UMass Lowell, Partners Bring Climate Education to Commuters

$2.2 Million National Science Foundation Grant, In-Kind Donation Fund Campaign

12/13/2012


Contacts:  Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

Led by researchers at UMass Lowell’s Graduate School of Education, a public education project slated to roll out next year will provide information about climate science on subway placards and platforms and commuters’ smartphones in an effort to teach the public about the issue. 

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2.2 million grant to the project, which will also assess whether light-rail public transit systems are an effective venue for science education. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is a partner in the project.

The three-year grant is the largest ever received by UMass Lowell Graduate School of Education faculty. Heading the project are UMass Lowell’s David Lustick of Nashua, N.H., and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier of Westford, professors of curriculum and instruction in the Graduate School of Education. 

Lustick believes the Science Express will grab people’s attention and become an important educational tool. Preliminary research showed 80 percent of MBTA subway riders surveyed responded they were interested in learning more about climate science, according to Lustick.

“Our audience is highly motivated,” he said. “We have a powerful team working together and the project will be a great opportunity for people to learn about science and climate education in an informal, interactive way.” 

Two advertising agencies – Brodeur Partners and Bowman Global Change – are developing the creative work on the project and will convene an advisory board of representatives from the MBTA, the Smithsonian Institution and other organizations to provide input. 

The MBTA is donating $180,000 in advertising space on subway cars and platforms for the project. The plan also looks to develop smartphone applications riders may access during their commute. Applications for games, contests and social media may include interactive augmented-reality features or views of the real world enhanced with computer-generated graphics, video, audio or GPS data. The material will change each month and be reviewed for scientific accuracy. 

Lustick hopes the project will open up new ways of engaging and educating the public about science outside of science centers, museums and schools.

“If this is effective, we could use this model to improve the public’s understanding about other issues. If we can engage people while they are commuting, we can change the way we think about informal learning,” he said. 

Lustick and Lohmeier are the principal investigators on the project. Co-principal investigators are professors Bob Chen at UMass Boston and Rick Wilson at Hofstra University, along with David Rabkin, director of current science and technology at the Museum of Science, Boston.  

The project follows UMass Lowell’s 2011 Carbon Smarts Conference, which brought experts in transportation, communications, climate science and education to the university to examine potential means to influence climate-science education.
  
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