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Paper: Embracing the Tools to Connect in Virtual Environments
Volume: 531, ASP2020: Embracing the Future: Astronomy Teaching and Public Engagement
Page: 97
Authors: Oliver, A.; Gressieux, V.; Oliver, A. C.; MA; CPM; Gressieux, V.
Abstract: Throughout 2019—up to a full year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global shift to virtual learning— the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (part of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian) quietly launched its virtual in-classroom learning program, increased its social media presence with livestreams and video, and laid out a strategy for reaching the schools, kids, and adults who couldn't get to the Observatory, whether they lived on the other side of Southern Arizona's border patrol checkpoints, or the other side of the country. These programs and plans provided a foundation for a near-seamless transition to successful virtual programming through social media resources beginning in March 2020, including the premiere of Nationwide Livestream Star Party in April 2020—with audience estimates up to 5,000 worldwide on the first night—which was produced in conjunction with multiple other institutions and astronomers. Mt Lemmon SkyCenter, in the wake of the pandemic, immediately set to work creating video and other digital resources for learning, a direction in which they were already headed prior to the closure of onsite programming. The 2019 and 2020 learnings from Whipple Observatory and Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter provide a case study for success in virtual engagement both within and outside of the pandemic, and a roadmap to success for informal science education organizations seeking to increase their own connections in virtual environments. This paper offers additional and updated support and background for remarks made during the 2020 annual conference of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and is not meant to an all-inclusive discussion of available solutions.
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