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Global Sky Partners
Global educational programs using robotic telescopes
Edward Gomez, Education Director, Las Cumbres Observatory
Las Cumbres Observatory launched the Global Sky Partners program in 2017 with the goal of inspiring students around the world to engage in astronomy and science endeavours by providing 1,000 hours of observing time on our telescope network to educational groups annually.
LCO enters into an equal partnership with each Global Sky Partner, helping them to sculpt and deliver their program, creating something which is greater than the sum of its parts. This partner program is truly innovative and has never been realised on this scale before in astronomy education.
Who are they?
The Global Sky Partners are a diverse group of educators and scientists who run fully-supported education projects and investigations using the Las Cumbres Observatory network of robotic telescopes. Training, mentoring and continuous support are offered to all partner programs by our education staff, and partners engage in monthly online meetings where they discuss ideas and share accomplishments.
Each selected partner has an exemplary track record in astronomy education and allows LCO to reach unprecedented audiences. Some Partners manage their programs in person and others run their programs entirely online, offering a global reach to students, teachers, and the wider public. Each Partner program has its own goals and target audiences—some provide a large variety of projects, all of them using LCO while others use LCO as part of a wider educational curriculum.
About the partners
Our Global Sky Partners run programs using LCO for long-term studies of asteroids, teacher training, student apprenticeships, inspirational space outreach events, in-depth investigations for journal publication, training for the next generation of scientists in the developing world, and citizen science.
In the inaugural year of 2018, there were 16 Global Sky Partners selected from many applications. The first year was a great success and over 15 peer-reviewed papers have been published by the Partners. During 2019, the Partners shared LCO data and resources with 11,000 people directly and a further 13,000 in-directly. Because of their use of LCO, middle- and high-school students from our Partners have won state-level science fairs, attracted college scholarships, presented their research at international conferences to professional astronomers, and published peer-reviewed scientific papers.
In 2019, there were 12 returning and 9 new Partners for a total of 21 projects using 1,300 hours of telescope time. The program is truly global and now includes groups based in 24 countries across Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Australia and the Middle East.
Unique scientific tools
A unique aspect of this partnership is the robotic telescope network. By joining a Global Sky Partner, you have access to Las Cumbres Observatory's network of 10, 0.4-meter, professional grade telescopes. These telescopes are located at 6 of the top astronomical observatory sites around the globe, and offer unprecedented views of dark skies.
We recognised early on that to achieve the full educational potential of this unique scientific resource, we needed to engage with external groups around the world who were doing high-quality astronomy education projects. Key to the success of Global Sky Partners is providing diverse and fully supported educational programs to audiences around the globe, not just ones in developed regions.
Global, scalable, inspirational education projects
The Global Sky Partners program is a uniquely scalable and sustainable. The selection of the partners is key to this success, there is a critical balance of partners with high levels of expertise and exemplary track record, and exploratory partners, particularly those with projects for under-served communities. Each partner develops a program for a specific target audience, with educational and technical support built in, using LCO's robotic telescopes to leverage their own talents and resources. As we add more Global Sky Partners, the user community grows but so does the support community.
All participants in the Global Sky Partners program are requested to complete evaluation for the program as a whole, and individual partners are encouraged to perform their own specific evaluation (with assistance from LCO). The impact figures for 2019 are:
- 2,300 - Mentoring, workshops and training programs
- 8,400 - Online and citizen science programs
- 13,000 - In-direct audience (e.g. students, whose teachers had direct contact)
The audience demographics were:
- 21% of the audience are from disadvantaged or under-represented communities, or developing world countries.
- 31% of the audience are mentored in publication quality research projects, resulting in 28 publications in professional journals, and 4 talks at professional conferences by high-school students.
- 34% of the audience take part in workshops.
- 23% of the audience take part in teacher training.
The great strength of our cutting-edge program is that it uses our robotic telescope network as a tool to inspire an appreciation of science and a curiosity about the Universe that will hopefully spark a lifelong love of learning. Providing students with access to our telescopes fosters a feeling of ownership over their learning and opens the potential for real discovery and contribution to scientific knowledge. While a scientific career is not for everyone, by inspiring an appreciation for learning in our audiences and helping them hone their scientific skills, we can help ensure they’ll become science literate members of society who are capable of making well-informed decisions about the world that affects them.
As of 1 July 2020 we have added 7 new partners to the Global Sky Partners program. These have diverse audiences in Nigeria, Nicaragua, Libya, Qatar, Colombia, Paraguay, UK, and USA. We are continuously looking for partners who have innovative ideas for using robotic telescopes for science education.