28 April 2016

AAS Education Task Force Begins Its Work

Charles Liu, CUNY College of Staten Island

In August 2015 the AAS Council and staff worked diligently to map out a strategic plan that will guide and move the Society forward for years to come. Among the many strategic priorities that were identified, one of the most important was education — that is, the “share” part of the mission of the AAS, which is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

During that discussion, the Council recognized that education is a broad term that includes among other things formal and informal education, public outreach, education research, and professional development in teaching and learning. Furthermore, the AAS membership is remarkably diverse in the variety and number of education-related activities in which it engages — and also in the opinions held about the role the Society should play and the resources it should commit to those activities. Accordingly, the Council recommended the creation of a task force on education that would provide the AAS with a data-driven, well-considered path for the future of the Society’s educational philosophy and activities.

Earlier this year, with the input of the Astronomy Education Board, AAS President Meg Urry appointed the members of the Education Task Force and charged them to do the following:

  • Survey, categorize, and assess the past and current education-related activities of the Society, including undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate education; pre-K, primary, and secondary education; public outreach, social-media activity, and informal education; professional development of Society members; and astronomy-education research.
  • Collect statistically meaningful data from the Society membership to catalog and assess the amount, breadth, and significance of education-related activity in their astronomy-related and career-related efforts, in all the various categories listed above.
  • Develop, guided by those data and assessments, a coordinated education strategy for the Society, with clear goals and metrics for success, aligned with the best interests of the Society’s members and the mission and vision of the Society; and, if resources will be required, indicate the level and possible origins of those resources (including the AAS).
  • Recommend to the AAS Council a prioritized portfolio of education-related activities for the Society to pursue, in both the short term and long term, which will further the coordinated education strategy and the achievement of its goals.

Members of the task force:

  • Nancy Brickhouse (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
  • Gina Brissenden (AAS Executive Office), Staff Liaison
  • Pamela Gay (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville)
  • David Helfand (Columbia University)
  • Sarah Higdon (Georgia Southern University)
  • Charles Liu (CUNY College of Staten Island), Chair
  • Karen Masters (University of Portsmouth, UK)
  • Alice Olmstead (University of Maryland)
  • Ed Prather (University of Arizona)
  • Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage)
  • Alex Rudolph (Cal Poly Pomona)

As the AAS Education Officer, I have the privilege of chairing this task force. Gina Brissenden, AAS Education & Outreach Coordinator, is our AAS staff liaison. We plan to fulfill our charge by the end of this year and to report our recommendations to the AAS Council at the 229th AAS meeting in January 2017 in Grapevine, Texas.

To do that successfully, we will need your help! As Meg Urry stated in her recent post, “Thoughtful input from the astronomical community will be perhaps the most important knowledge the AAS can gather as the education task force moves forward in its work.” Please don’t hesitate to provide 1- to 2-page (or longer, if absolutely necessary) white papers on any aspect of education, professional development, or public outreach, including information about your existing activities in these areas, recommendations for future activities or policies, or even the definitions and boundaries of the three categories (education, professional development, and public outreach) themselves.

Please send your white papers, or any questions you might have, by email to Gina or me. The nominal deadline is 12 May; if you need more time than that, however, just let us know — we will be glad to receive your input any time up to 9 June, a few days before the 228th AAS meeting begins in San Diego and our task force gathers to review your input. Our community will benefit greatly from your contributions. Thank you so much!