Transforming Outdoor Places into Learning Spaces

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project develops and examines place-based learning using mobile augmented reality experiences for rural families where museums and science centers are scarce yet where natural resources are rich with outdoor trails, parks, and forestlands. The collaborative research team, with members from rural libraries, outdoor learning centers, learning scientists at Penn State University, and rural communities in Pennsylvania, will develop augmented reality and mobile learning resources for families and children aged from 4 to 12. The goal is to help people see what is not visible in real-time in order to learn about life and earth sciences based on local watersheds, trees, and seasonal cycles that are familiar and relevant to rural communities. To accomplish this goal, the project team will create scientifically meaningful experiences for rural families and children in their out-of-school time through three iterations of research and design. Although there is evidence that augmented reality can support learning, little empirical research has been conducted to determine what makes one type of augmented learning experience more effective than others in outdoor learning spaces. This project will produce research findings on the utility of augmented reality for science learning with families and youths outdoors. This Innovations in Development 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

Through a four-year design-based research study, researchers will investigate three research questions. (1) How can outdoor learning experiences be enhanced with augmented reality and digital resources in ways that make science more visible and interesting?; (2) How do different forms of augmentations on trails and in gardens support science learning? 3) What social roles do children and parents play in supporting each other's science learning and connections to rural communities? Data collection includes video-recordings of children and families in the outdoors, learning analytics of people's behavior, and interviews with rural families. The project's research design will allow for the development of theory, which supports rural families learning science within and about their communities. At the end of the project, the team will offer generalizable design principles for technologically-enhanced informal learning for outdoor displays, gardens, and trails.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/168/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $1,568,509.00


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