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Astrobiology. 2019 Sep;19(9):1103-1116. doi: 10.1089/ast.2019.2048. Epub 2019 Jun 7.

Hidden in the Figures: What Students Are Telling Us About the Effectiveness of Astrobiology Outreach.

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School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Palaeontology, Geobiology and Earth Archives Research Centre (PANGEA), University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
Division of Research, Stats Central, Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


Astrobiology is an ideal context to engage students with the processes of science. However, there is a problem in measuring the effectiveness of engaging students with astrobiology where the learning outcome is aimed at improving student views of science. Most studies suggest little to no change in students' views of science, especially in short experiences of hours or days. These studies mostly use quantitative methods, such as numerical scores derived from survey rating scales and responses. We propose that hidden in those figures, the words of students in written survey responses are telling us about the effectiveness of astrobiology outreach at improving understanding of science. We sampled 483 students from multiple high schools involved in an established astrobiology outreach program in Australia, using pre- and postintervention data collected from an open- and closed-form survey to identify the impacts of the program on students' views of science. We applied both conventional quantitative score analysis methods and computer-based qualitative analysis methods-NVivo and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) programs. While there was little difference in postsurvey scores, there is evidence in the qualitative data that the astrobiology program creates cognitive conflict in students, a trigger to the learning process that can open students to the first steps in understanding the creative, subjective, and tentative nature of science.


Education and outreach; Nature and process of science; Program evaluation. Astrobiology 19, 1103–1116; Qualitative research methods


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