 47: Primary audience you would like to serve

Table 48: Community groups and other audiences you would like to serve

Table 49: Grades you would prefer to serve

Table 50: Kinds of support that would encourage you to engage in educational outreach

Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 4 Amateur Astronomers as Informal Science Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey

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Introduction In order to gauge amateur astronomers’ potential role and significance as informal science educators, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), in partnership with the Astronomical League (AL), Sky and Telescope Magazine, and the Institute for Learning Innovation (the Institute), initiated a large-scale, webbased survey of amateur astronomers’ current educational outreach practice and their perceived needs for conducting more and/or improved educational outreach. The effort also gathered feedback about potential products and/or services that might assist amateur astronomers in providing additional and higher quality educational/public outreach. The Institute for Learning Innovation, an Annapolis, MD-based not-for-profit research and development organization, assisted in this effort by designing the online questionnaire, advising on its administration, and the analysis and interpretation of findings.

Specifically, the study investigated the following aspects of amateur astronomers’ participation in

educational outreach activities:

1. Amateur astronomers’ participation in current educational outreach along with their level of engagement, interests within astronomy, reason for doing outreach, etc.);

2. Target audiences served by amateur astronomers engaged in educational outreach;

3. Topics presented by amateur astronomers;

4. Use of media and other resources/equipment for this educational outreach;

5. Partnerships that amateur astronomers engage in for the purpose of educational outreach;

6. The way amateur astronomers organize their educational outreach efforts;

7. Current educational outreach demand not fulfilled by amateur astronomers;

8. Perceived main barriers to providing high quality outreach;

9. Potential products and/or services that would assist amateur astronomers in doing more and higher quality educational/public outreach;

In addition, amateur astronomers not currently engaged in educational outreach were asked:

1. Why they do not engage in educational outreach currently;

2. Whether they would like to engage in such outreach, and if so, under what circumstances;

3. Resources and other support they need to engage in educational outreach;

4. Target audiences they would like to reach, and topics they would like to cover in future educational outreach efforts.

Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 5 The sample included amateur astronomers who as members of amateur astronomy clubs/societies or on their own initiative, already engaged in some outreach, including making class visits to schools and talks to local youth or community organizations, sponsoring star parties and participating in local festivals. In addition, the sample included those contemplating/interested in doing such outreach.

Methods In close collaboration with ASP staff, Institute researchers developed a list of potential questions and pilottested them in semi-structured telephone interviews with a random sample of 15 active amateur astronomers whose contact information was derived from publicly accessible sources (websites). Based on the feedback received from this group, ASP staff and Institute researchers refined the survey questionnaire.

The completed questionnaire was modified into a web-based survey, hosted on the Institute server (see Appendix A). ASP and the AL provided a link to the Institute web survey site and amateur astronomers who visited the ASP and AL websites were encouraged to complete the survey.

The survey was posted and advertised in mid-January on the ASP and ASP-associated websites, on the AL and AL-associated websites, as well as on the website of Sky & Telescope and Reflector. The survey was further promoted through postings on various listserves known to be highly frequented by amateur astronomers. In addition, a letter to the editor in the February edition of Sky & Telescope and notes in Mercury and Reflector announced the survey. The survey was also promoted through email announcements to ASP and AL members. Survey data was collected through late March.

Since the survey was solely administered on the web, we have no knowledge of the response rate or any bias that may be inherent in such a self-selected sample. However, since the vast majority of amateur astronomers are believed to have Internet access, and since the products that would be created as a result of feedback from this project, would most likely be distributed through ASP’s website, we believe that the sample is a representative sample of amateur astronomers who are likely to engage in educational/public outreach efforts. Once the survey data was collected, a frequency analysis was conducted and chi-squares were calculated to determine whether there were significant differences between responses.

Results Description of the sample One thousand, one hundred and forty (1,142) amateur astronomers started responding to the survey. The initial question established that 63% (n=717) of those responding were engaged in educational outreach and 37% (n=425) were not. The survey was designed so that the 719 astronomers currently engaged in educational outreach were guided in a linear manner through the entire questionnaire (more than 80% of those involved in outreach continued the survey). If an astronomer was not involved in outreach they were directed to a subset of questions (53%; n=224, responded to these questions). To maximize overall response rate the survey was also designed so that amateur astronomers only saw one question at a time, and those responding were encouraged to skip questions with which they felt uncomfortable. Also as amateur astronomers worked their way through the survey, there was some attrition, particularly on the final personal background questions (depending upon the question in this section only about 500 responded).

However, attrition was less than 20% for substantive questions asked of amateur astronomers currently engaged in outreach. For all these reasons, sample sizes vary for individual questions. Appendix B includes a chart tracking responses for each individual question.

Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 6 Gender & Age Distribution Eighty-three percent (83%) of the amateur astronomers responding were male and more than half were between 31 and 50 years of age. Another 30% were 51 to 65 years of age. Thus, the typical amateur astronomer responding to the survey was a male between 31 and 65. Table 1 shows the age distribution of the sample.

–  –  –

A cross-tabulation between age and gender revealed significant differences in the age distribution of male and female astronomers responding to the survey, with relatively more females in the younger age brackets of 30 and under than males, and–conversely–more older males (see Table 2). This could be mean that women are more interested in amateur astronomy when they are younger or that recent efforts to engage females in science is proving successful at least for younger women. It is likely that the gap between the number of male and female amateur astronomers will decrease over time.

–  –  –

Occupation The occupations of amateur astronomers varied greatly, including teachers, professors, research scientists and medical professionals, as well as white collar and blue collar workers (see Table 3).

Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 7

–  –  –

Training in Astronomy Forty-three percent (43%; n=214) of the amateur astronomers indicated they had some formal training in astronomy, astrophysics, physics, or other related science field, and 69% (n=335) had some form of informal training in those areas (Table 4).

–  –  –

In fact, three-quarters of those responding had either formal or informal training specifically in astronomyrelated subjects (see Table 5). Cross-tabulations also suggest that male amateur astronomers self report a higher level of formal and informal training in astronomy-related subjects than female amateur astronomers, though the results were not significant on a Chi-Square test for p5%.

Amateur Astronomers as Outreach Ambassadors: Results of an Online Survey 8

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Participation in Astronomy-Related Activities Most of the amateur astronomers responding spend less than six hours per week engaging in astronomyrelated activities (83%; n=467). A small sub-sample of amateur astronomers (7%; n=37) spend more than 10 hours per week engaging in astronomy-related activities (Table 6).

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