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Seeking Shared Practice: A Juxtaposition of the Attributes and Activities of Organized Fossil Groups with Those of Professional Paleontology

Abstract

This study sought to define the attributes and practices of organized fossil groups (e.g., clubs, paleontological societies) as amateur paleontologists, as well as those of professional paleontologists, and explore the potential for these two groups to work collaboratively as a formalized community. Such an investigation is necessary to develop design principles for an online environment that supports this community and encourages communication and shared practice among individuals with different backgrounds in paleontology and who are geographically isolated. A national survey of fossil group representatives and professional paleontologists was used to address the research questions. The results provide a rich description of the attributes and activities of both groups and are discussed in terms of three design principles for supporting the two groups in a form of collaboration and fellowship via a coherent shared practice within an online learning community.

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Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (DRL-1322725). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We thank the survey participants for their responses; this protocol was approved by UF IRB 12U1052.

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Correspondence to Kent J. Crippen.

Appendix

Appendix

Survey for Fossil Groups

  1. 1.

    What is the name of your fossil club? How long has it been in existence? {demographics}

  2. 2.

    How would you describe the mission and/or purpose of your fossil club? Or, if you have a written mission statement, include it here. {demographics}

  3. 3.

    If there is a club website, please provide the URL. {forms of communication}

  4. 4.

    How often does your fossil club meet? {demographics}

  5. 5.

    Approximately how many members belong to your fossil club? {demographics}

  6. 6.

    What is the approximate age of your youngest member? Your oldest? {demographics}

  7. 7.

    Please estimate the percentage of your club members that fall into the following age categories.{demographics}

  8. 8.

    What percentage is male and female? {demographics}

  9. 9.

    Please estimate the percentage of your members that fall into each of the categories listed below. {demographics}

  10. 10.

    Please rate the cultural and ethnic diversity of your fossil club. {demographics}

  11. 11.

    Please share your ideas for ways to reach out to various groups and expand membership in fossil clubs. {forms of communication}

  12. 12.

    What percentage of your members would you estimate use email and/or the Internet? {forms of communication}

  13. 13.

    What kinds of fossil-related Internet resources do your members use? {forms of communication}

  14. 14.

    Of the names below, what do you think would be the preferred way members of your club would like to be referred to? {demographics}

  15. 15.

    Do many of your club members maintain their own personal fossil collections? If so, what would you describe as the reason(s) for their collections? {current activities}

  16. 16.

    What kinds of activities does your club coordinate? {current activities}

  17. 17.

    What percentage of your members would you estimate use your website? {forms of communication}

  18. 18.

    How do members of the club typically communicate with one another and how is information shared among members? {forms of communication}

  19. 19.

    Does your club include or have an association with any professional paleontologists? {professional relationships}

  20. 20.

    What role(s) do the professional paleontologists play in your club? {professional relationships}

  21. 21.

    Does your fossil club have a relationship with a museum or other informal science institution (e.g., nature or science center)? {professional relationships}

  22. 22.

    Please describe the nature of the relationship between your club and the museum or other informal science institution. {professional relationships}

  23. 23.

    If professional paleontologists were more accessible to the club, how would you envision their participation in club activities? {professional relationships}

  24. 24.

    Do you think there are barriers to interactions between professional paleontologists and fossil clubs? If so, briefly describe those barriers and suggestions for how they can be overcome. {professional relationships}

  25. 25.

    Please rate your members’ knowledge of the topics below. {demographics}

  26. 26.

    Please rate your members’ interest in the topics below. {demographics}

  27. 27.

    One of the goals of the FOSSIL project is to network fossil clubs. Does your club currently coordinate any activities with other fossil clubs? {professional relationships}

  28. 28.

    Please indicate the kinds of joint activities your fossil club does with other clubs. {professional relationships}

  29. 29.

    How do you currently communicate with other fossil clubs? {forms of communication}

  30. 30.

    Please give us your ideas for the ideal methods of communication between your fossil club and other clubs. {forms of communication}

  31. 31.

    Do you see any potential benefits of joining a network of fossil clubs? Any drawbacks? {potential CoP activities}

  32. 32.

    How interested do you anticipate your club would be in joining a network (envisioned to be no cost) of fossil clubs? {potential CoP activities}

  33. 33.

    Another goal of the FOSSIL project is to network fossil clubs to provide access to online (“digitized”) specimens and their related data from museum collections. Would your members be interested in accessing these resources? If so, how might you envision your club using them? {potential CoP activities}

  34. 34.

    Below are other possible activities that the FOSSIL project could support. Please rate your members’ likely interest in each. {potential CoP activities}

  35. 35.

    The FOSSIL project plans to develop a website with a focus on communication and networking with fossil clubs, plus have a link to fossil collections on line. What kinds of things would you like to see on the home page of this website? {potential CoP activities}

  36. 36.

    In addition to the FOSSIL website, we are considering developing an e-newsletter that would be sent, for free, to interested members of fossil clubs. How interested would your members likely be in receiving and/or contributing to this e-newsletter? {potential CoP activities}

  37. 37.

    One FOSSIL project activity might be an annual meeting for fossil clubs and professional paleontologists with expenses paid for one representative from participating clubs. How interested would your club be in sending a representative? {potential CoP activities}

  38. 38.

