2014 GSA Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia (19–22 October 2014)

Paper No. 93-9
Presentation Time: 10:20 AM


LOCKE, Sharon, STEM Center, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Box 2224, Edwardsville, IL 62026, BRACEY, Georgia, Center for STEM Research, Education, and Outreach, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, IL 62026 and LEWIS, Gary, Geological Society of America, 3300 Penrose Place, Boulder, CO 80301

EarthCaching provides an engaging and often adventurous opportunity to learn geoscience content in an informal setting. EarthCaches™ are geocaches that provide an earth science lesson, are educational but geared to a non-technical audience, and highlight the unique aspects of a field site. Since the first EarthCache was placed in 2004, over four million people have participated in the program, logging EarthCaches from all over the globe, and that number continues to grow. However, to this date, there has been no systematic study of these "cachers." Who are they? Why are they involved in EarthCaching? What - if anything - do they learn from their experience? Late in 2013, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and the Geological Society of America launched an online survey in order to learn more about EarthCachers and EarthCaching. Over 400 people responded to the survey from December 18, 2013 until it was closed on April 11, 2014.

Survey respondents were primarily male (65%), Caucasian (91%), and college educated (76% associate’s degree or higher). Some had been participating in the program since its inception ten years ago, while others were just beginning EarthCaching. Among respondents, the two strongest motivators for EarthCaching are the opportunity to see rare and unusual Earth features and to see something that is new to them. Similarly, the strongest motivator for continuing EarthCaching is “to learn new things about the world.” For personal goals, respondents most frequently chose “to increase my knowledge about the Earth” as a primary goal associated with their EarthCaching. Furthermore, 92% planned to continue EarthCaching as long as they were able. The data suggest that for some participants, EarthCaching has become a sustained science learning activity, possibly because the activity connects with their personal curiosity about the natural world. As such, the EarthCache program has the potential to develop and sustain adult learners who are expert-like in the geosciences, similar to the process that informal education researchers have identified for other science-based hobbies such as bird-watching or amateur astronomy. This ongoing study has implications for geoscience educators seeking to design formal or informal learning experiences that tap into intrinsic interest and enthusiasm for science.