The NASA INSPIRE Online Learning Community is an engaging, virtual environment that provides unique educational opportunities. High school students from across the nation are able to interact with their peers 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the OLC, the centerpiece of the INSPIRE project.
The Interdisciplinary National Science Project Incorporating Research and Education Experience - or INSPIRE - is a multi-tier, year-round program designed for students in grades 9-12 who are interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and careers. INSPIRE bridges the gap between interest in middle school, when students begin making career choices, and college by providing them with STEM and NASA-specific information so that the students can decide what they do or do not like in STEM. INSPIRE can help guide them through this process so they have the skills, desire and knowledge necessary to enter college and pursue a career of interest to them. Even parents and guardians have a unique opportunity when their student is accepted into the INSPIRE project in that they are provided with resources designed to help champion their child's education and career goals.
As a part of INSPIRE, students have the opportunity to engage with individuals who have the same interests, expectations and goals as they do. Students also have the opportunity to interact with NASA personnel and experts who give them the real-world, behind-the-scenes information that highly motivated students need to make decisions about careers.
The INSPIRE OLC centers on four main sections - Discover, Connect, Equip and the INSPIRE Cafe. These sections provide access to monthly themes and subthemes, activities, communication networks, opportunities, challenges and a student virtual environment.
In the Discover section, students pursue new interests through STEM-related content based on monthly themes and subthemes. The focus of the Discover section is to encourage students to explore different avenues of learning by completing activities and challenges and to inform them about current events at NASA.
A variety of activities gives participants the opportunity to work as individuals or as part of a group to complete self-paced learning activities and challenges. Students may select from short-term activities typically requiring less than an hour to complete or long-term activities that might require a month. Students earn points determined by the duration and complexity of the activity. Points earned are displayed on a "Points Leaderboard" and are used in considering students for virtual summer experience opportunities and virtual awards known as "ePrizes."
A popular activity at the beginning of each OLC year is the INSPIRE Team Patch Competition where students design the upcoming year's INSPIRE logo. The winning design is posted on the OLC website throughout the school year, and the design appears on official NASA INSPIRE communications and products. INSPIRE students select the winning patch through an online poll. The OLC provides many additional opportunities for students to learn and explore in small groups, including tie-ins to NASA-sponsored competitions and challenges such as the RealWorld/InWorld Design Challenge and the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge.
The Connect section of the OLC offers a place where community members can connect to their peers, to NASA experts and to the INSPIRE project team. Avenues of communication on this page include the LiveChat, blog, discussion boards, a Leaderboard and a list of official NASA-sponsored social networking sites.
Participants may take part in discussion boards with other students or sign up for weekly live chats in which NASA subject matter experts present information on a variety of STEM topics. The experts can talk directly with students to answer questions and create a better understanding of specific topics. Students are encouraged to follow INSPIRE on Twitter to learn what's current in the online learning community and to receive updates, news and special announcements.
The Equip section of the OLC offers students a place to prepare themselves for the future through access to a variety of resources. Many students are not aware of all the opportunities available to them, and the Equip section is there to highlight these opportunities and to supply the students with the resources necessary to prepare themselves for a future STEM degree and career.
The INSPIRE Cafe is a new addition to the OLC for 2012-2013. The Cafe is a virtual environment where student members are able to talk to each other about STEM topics, team challenges or other OLC activities. The Cafe allows students to get to know each other and to develop a connection to the community by sharing knowledge and experiences.
The key to the success of INSPIRE is collaboration. Students are encouraged to collaborate on challenges and communicate through an online forum. New themes are offered each month, and up-to-date information about current events at NASA is at the participants' fingertips.
INSPIRE is part of NASA's education strategy to attract and retain students in the STEM disciplines critical to NASA's missions. For more information about INSPIRE, visit http://www.nasa.gov/education/INSPIRE.
INSPIRE Students Speak Out
INSPIRE Students Speak Out - 2013
Kathy Forsythe/NASA Educational Technology Services