    What kinds of activities would you like to occur at this annual meeting?{potential CoP activities}

  39. 39.

    Another FOSSIL resource may be interactive, web-based video seminars (webinars) for fossil clubs. How interested would your club be in web-based video seminars? {potential CoP activities}

  40. 40.

    Please share any other suggestions and or comments you may have regarding the FOSSIL project. {potential CoP activities}

Survey for Paleontologists

  1. 1.

    How many years have you been a professional paleontologist? {demographics}

  2. 2.

    Briefly describe your position and/or the nature of your work. {demographics}

  3. 3.

    During your time as a professional paleontologist, have you interacted with fossil clubs and their members? {professional relationships}

  4. 4.

    Please indicate your role with the club or clubs with which you have interacted. {professional relationships}

  5. 5.

    How would you rate the extent of your involvement with fossil clubs and their members? {professional relationships}

  6. 6.

    What aspects of your interactions with fossil clubs and their members do you find most rewarding? Least rewarding? {professional relationships}

  7. 7.

    What is/are the name of the club(s) with which you have had either the most recent, or most extensive, interaction? {professional relationships}

  8. 8.

    How would you describe the leadership of the club or clubs? {professional relationships}

  9. 9.

    Please rate the cultural and ethnic diversity of the fossil clubs with which you interact. {professional relationships}

  10. 10.

    Are there specific reasons (e.g., lack of time, geography, philosophical differences) that have kept you from engaging with fossil clubs? {professional relationships}

  11. 11.

    Do you think there are barriers to interactions between professional paleontologists and fossil clubs? If so, briefly describe those barriers and suggestions for how they can be overcome. {professional relationships}

  12. 12.

    Please share your ideas for ways to reach out to various clubs and expand membership in fossil clubs. {professional relationships}

  13. 13.

    Are you affiliated with a museum? {professional relationships}

  14. 14.

    Which of the following best describes your museum? {professional relationships}

  15. 15.

    Are you a curator and/or manager of a paleontology collection of any kind? {current activities}

  16. 16.

    What kind(s) of collection(s) do you curate or manage? {current activities}

  17. 17.

    What is the approximate size of the collection(s) that you list above, in terms of total number of catalogued and/or uncatalogued specimens or lots? {current activities}

  18. 18.

    How much of your collection(s) is/are available in a searchable format on the web? {current activities}

  19. 19.

    If a set of the club members were properly trained, do you think they could help an effort to digitally catalog your fossil collections? {potential CoP activities}

  20. 20.

    Do the fossil club members you are associated with have the opportunity to visit or access the physical collections at your museum? {current activities}

  21. 21.

    Do any of the club members currently volunteer in your collection, or assist with related activities (e.g., field work)? {current activities}

  22. 22.

    Please estimate the number of volunteers that work in the collections or assist in other ways each year or the most recent year (2012). {current activities}

  23. 23.

    Please estimate the number of hours in total volunteers contribute to your paleontological program over the course of one year. {current activities}

  24. 24.

    What kinds of tasks do your volunteers perform? {current activities}

  25. 25.

    Do you work with university students? {current activities}

  26. 26.

    Do the students participate in activities with the fossil clubs and their members? {current activities}

  27. 27.

    Do the clubs ever provide financial support (e.g., small grants, scholarships) for these students? {current activities}

  28. 28.

    Briefly describe the kind of financial support the clubs provide for students. {current activities}

  29. 29.

    Given the goals described at the beginning of this survey, would you be interested in participating in the FOSSIL project–at an appropriate level given your other professional activities? {potential CoP activities}

  30. 30.

    Please rate your level of interest in participating in the possible FOSSIL activities listed below. {potential CoP activities}

  31. 31.

    One FOSSIL project activity might be an annual meeting for fossil clubs and professional paleontologists with expenses paid. How interested would you likely be in participating? {potential CoP activities}

  32. 32.

    The FOSSIL project team is considering developing an e-newsletter that would be sent, for free, to professional paleontologists and interested members of fossil clubs. How interested would you likely be in receiving and/or contributing to this e-newsletter? {potential CoP activities}

  33. 33.

    The FOSSIL project plans to develop a website with a focus on communication and networking with fossil clubs, plus have a website link to fossil collections on line. What kinds of things would you like to see on the home page of this website? {potential CoP activities}

  34. 34.

    Please share any ideas you may have for other activities we might include in the FOSSIL project. {potential CoP activities}

  35. 35.

    Please describe any other potential ways you think professional paleontologists might engage fossil clubs. {potential CoP activities}

  36. 36.

    Please share any other suggestions and or comments you may have regarding the FOSSIL project. {potential CoP activities}

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Crippen, K.J., Ellis, S., Dunckel, B.A. et al. Seeking Shared Practice: A Juxtaposition of the Attributes and Activities of Organized Fossil Groups with Those of Professional Paleontology. J Sci Educ Technol 25, 731–746 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-016-9627-3

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Keywords

  • Community of practice
  • Design
  • Fossil
  • Informal education
  • Formal–informal links
  • Paleontology
  • Public engagement