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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
monitoring program, to discern impact on individuals’ knowledge of stream-related topics (Strand 2), their levels of participation in resource-related management issues (Strand 5), and the degree of community networking regarding resource-related management issues. Like TBN, WAV is an ongoing program in which individual volunteers track a scientific issue—in this case, water quality—over time, using scientific protocols and under the auspices of a scientific organization.
Overdevest and colleagues used a nonequivalent group, quasi-experimental design with two groups: 155 experienced participants, who had been involved in the group for at least a year, and 105 inexperienced participants, who had expressed interest in the group at the beginning of the study but who had not yet participated in WAV activities.
In contrast to the findings of Brossard and colleagues, Overdevest and colleagues found that experienced participants exhibited greater participation in political issues related to water quality, enhanced their personal networks, and built community connections among the group of volunteers. But compared to inexperienced participants, experienced participants did not demonstrate greater knowledge of streams as a result of their participation.
Looking at these two studies side-by-side suggests that adult participants can develop various capabilities as a result of these kinds of programs, but does not clearly answer questions such as: Which capabilities are best developed in particular types of programs? What specific program features are associated with learning outcomes? What kinds of programs or program features support the learning of concepts and facts (Strand 2)? And what aspects of these programs are associated with participation in the activities of science (Strand 5)? What would programs look like that support the other strands? While looking at just a pair of studies about two programs is far from a sufficient basis for conclusive observations, we use this pair of studies to explore questions that the field may wish to take up. We also do so with full knowledge that the programs in question may support additional learning outcomes that were not reported. We urge readers to keep this in mind.
One obvious difference between the two programs is that one is explicitly linked to environmental stewardship, and the other is more closely associated with a basic scientific mission of documenting animal behavior. These differences in primary goal may impact who chooses to participate in the programs, as well as the particular skills and knowledge they develop through participation. However, understanding how the nature of the task relates to participation and how participation relates to specific learning outcomes will require considerably more research.
Another group of studies examines adult programs that relate specifically to managing human health. These programs typically focus on improving