With support from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, Principal Investigators John Falk from Oregon State University and the Institute for Learning Innovation, Hasan Jamil from University of Idaho, and Kang Zhang from University of Texas at Dallas are creating an innovative new tool for investigating the long-term effects of learning experiences. They are studying a range of online data sources to track over time the continuing conversations, inquiries and learning that individuals do AFTER they engage in an educational experience, what Falk calls CASCADING EXPERIENCES.

Tracking learners over time to understand the impact of an educational experience has been a longstanding, daunting, and elusive challenge. After all, the true goal of any educational experience is what happens weeks and months after an educational experience; the goal is that people will remain curious and intellectually engaged and that they will pursue further learning and apply learned ideas to meet their needs. Historically, although everyone always hoped this goal was achieved, no one actually was able to accurately assess whether it really did happen. Now, with massive amounts of data being shared and stored online, education researchers have for the first time an unprecedented opportunity to study actual evidence of these long-term effects through the application of “big data” analytics and visualization technologies. This project seeks to build the tools that allow educators to identify the long-term, cascading effects of virtually any educational experience, including out-of-school STEM-related learning experiences. If successful, the value of such a tool would be immeasurable. Educators would be able to discover whether visiting a science center exhibition, watching a television science special or even participating in a classroom science lesson resulted in an increase in online social media discussions of these topics, or whether an experience stimulated the public to initiate searches for further information on presented topics through online search engines. This information, in turn, would allow educators to not only gauge how effective their programs were but what aspects of the educational experience generated further interest and engagement. Collectively, this information opens the door to enhanced accountability and improved abilities to support and increase these kinds of cascading learning experiences.

The research has the potential to be relevant far beyond informal science education by advancing the use of data-mining and data analysis processes to better understand how individuals communicate, interact and learning over time, across a range of social networks and online platforms. Some of the questions the investigators hope to explore include:

      • Do learners who engage in informal STEM education experiences like visiting a science museum or watching science-related television shows further their learning through discussions and sharing of information in social media networks?
      • Which types of data are present in online platforms that are relevant for understanding the cascading impacts of learning experiences over time?
      • Do patterns of learning and online engagement evolve independently post-experience, and are there ways to track these pathways over time using big data analytics?
      • Is it possible to use advanced data visualization techniques to make such a model easily understandable and usable by practitioners?




John H. Falk

Dr. John H. Falk is Director of the Institute for Learning Innovation and Sea Grant Professor Emeritus of Free-Choice Learning at Oregon State University. He is internationally known as a leading expert on free-choice learning; the learning that occurs while visiting zoos, aquariums, museums or parks, watching educational television or surfing the Internet for information. Dr. Falk has authored over 200 articles and chapters in the areas of learning, ecology and education, two-dozen books, and helped to create several nationally important out-of-school educational curricula. His recent work has focused on studying the impacts of zoos, aquariums and science museums on the public’s understanding of, interest in and engagement with science and understanding why people utilize free-choice learning settings during their leisure time. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Career Award from NARST: An worldwide organization for improving science teaching and learning through research, the Oregon State University Award for Excellence in Outreach and Innovation-Partnerships, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents Award for Educational Research and the John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership by the American Association of Museums. Falk earned a joint doctorate in Ecology and Science Education from the University of California, Berkeley.


Hasan Jamil

Hasan Jamil is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Idaho, USA. His research is primarily in the area of intelligent and modern databases and knowledge-based systems. He is one of the Co-PIs of this NSF project in which his goal is to develop new technologies to understand how STEM learners leverage educational resources outside classrooms, interact within the online community and their peers to further their knowledge, and influence other learners on social networks.  He is also interested in other application domains such as technology-enhanced online learning, bioinformatics, social networks, eco-informatics and eGovernance. He is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery, ACM Special Interest Group on Management of Data, the Association for Logic Programming, the International Society for Computational Biology, and the IEEE CS.



Kang Zhang

Kang Zhang is Professor and Director of Visual Computing Lab, Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Dallas. He received his B.Eng. in Computer Engineering from University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in 1982, Ph.D. from the University of Brighton, UK, in 1990, and Executive MBA from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2011. Prior to joining UT-Dallas, he held academic positions in the UK, Australia, and China. Dr. Zhang's current research interests include visual languages, aesthetic computing, generative art, and software engineering; and has published over 250 papers in these areas. He has authored and edited six books. Dr Zhang is on the Editorial Boards of Journal of Big Data, The Visual Computer, Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, International Journal of Software Engineering and Knowledge Engineering, and International Journal of Advanced Intelligence. His home page is at www.utdallas.edu/~kzhang



 External Review Board

To ensure that the quality of the project’s findings and assure that the project addresses its intended goals we have assembled an independent and rigorous process of critical external review using experts in the learning and computational sciences. Our External Reviewers consist of nationally prominent researchers in the learning and computational sciences; collectively they are reviewing our research design, methods and analytical approaches from their respective areas of expertise:

Dr. Kevin Crowley, Professor of Learning Sciences, Director, UPCLOSE, University of Pittsburgh, has significant expertise in researching learning across a range of informal settings and is a Co-PI of CAISE, and in this role has led CAISE’s Research-to-Practice Initiative.

Dr. H.V. JagadishBernard A. Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a Senior Scientific Director of the National Center for Integrative Biomedical Informatics established by the National Institutes of Health. He is a computer scientist and a leader in the field of database systems research.

Dr. Han-Wei Shen, Professor, Computer Science and Engineering, The Ohio State University is a prominent researcher in the field of visual data analytics.

Ms. Sue Ellen McCann, Executive Producer, KQED Science, is a leading ISE broadcast media professional. She is also a Co-PI of CAISE and has been actively involved in understanding how to ensure that CAISE efforts reach and meet the needs of a broad representation of the ISE community.

Mr. Paul Martin, Senior Vice President, Science Learning, Science Museum of Minnesota, is a leading ISE professional in the area of exhibition design.