The New York Hall of Science has partnered with the Greater Southern Tier BOCES SciCentr program on a project to engage an ethnically and economically diverse group of young people in creating a Virtual Hall of Science (VHOS). This youth cohort will design, build and staff a virtual science center, working with science and education professionals along the way. Participants will be trained as exhibit designers, builders, active exhibit guides and mentors. Over the course of the project, the youth will acquire Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) knowledge and a range of information and communication technology (ICT) competencies. Acting as a mentoring/governing group, participants will staff the virtual space and encourage and support new visitors to explore STEM activities.
Two cohorts of 20 high school Explainers and 20 middle school students will participate directly in this project, while hundreds of middle and high school youth will be engaged through the online Virtual Worlds platform. Students receive 70 hours of training and are responsible for developing and launching the VHOS, training middle school youth, and creating a management plan. Students form teams, create interactive science exhibits, study interactive design, and use a variety of Web 2.0 tools for collaboration purposes. Finally, students beta test the prototype with families, other Explainers, and project staff before making it available to the public. Students build skills in six areas identified by International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), including creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, digital citizenship, and technology operation concepts. VHOS will be designed for long-term sustainability through collaboration with state and regional cooperative service professional development programs.
EDC's Center for Children and Technology (EDC) will conduct the project's evaluation, with a focus on the VHOS' impact on Explainers and visitors. EDC will be looking at the youth's understanding of science concepts and their development and articulation of ICT workforce skills. A mixed-methods approach will be employed and include observations, interviews, participant blogs, science concept rubrics, visitor surveys, and pre-post questionnaires for both the formative and summative evaluation. It is anticipated that this project will advance our understanding of the effectiveness of virtual environments in building ICT skills and student understanding of workforce preparation. Funding for the Virtual Hall of Science project is provided by the National Science Foundation.