Worlds of Connections Newsletter

Volume V, Issue 2
26 July 2023

Letter from Dr. McQuillan

Hello Worlds of Connections community,

We can’t believe it’s already the end of the fifth year of the Worlds of Connections (WoC) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL), funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. This newsletter provides an update about our project accomplishments from January–July 2023 plus upcoming happenings. We hope you enjoy reading about our virtual reality (VR) deliverable development, collaborative research publications, network science activity development, and conferences and presentations.

We look forward to hearing about your updates, insights, and ideas for our shared goals. 

Thank you for your continued support.

Best regards,

Julia McQuillan
Worlds of Connections Principal Investigator
Willa Cather Professor of Sociology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Project Accomplishments

Worlds of Connections Content on DigitalCommons

WoC-supported research articles, network science activity guides, and other project resources are now available to view and download for free from DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska–Lincoln. New project-supported content will be available online as it is finalized.

VR Deliverable Development

Our team is excited to share updates about the VR experience MuMu: Worlds of Connections, which uses systems thinking and network science to address planetary scale problems through storytelling, data, and meaningful interactions. We are partnering with DOTDOT Studios, Inc., to develop the experience, which we playtested with youth throughout the Spring 2023 semester and presented at conferences and events this summer. We are grateful to the NE STEM 4U club participants at Park Middle School, Bay High Focus Program students and staff, NIH SciEd conference attendees, Central IDeA States Regional Meeting attendees, participants in the Indigenous Summer Program for Advancing Research Knowledge at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and UNL faculty and colleagues for helping us playtest the experience.

Four different vertical panels with "MUMU: Multispecies Multiplex" in large white text over the images. Each panel shows a limb reaching forward from the perspective of the owner of the limb. The leftmost panel shows an orange robot hand holding a green leafy plant against a background of a tilled dirt field. The panel second from left depicts a tree branch reaching up toward the sky, with more tree leaves in the background. The panel third from left shows a gloved farmer hand holding an apple in a futuristic farm laboratory. The rightmost panel shows a prairie dog paw reaching to dig into a dirt tunnel.

MuMu (which stands for Multispecies Multiplex) is a Real-Time 3D VR experience that leverages systems thinking and One Health frameworks that link human, animal, plant, and environmental health. In MuMu: WoC, users can explore a futuristic farm; shift between the perspectives of a planting robot, a prairie dog, and an apple tree; and experience how the parts of the farm have interdependent relationships related to growing food. Set in the future, the science, theories, and data are based on up-to-date science of today. The preliminary playtesting feedback indicates high levels of fun, emotional engagement, curiosity, and descriptions of systems and networks that reflect the audio script in the experience.

Collaborative Research

We are excited to share several recently published articles about science identity over time, science teacher advice networks, and behaviors around COVID-19. WoC team members Trish Wonch Hill, McQuillan, and Michelle Phillips; graduate students Grace Kelly (UNL Sociology) and Miranda Melson (Northeastern University); and collaborators Betsy Barent and James Blake (Lincoln Public Schools) wrote, “Mapping Teacher Informal Advice Networks as a Tool for District Administrators: A Case Study,” recently published in Science Educator. A second article by WoC team members McQuillan, Hill, Kelly, and postdoctoral researcher Joseph Jochman examining youth science identity over time, “Decline is Not Inevitable: Changes in Science Identity During the Progression Through a U.S. Middle School among Boys and Girls,” appears in Socious. Lastly, WoC team members McQuillan, Hill, Meghan Leadabrand, and Amy N. Spiegel contributed the chapter “Fostering Youth STEM Identities Through Social Network Connections in Informal Science Settings” to the book Amplifying Informal Science Education: Rethinking Research, Design, and Engagement, edited by WoC senior personnel Judy Diamond and her colleague Sherman Rosenfeld.

