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Project Descriptions

Polar Extremes: Enhancing Experiential Digital Learning

September 1, 2017 - August 31, 2020 | Media and Technology

Polar Extremes: Enhancing Experiential Digital Learning is an integrated media and research project produced by the PBS science series, NOVA, that will bring polar science to informal learners through traditional storytelling and experiential, digital learning environments. Stark, cold, and seemingly frozen in time, the top and bottom of the Earth feel other-worldly, completely removed from our everyday existence. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Arctic and Antarctic exert profound influence over our entire planet. Disturbances in these icy realms can send transformative ripples around the globe, altering the circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, and affecting every form of life. And although the poles might seem constant and everlasting, they--like our planet--are always changing, with a deep and complex past. NOVA will provide informal science learners access to specialized research happening at the ends of the earth, introducing them to today's scientists exploring the major drivers of the climate, uncovering the deep history of past paleoclimates, or perfecting climate and weather models. The project includes: a 2-hour nationally broadcast PBS documentary (working title Polar Extremes); a NOVA Polar Lab, an experiential interactive learning platform on polar science; and a Polar Exploration Initiative consisting of a 10-part YouTube series, a collection of 360 videos, virtual field trips, and social media reporting "on location" from Antarctica, along with other polar-themed video, radio and digital journalism. It also includes a research program conducted in collaboration with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to study how narrative-driven and experiential learning can foster informal learning in polar science across a diverse array of audiences. NOVA, the most popular science program on television, with a robust digital presence, will bring current polar science to millions. NOVA will use a range of media to transport viewers to remote polar locations, to interact with polar scientists, manipulate polar data, or vicariously explore the frozen tundra--using a mix of learning approaches. This project will develop and test the impact of two forms of informal learning: traditional narrative-driven storytelling and active, experiential learning. Both components will be developed through audience research, formative evaluation or pilot testing, and experiments. The overarching goal is to determine the best way to combine and leverage traditional and interactive media technologies to educate the public about polar science. How can these modes enhance learning outcomes? The study uses the Informal Science Learning "strand framework" developed by the National Research Council in Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (2009). Because different age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds may engage differently with different types of learning materials and platforms, the project components are designed to test a variety of different learning approaches, with different audiences. This study will be one of the first to address the relative efficacy of various forms of experiential education and whether active versus vicarious experiential learning depends on the characteristics of the learners. As engagement technologies continue to evolve, this project will help inform how to best design and apply them effectively. The project will apply these new lessons specifically to present polar research to the public and to offer audiences an opportunity to explore and learn about these remote regions in new ways that bring them to life, make them relevant, and enhance learning outcomes. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The project has co-funding support from the Office of Polar Programs (OPP).


Funding Program: Polar Special Initiatives, AISL
Award Number: 1713552
Funding Amount: $2,467,174.00


  • Paula Apsell
    Principal Investigator
  • REVISE logo
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Julia Cort
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Hunter Gehlbach
    Co-Principal Investigator
  • Resource Type: Projects
    Discipline: Climate | Geoscience and geography
    Audience: General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
    Environment Type: Media and Technology | Broadcast Media | Websites, Mobile Apps, and Online Media | Games, Simulations, and Interactives

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