Even life-altering pandemics can’t stop student STEM engagement

In 2008, Beijing hosted the Olympics, George Sampson won Britain’s Got Talent, and I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here hosted its first event: each Zone hosting 5 scientists and 25 school classes.

Over 2 weeks the students would put the scientists through their paces, posting questions, joining text-based Chats, and voting for their favourite scientist to make it through progressive rounds of ‘evictions’ before a winner was declared on the final Friday.

For 12 years that format remained relatively unchanged. Little tweaks here and there, but the core format — 5 or 6 scientists; 25 classes; 2 weeks, 3 times per year — stayed the same. It worked.

Until, of course, 2020.

With schools closing, not closing, and students self-isolating, our typical 12-week lead time was untenable. Asking teachers in April to tell us what they would be doing in June was a non-starter. Expecting the 250 teachers who would typically take part in a June event, all to be available to take part over a 2-week period, wasn’t going to work. We needed the event to work around their timetables, which – for many – didn’t stretch more than a few days ahead. We needed to change the format.

I’m a Scientist, Stay at home and On Demand

We launched I’m a Scientist, Stay at home in April 2020. We ran Zones from April through to June. Teachers didn’t need to sign up weeks in advance, and could book live chats as and when they were available. You can read about what we changed, and what we learnt running I’m a Scientist, Stay at home in the Evaluation Report ❯

In September 2020, we wrote about the uncertainty schools were facing. Even if schools were open, there was talk of local lockdowns and second waves. So we announced our plans to go On Demand, continuing to offer more flexibility to teachers, and refreshing our offering every 4 weeks with brand new Zones.

The outcome

Since we started On Demand in September, there have been 153,480 lines of live Chat in UK I’m a Scientist.

In November 2019, the long-term Zone average was 5,771 lines.

Which means in 12 new-style Zones, we’ve had 27 old-style Zones worth of chat.

Taking into account the 4-week length over the 2-week length, we’re above where we would expect to be using the old long-term average. This means that despite a global pandemic and plenty of adapting and adopting along the way, students are getting more time with high-quality STEM engagement than before.

There are a few caveats: engagement with Ask and Chat is lower, and the number of schools participating is what we’d expect with the increased timescale. With the pandemic still ongoing, it’s difficult to say exactly how successful our activities have been.

That being said: We managed to engage nearly 7,000 students in a pandemic!

Although we would rather not have been faced with COVID-19, our year-on-year data suggests that the changes we have made have had an overall positive impact on our ability to connect school students with working scientists – which, really, is what it’s all about.

Posted on June 3, 2021 by modjosie in News, Project News. Comments Off on Even life-altering pandemics can’t stop student STEM engagement