NE STEM 4U & Network Science Activity Development

We continue to develop network science activities for middle-school-aged youth in both virtual and in-person informal settings. During the Spring 2023 semester, four undergraduate student NE STEM 4U mentors (club leaders) facilitated informal network science and STEM activities with middle-school youth. We piloted ten network science activities that we are evaluating and refining, collaborated with Cell Collective to test interactive systems-thinking activities for youth, and gathered youth feedback on the MuMu VR deliverable. Currently, four NE STEM 4U network science activities are available for free online and included in the book Hands-on with NE STEM 4U.

Conferences & Presentations

In March 2023, at the Midwest Sociological Society annual meeting, project team members and local school district collaborators presented a panel on university-school district partnerships based on their experience organizing an annual professional learning event for teachers. At the Network of the National Library of Medicine 2023 Virtual Health Misinformation Symposium in April, Co-I Hill presented a lightning talk about communicating accurate science and health information about viruses, pandemics, and vaccination through art and comics. 

Four WoC team members traveled to Washington, DC at the end of May for the 2023 NIH SciEd conference, the annual meeting for SEPA project teams. We presented a poster (see PDF or below) highlighting our collaborative partnerships, recent research publications, and outreach deliverables. We also brought three VR headsets to the meeting, so that attendees could playtest MuMu: WoC. The highlight of the conference was seeing the VR experience, which has been in development during the past few SciEd meetings, come to fruition and share it with SEPA investigators and participants from around the globe!

Lastly, PI McQuillan presented a research poster “Implicit Network Science Knowledge and Awareness of Social Connections for Health are Relevant for Pandemic Precautions” and the MuMu experience at the 2023 Central IDeA States Regional Meeting, held June 7th-9th in Kansas City, Missouri.

Research poster with the title "WORLDS OF CONNECTIONS" in pale purple block lettering in the top center. The background is pale purple with a solid darker purple block in the middle. In the center of the poster is a network consisting of pink and red nodes and links. The largest node in the middle depicts a youth wearing a VR headset and pointing forward with both hands as they play. Around them are pop-outs with stills from a VR experience: a farmer in a laboratory, a robot planter and crops, an apple tree, and a prairie dog in the dirt. Three more medium-sized red nodes are connected to the main node, labeled "OUTREACH DELIVERABLES," "PARTNERSHIPS," and "RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS." Pink nodes branch off from these three red nodes depicting examples of each of the research project areas.
NIH SciEd 2023 Poster

Personnel Updates

Two WoC staff members, Sam Bendix and Meghan Leadabrand, are advancing their careers at UNL in units that partner with WoC. Bendix has been working with faculty and staff in the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts on a multitude of projects across a variety of media (in addition to MuMu: WoC), and Leadabrand is now the Project Coordinator/Administrative Technician in the UNL Center for Science, Mathematics, and Computer Education.

Upcoming Happenings

No-Cost Extension

The WoC SEPA has been approved for a one-year no-cost extension to wrap up project goals by the end of July 2024. We will refine remaining network activity guides based on iterative feedback and make them freely available online through DigitalCommons. We will finalize the MuMu VR experience, which will be available for free download through our website later this summer. We also plan to co-host the upcoming Science Connector professional learning event for science educators in Lincoln Public Schools. 

Upcoming Dates

October 16–17, 2023 | Great Plains IDeA-CTR Annual Scientific Meeting
Save the date for the Annual Scientific Meeting of the NIH-funded Great Plains IDeA Clinical and Translational Research. More details will be announced soon!

November 7–9, 2023 | Virtual 2023 Symposium on Substance Use Research
The annual Symposium on Substance Use Research, co-hosted by our partners at UNL’s Rural Drug Addiction Research Center, focuses on leveraging research, knowledge, and insight on substance use from across the country. The virtual format will include expert keynotes, panels, and research presentations on a wide variety of substance use topics. The Symposium is free and open to the public.

By |2023-08-01T15:49:36+00:00August 1st, 2023|