New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Higher Education Students’ Motivation for Volunteering in a Biology Outreach Programme

Claudia Fracchiolla, National University of Ireland Galway (Ireland)

Sarah Carroll, National University of Ireland Galway (Ireland)

Muriel Grenon, National University of Ireland Galway (Ireland)


Increasing the number and diversity of students who choose STEM subjects is a key objective of most EU countries. In an effort to address this issue, substantial resources are directed toward public engagement programmes and activities delivered by the science community. However, there is little research done to assess whether such investments and inform-learning strategies are effective, not only on the audience but also on the scientists that facilitate many of these programmes and activities. Previous research has shown that participating in public engagement activities benefits the facilitators, for example by increasing their science communication and teaching skills. However, this research looks at the impact that participation in public engagement activities have on higher education students’ motivations toward science. Previous research, both qualitative and quantitative, have shown that interpersonal relationships are important factors that influence higher education students’ motivation to pursue STEM education. Additionally, research in chemistry has shown that one of the benefits of engaging in outreach activities is the reinforcement of volunteers’ excitement about science. In this preliminary study we use motivation theory as a lens to investigate what factors contribute to Irish higher education students’ decisions to participate in informal science programmes. We administered surveys (pre- and post- participation) and conducted interviews with team members that volunteered in a hands-on molecular biology outreach programme for primary education children. Surveys and interviews were analyzed using content analysis. Preliminary findings indicate that previous participation in informal activities, attitudes towards engaging with the community, and recognition from peers are common themes in university students’ initial reasons for involvement. The emergent themes of a sense of community and the enjoyment of sharing science seem related to students’ persistence in the outreach programme. The long term aim of this study is to investigate if participation in informal science programmes has an impact on higher education students’ pursuing a career in STEM.

Keywords: Motivation, outreach, STEM; 

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