Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Completes a Milestone Review

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Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Completes a Milestone Review

October 3, 2017 - LSST is a revolutionary project for a number of reasons, one of which is its commitment to building an Education and Public Outreach (EPO) program as novel and robust as LSST itself. The EPO team (pictured in the accompanying photo) is currently developing the infrastructure for the program to be delivered during operations; this process that is occurring in tandem with the construction of LSST's observational facility and other subsystem components. This long lead time allows for thoughtful and thorough prototyping, testing, and evaluation of EPO products so they'll be ready when LSST Operations begin in 2022.

Last week EPO underwent its first official subsystem review, seeking external feedback that will help guide future stages of EPO program development. The review team was made up of individuals outside the project who have expertise in a variety of relevant areas like astronomy education, citizen science, program evaluation, and project management. During the three-day process, which included presentations and opportunities for interactive discussion, the reviewers identified strengths in EPO program design and pointed out areas that need more detailed attention as the program evolves. Overall, the feedback provided by the review team was very positive, recognizing the hard work the EPO team has put in to date and helping to prioritize next steps.

Education and Public Outreach has been a design element of LSST since 2005, but the subsystem has recently kicked into high gear, adding 6 employees, including Head of EPO Dr. Amanda Bauer, and shifting its focus from overall design to development of specific programs. Rather than reproduce the many excellent resources created by other organizations for astronomy education, LSST EPO is designing its infrastructure to capitalize on what makes LSST unique: unprecedented quantities of astronomical data with repeated sky coverage every few nights. About 10% of the full LSST data set will be made available for public access through EPO programing. The online connection to all aspects of LSST EPO programming will be through the EPO Portal, which will be accessible by a traditional desktop interface and also optimized for mobile use, as fit for the main EPO audiences.

Presentations by members of the EPO team during last week's review described the deliverables currently being designed as facets of the EPO Portal. In an early presentation, Dr. Bauer described the Skyviewer, an interactive online tool which will introduce users to a huge color image of the full available night sky observed by LSST. The Skyviewer will highlight objects of interest and offer additional information on individual objects as available. Dr. Bauer anticipates that this feature will be a widely accessed EPO product, since it won't take any previous knowledge or training to use.

Dr. Bauer also gave a talk on LSST EPO's developing partnership with Zooniverse, represented in the review by Founder Dr. Chris Lintott, who participated remotely from Oxford, UK. During LSST Operations, EPO will provide LSST data and support for principal investigators using Zooniverse's Project Builder tool to create citizen science projects. Anyone can be a citizen scientist; the partnership between LSST EPO and Zooniverse will enable countless opportunities to contribute to real science and discoveries during LSST Operations.

Education Specialist Ardis Herrold, along with Dr. Ed Prather with the University of Arizona, presented EPO's program for formal educators. They will be able to access real LSST data, for use in their classrooms, through the EPO Portal's Education Hub. Teachers will be directed to classroom activities using Jupyter Notebooks, and will be able to customize notebooks for their specific student groups. The notebook activities will be aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, as well as adhering to the guidelines in Chile's EXPLORA program.

In one of his presentations, Project Manager Ben Emmons described how the EPO Portal will guide content creators at informal science centers to a multimedia gallery containing photos, video, interactive 3D models, and more. These digital assets will be made available in a variety of formats, encouraging wide adoption by facilities large and small. Ben also delivered a talk on EPO's work schedule and budget and, along with Senior Developer J. Matt Peterson, informed the reviewers about the ongoing development of EPO's technical infrastructure.

Evaluation Specialist Ellen Bechtol brought many of these topics together in her presentation on how the EPO program has used formative evaluation to guide the design of its products so far, and how EPO plans to use summative evaluation to measure how well each aspect of the overall program achieves designated outcomes, and to make changes and improvements guided by participant feedback. 

The reviewers asked thoughtful questions throughout the EPO team's presentations, and provided a summary of their comments on the final day of the review which included a series of recommendations for the program. They identified specific areas that need additional thought and planning while acknowledging the strengths of the current design.  Although preparation, and the review itself, made for some long hours of work for the entire EPO team, the process proved very valuable for evaluating the big picture as well as the details of the program. There's still a lot of work to be done, but the successful completion of this milestone is cause for celebration! 

Financial support for LSST 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 LSST 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 LSST camera is managed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).   

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