The Natural Resources EXPLORATORIUM is a project launched by the Barcelona Knowledge Campus (BKC)—a joint initiative of the Universitat de Barcelona (UB) and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) that has been recognised as an International Campus of Excellence—in collaboration with the Berga Town Council. The project draws on the strengths of the three participating institutions: the scientific and technical knowledge of two of Catalonia’s top universities, and the Town Council’s ability to reach out to the public.
The main objectives are to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology, and to improve learning in secondary education and higher training cycles. By pursuing these goals, it is also hoped that the project will contribute to the development of a region rich in natural resources.
The EXPLORATORIUM emphasises enquiry-based learning. Activities focus on how natural resources are used to obtain all the material products society depends on.
The EXPLORATORIUM seeks to:
• Contribute to increasing the scientific-technical literacy of the general public by sharing research projects that motivate students;
• Help bridge the gap between education and research;
• Provide training for secondary school teachers.
The project addresses needs that have been identified in society.
In qualitative terms, the EXPLORATORIUM’s hands-on learning activities complement educational content delivered in formal school settings. Contact with researchers offers students an insight into day-to-day research practice.
The centre’s approach to the teaching of science and technology aims to provide students and other visitors with an opportunity to acquire scientific knowledge linked to the use and exploitation of the resources nature offers us. The goal is to have an impact on the lives of participants by helping them to develop guiding principles and behaviours as consumers and future professionals.
The activities organised by the EXPLORATORIUM have received an extremely positive response:
- The Ministry of Science and Innovation has provided two grants (in 2010 and 2011) within the framework of the International Campus of Excellence programme in recognition of the project’s contribution to decentralising knowledge and developing the region.
- The Government of Catalonia has also provided funding through the ACDC-AGAUR programme, which supports projects aimed at popularising science.
- A certain percentage of attendees are repeat visitors and sign up for multiple activities.
- The doctoral students who participated in the Knowledge Fair-2011 were surveyed and interviewed (http://www.exploratori.org/images/altres/fira/2011/Opinion_becario_docto...) to get their views on the organisation of events, and the results obtained were very positive (http://www.exploratori.org/images/altres/fira/2011/Encuesta_satisfaccion...).
In quantitative terms, the activities carried out have had a significant impact in Catalonia. Two thousand people have attended the 19 editions of the Summer University held to date, and a single edition of the Knowledge Fair-2011 reached some 1,100 people. Moreover, many of the attendees are secondary school teachers, and in light of the multiplier effect associated with their participation, the total number of people impacted can be estimated at approximately 6,500.
Activities are publicised via the centre’s website (http://www.exploratori.org/index.php/es/), mailings and printed leaflets. The EXPLORATORIUM has also participated in a number of conferences on educational innovation and has had a paper accepted at the Science in Society Conference-Berkeley in November 2012 (http://science-society.com/conference-2012/). There are also plans for the centre to have a stand at the Barcelona Education Show (70,000 visitors), in the ScienceSpace (http://www.ensenyament.com/portal/appmanager/efiraSalones/S085012?_nfpb=...) of the Catalan Research Support Institute Foundation.
The originality of the project lies in the way it focuses on raw materials found in nature to arrive at the products we use every day. The use of natural resources, at the exploitation stage and their transformation, relates to a broad range of disciplines covered in secondary and university education: earth and environmental sciences, chemistry, physics, biology and technology. Consequently, the centre is able to have a significant impact by:
- Providing secondary school teachers with highly practical scientific and technical resources that fill a gap not covered by other centres for popularising science, such as museums;
- Providing students with practical resources that have proven effective in promoting learning and generating interest;
- Helping bridge the gap between teachers and students through shared experiences;
- Facilitating direct contact with researchers and the areas they work in to foster curiosity and a sense of excitement about science.
The project represents an opportunity for two key reasons:
- The centre is located in Berga, a town rich in natural resources that can serve as the focal point for educational activities. Berga is strategically located in the middle of Catalonia, and the EXPLORATORIUM has the potential to impact five million people within a one-hour radius of Barcelona.
- It benefits from the involvement of researchers from a number of universities and RDI centres, who will act as trainers and facilitators for the activities carried out.
The activities offered by the EXPLORATORIUM are aimed at:
1. University students
2. Secondary school teachers
3. Secondary school students
4. Professionals working in fields related to the environment
The strategy for reaching these diverse target groups is to programme a broad range of activities (http://www.exploratori.org/index.php/es/activitats-3), which fall into the following categories:
* EXPLORE courses and Summer University: Activities aimed at target groups 1, 2, and 4. Courses, which are 30 hours in duration, run on two days and include:
• A theory session (face-to-face)
• Field visits and experiments involving the material collected during these visits (face-to-face)
• Independent work via the virtual campus (distance learning)
* Knowledge Fair: An activity aimed primarily at target groups 2 and 3, but also open to the others. The aim of the Knowledge Fair is to present science and technology research projects carried out at the UB and UPC (9 stands). The research showcased focuses on a wide range of areas, from natural resources to medicine.
See photographs and videos in: http://www.exploratori.org/index.php/es/recursos-2
Within the framework of these two main strands, parallel activities include lectures, exhibitions and workshops.
The distinctive features of these activities (courses taught in the field and direct contact between young doctoral students and pre-university students at the Knowledge Fair) could be reproduced by other universities in different areas of knowledge.