Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Barbara S. Spector, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Arthur Shapiro, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Liliana RodrigueS-Campos, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Diane Te Strake, Ph.D.


informal science education, ISI, ISE, informal science educator, informal science institutions, professional development


This study is an examination and evaluation of the outcomes of a series of courses that I helped build to create a graduate certificate. Specifically, I wanted to evaluate whether or not the online iteration of the Informal Science Institutions Environmental Education Graduate Certificate Program truly provided the long term professional development needed to enhance the skills of the formal and informal educators participating so that they could contribute meaningfully to the improvement of science literacy in their respective communities.

My role as an internal evaluator provided an extraordinary opportunity to know the intent of the learning opportunities and why they were constructed in a particular fashion. Through the combination of my skills, personal experiences both within the certificate’s predecessor and as an educator, I was uniquely qualified to explore the outcomes of this program and evaluate its effectiveness in providing a long-term professional development for participants.

After conducting a literature review that emphasized a need for greater scientific literacy in communities across America, it was evident that the formal education enterprise needs the support of informal educators working on the ground in myriad different settings in ways that provide science as both content and process, learning science facts and doing real science. Through a bridging of informal science educators with formal teachers, it was thought each could learn the culture of the other, making each more fluent in accessing community resources to help make these educators more collaborative and able to bridge the classroom with the outside world. This bridge promotes ongoing, lifelong learning, which in turn can help the national goal of greater scientific literacy.

This study provided insight into the thinking involved in the learners’ growth as they converted theory presented in course materials into practice. Through an iterative process of reviewing the course generated content, I was able to piece through the many layers of this two year long program to examine the growth of these individuals over time.

While all participants showed growth completing the certificate program, those who could fully invest themselves in the experiences seemed to have gained the most. These cases indicate the Informal Science Institutions Environmental Education Graduate Certificate Program was effective at enhancing the careers of formal and informal science educators. Additionally, it suggests informal science educators, although busy with their professional obligations and personal lives, can be successful in a formal graduate program designed to meet ISE needs as explicated in Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009). The emergent model indicating connections among a person’s personal life, professional life, and graduate study may also have implications for other professionals desiring to enroll in graduate school. For example, science teachers in university graduate programs may also benefit from applying this model to their lives.