The online hub offers students new to outreach an opportunity to familiarize themselves with resources before performing outreach. Although OSC offers a semester-long outreach course that provides face-to-face training, it has the burden of class time and tuition for students. The online hub is freely available, easily accessible, and self-directed by the user’s interests. Multimedia lesson plans provide instructions for effectively presenting to students and document materials required for each activity. Clear objectives are provided to guide the instruction and evaluate the students’ knowledge and interest in optics. Ongoing outreach events are utilized during the academic year to “beta-test” the website. While an online hub greatly enhances the many outreach activities already available to students within the College of Optical Sciences, an online resource has the added benefit of being an accessible resource to teachers, students, and communities around the world.
Optical Sciences plays a role in many of the innovative technologies transforming our society, making outreach of utmost importance to attract students to the emerging field. Outreach activities at the University of Arizona’s College of Optical Sciences (OSC) help inspire these future innovators. This project centralizes the outreach efforts for the College of Optical Sciences using a new online hub, developed to collect, organize, and disseminate educational activities. The website provides on-demand training for students unfamiliar with leading demonstrations and inspiration for experienced instructors looking for something new. It emphasizes scientific literacy, effective scientific communication, and serves as a free and accessible multimedia resource for STEM classrooms.
For decades, the College of Optical Sciences has developed an extensive collection of outreach programs led by undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff1,2,3. The College of Optical Sciences contains several different organizations which participate in outreach activities within the Tucson community: Student Optics Chapter (SOCk), Women in Optics (WiO), and the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN). The largest event hosted by the groups within OSC is Laser Fun Day, an annual event which attracts up to 1,000 visitors each year4,5. Additional events include classroom visits to elementary, middle, and high schools and community events such as the Tucson Festival of Books and the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering (SARSEF) Future Innovator’s Night. There are currently over 30 different activities available for outreach events, which continue to grow and evolve over time.
For students new to outreach, volunteering for these outreach events may be daunting. OSC does offer an Optics Outreach course (OPTI 489/589) to provide face-to-face training for performing various demonstrations for undergraduates and graduate students, but this has the burden of class time and tuition. The development of an online hub offers students new to outreach an opportunity to familiarize themselves with resources before performing outreach, thereby lowering the barrier-to-entry for volunteering to lead outreach activities.
Prior work has shown that scientists’ perception of engaging in outreach activities can be affected by a variety of factors, with one of the most significant barriers being perceived time contraints6. This perception can be exacerbated when information on outreach options is not easily accessible, placing the burden of creating new opportunities on the scientist. This time and effort can discourage volunteers, particularly those new to leading demonstrations. By documenting materials available within OSC with an online repository of lesson plans and publicizing upcoming events, we hope to address this perception and encourage more members of the optics community to participate in outreach.
The development of this online resource was jumpstarted by a UA Graduate Fellowship award co-sponsored by the College of Optical Sciences and the UA/NASA Space Grant Program, which supports educational outreach projects designed to promote the understanding of space-related research to the public within the topics of space sciences or engineering, public policy, earth sciences, science education, and global change-related fields7.
Online Hub Structure
The online hub is freely available, easily accessible, and self-directed by the user’s interests. Multimedia lesson plans provide instructions for effectively presenting to students and document materials required for each activity. Clear objectives are provided to guide the instruction and evaluate the students’ knowledge and growth in interest in a particular optics concept.
The demonstrations are grouped into various categories by topic, such as fiber optics, everyday optics, electromagnetic spectrum, physical optics, and optical illusions. Lesson plans are created with the intention of appealing to all age ranges, with additional information provided for more advanced discussions.
To help coordinate between organizations within OSC, additional joint resources on the online hub include a calendar of events, comment section for each lesson plan, and a submission form to compile new demonstration ideas. Comments and submissions are moderated before being posted online. The pages are built within the same WordPress template used for websites for faculty, research groups, labs, and clubs of OSC and are moderated by the college’s media content manager.
Ongoing outreach events are utilized during the academic year to “beta-test” the website and improve the effectiveness of each lesson plan. Documenting all of the demonstrations available to students will encourage more efficient use of materials and add variety to the topics brought to the public most often. In addition, the website will be sustainable; lesson plans can be edited and added by SOCk, WiO, and CIAN, even with individual students cycling through OSC through the years.
While an online hub greatly enhances the many outreach activities already available to OSC students, online resources have the added benefit of being an accessible resource to teachers, students, and communities around the world. Though some demonstrations require specific equipment (such as an infrared camera), many activities can be modified and completed with simple household materials.
During the 2017 – 2018 Academic Year, OSC volunteers participated in 42 events, reaching over 6500 students in events across the Tucson community. Volunteers have utilized trial lesson plans in several classroom visits and community events, with full implementation of the hub to be completed in the coming year.
Available lesson plans describe some of the most popular OSC demonstrations such as Pepper’s Ghost, polarization, diffraction of light sources, and Schlieren imaging, with images and videos as illustrated in Figure 3. Each demonstration will include step-by-step instructions, descriptions, and external resources as shown in Figure 4.
An online infrastructure has been developed to create a sustainable resource for OSC outreach efforts, and additional work will be done to continue to grow this resource. Over the coming 2018-2019 academic year, the following steps will be taken:
New demonstrations developed by undergraduate and graduate students in the Optics Outreach course (OPTI 489/589) will also be integrated into the online hub over the coming years.
This work was supported through a NASA traineeship grant awarded to the Arizona/NASA Space Grant Consortium. The authors would also like to acknowledge the support of the College of Optical Sciences for further development of outreach activities, as well as the volunteers of SOCk, WiO, and CIAN for their participation in outreach events throughout the academic year.
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