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Many Faces of NASA

Many Faces of NASA

It is with great hope that I blog this town hall meeting. Tonight the new EP/O Lead for NASA, Steph Stockman (geosteph on twitter), is presenting NASA Education and the new vision for NASA’s new future under Charles Bolden.

As some of you know, for the past several years I have one conference after another blogged with a certain degree of bitterness the mistreatment of education and astronomy at the hands of Michael Griffin. I’ve reported name calling and budget slashing. I’ve even watched graduate students tell him “You’ve budget slashed my dreams into oblivion” to have him respond with more name calling. It has been ugly.

But there is hope! Bolden respects teachers! (His parents I think were teachers.) And the new EP/O director is savvy to new media, literate in K-12 educational theory, practiced in informal ed and generally is an educational triple-treat. These are good things!

Anyway – Steph is talking 🙂 She is starting her talk by explaining why we see NASA doing the things it does – the changes in vision, the changes in reporting, the random NASA stuff we all have to track. She is giving us transparency in government one annoying reality at a time – but it’s better to be annoyed by reality then by mysteries.

The new Space Mission Directorate Outcomes will include 10 areas of effort (slid flew by too fast to grab what those 10 areas are) that will address 4 areas of education (higher ed, K-12, informal ed, and outreach). Within this context, outreach is seen as something that directly connects many aspects of NASA public affairs with formal education. (Outreach is what I do.)

Funding will come out through a variety of projects, ranging from mission-based EPO (Like the Little SDO videos), major activities (this is what we’re doing with Galaxy Zoo), and even supplements to science grants (Got science? I’d love to talk to you about ed!)

Bringing us all together are a set of NASA education forums under themes such as Astrophysics, Planetary Science, Helioscience, etc. (My grant straddles Planetary and Astrophysics.) The forums are a really cool thing – They foster collaborations, sharing of resources, and generally supply a support mechanism for those of us with NASA grants. For the past couple months I’ve attended the monthly Planetary Science telecon and learned about a lot of lunar projects I never knew about that I can plug into and about get help for an upcoming Moon related open-secret-project I can’t write about here.

NASA is also using working groups to help define what NASA can do to best support us through their products and activities. These working groups (~10 people each), will consist ~50% of people working on NASA EPO (SEPOF teams in NASA speak) and the other 50% will be outsiders (for instance people from government) who can bring in a fresh perspective. On the list I am happy to see a Web Presence and Social Media Working Group! As part of all of this, they are going to make a user friendly NASA Science Mission Directorate EP/O web-portal, and they are going to make it possible to find NASA educational products in a straight-forward way. One of the more controversial parts of this (but one I support) is they are going to put all NASA products through a review process to make sure they are good products that we really should be promoting. When this first gets implemented, all existing products that haven’t been reviewed will get yanked until everything can go through the review process.

Yeah for accountability!

And all of the sudden we’ve landed in Q&A.

Q: How do we marry Project 2061 and NASA products?
A: (This is a really bad paraphrase) With meta-data. This is part of the review process – we’re going to make sure what we produce is aligned with standards and fits within the vision.

Q: What about assessment?
A: Over the years, standards have changed. Summative; Summative + Formative; Just Fromative. Etc. In the future, an evaluation/assessment professional needs to come to NASA HQ to help understand proper assessment. In the future, anyone doing assessment will need to have approval for their survey / instrument.

Q: Does this mean you are now your own Institutional Review Board?
A: Yes & No. It’s unclear. … Look, currently everyone is kind of doing their own thing. Likard scales from 1-5, inverse, 1-10, and all sorts of things. We need to try and sort this out into something more consistent.

At this stage, the Q&A deteriorated into a discussion on what it will take to get all NASA products and websites 508 compliant. I’m going to stop here and just be happy for clarity and transparency and hope.