There used to only be two ways to reach classroom students as an informal educator: site visits and field trips. These methods have changed. Technology provides us with the ability to enhance these experiences with lessons, discussions, and follow-ups all conducted online. This isn’t a new thing, but it is quickly becoming a more common approach to informal education experiences.
In a time when classroom budgets and lessons are severely restricted, informal educators now have a tool that allows them to squeeze in extra time with students and provide additional enrichment experiences. Not only are educators able to reach the target audience in a more efficient way, but they are also able to connect with one another like never before.
The National Marine Education Association supports and fosters the connection between the classroom and the informal educator and is dedicated to reaching a larger audience. A common component of the 2014 NMEA conference was the importance of communication and the connections and experiences made possible by technology. There is a trend among government organizations, private institutions and local non-profit groups towards the use of social media and video conferencing as a means of reaching target audiences.
Various social media platforms provide the opportunity for organizations to contact and notify an audience outside of their local area. Not only is it an essential tool for educators, the access and connectivity that social media creates is a valuable marketing strategy for many of these institutions. Educators are often a naturally collaborative and communicative community; sharing and creating meaningful connections is important professionally and personally. The connections made through online technology between educators, organizations, and schools are changing the landscape of outreach education.
Organizations across the country offer quality educational experiences throughout the year; yet many schools fail to participate in programming. Online educational opportunities allow informal educators to share lessons, experiments, or experiences with students who may not be able to attend programming due to location or budget constraints. Many informal educational groups are specifically designing programming for presenting online; communicating scientific ideas and developing meaningful cognitive experiences using videos, experiments, and presentations conducted in real-time.
This approach increases the likelihood that students located in communities that have insufficient funding will have the opportunity to participate in programming without the added cost of travel and valuable time away from the classroom. School districts that have limited access to marine science programs due to location are no longer inhibited by distance; students are able to participate in marine science in real-time, virtual classrooms. Online educational programming provides students with access to the marine science community in a new format.
By changing our approach, online technology has given informal educators a means to share our story and our experiences with our target audience. To reach a wide range of audiences we must share the possibilities of online learning experiences and encourage the use social media to increase awareness and improve communication between science organizations and school districts. Information regarding grant funded opportunities, outreach programming, and classroom curriculum will increase the probability of a schools’ participation. The ultimate goal is to connect to classrooms across the country and provide students with marine science experiences and knowledge. To truly expand our audience, we must use online tools of communication to reach those who do not have access to marine science education.
Author Kate Wade was a 2014 Expanding Audiences scholarship recipient. Learn more about the scholarship here >