Evaluation Findings from Building with Biology Pilot Events

Katie Todd and Elizabeth Kollmann, Museum of Science
Building with Biology

Building with Biology is one of the projects extending NISE Network into its new identity as the National Informal STEM Education Network by addressing new content areas. In the summer of 2015, Building with Biology held eight pilot events which fostered Public Engagement with Science (PES) about synthetic biology by having scientist volunteers interact and have discussions with the public through forums and events featuring hands-on activities. The events took place at Arizona Science Center, Chabot Space and Science Center, Museum of Life and Science, Museum of Science, Boston, New York Hall of Science, Pacific Science Center, Science Museum of Minnesota, and Sciencenter.

Each of these sites helped evaluators gather data that describe the impacts of the Building with Biology pilot events and inform changes for summer 2016, when the events will be replicated at 200 sites. Data were gathered through a series of surveys for members of the public, scientist volunteers, and forum participants. The surveys investigated what participants learned and valued, and how participation increased interest in synthetic biology and related follow-up behaviors. Some of the findings from this evaluation include:

Visitors enjoyed the Building with Biology events.

Visitors to the Building with Biology events represented a range of ages, genders, and group types. Across this diverse group of participants, 97% of visitors agreed or strongly agreed that they enjoyed the events. 

Forum and event attendees learned about synthetic biology.

Forum and event attendees responded that they learned about synthetic biology through their participation. However, the focus of their learning was different: event participants reported learning about the significance of synthetic biology, while forum participants reported learning about what others think about synthetic biology.

Forum and event attendees valued different things about their experience.

Forum and event attendees said that they valued different aspects of their Building with Biology participation. The chart below shows the three most frequent types of responses from event and forum participants. Event participants most often valued the opportunity to listen to experts, learn information, and the opportunity to provide a positive experience for children. Forum attendees most commonly valued hearing diverse viewpoints, discussing the topic, and sharing their opinions. 

The events increased participants’ interest in future activities related to synthetic biology.

Participants in the forums and events noted that they had increased interest in future activities related to synthetic biology, such as paying attention to news about synthetic biology, talking to others about synthetic biology, purchasing products that use synthetic biology, and continuing to learn more about synthetic biology. The chart below shows data from one such question.

Volunteers gained skills and interest in public engagement with science.

Building with Biology volunteers were mostly students and professional scientists. Many specialized in synthetic biology. These volunteers reported gaining interest and skills in public engagement with science. They also mentioned learning that the public is open to synthetic biology, that the public already had knowledge about synthetic biology, and that the public wanted to learn more about synthetic biology.

Want to learn more?

The following reports share additional evaluation information and findings from the Building with Biology pilot events:

  • Public Data Summary: Describes data collected from visitors who interacted with hands-on activities at the eight sites.
  • Forum Data Summary: Describes data collected from visitors and volunteers who participated in the forums/conversation activities.
  • Volunteer Data Summary: Describes data collected from volunteers (mostly scientists) about their experiences at the events and/or forums.

What’s next?

The Evaluation Team and Building with Biology event hosts will continue to collect evaluation data for this project in 2016. To learn about upcoming evaluation activities and to find out how you can get involved, check out the Building with Biology project evaluation webpage.

Questions?

If you have any questions about this blog post or the Building with Biology evaluation, please contact Elizabeth Kollmann at ekollmann@mos.org