Conceptualizing Social Paleontology: An Exploration of Mental Models

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Conference Paper

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Annual International Conference for the National Association for Research in Science Teaching


San Antonio, TX

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The Fossil Project, and NSF-funded initiative, seeks to unite amateur and professional paleontologists in the practice of social paleontology -- an inclusive form of computer-suported collaborative inquiry of the natural world through the collection, preparation, curation, and study of fossils (Authors, 2016). Social paleontology is enacted across a digital habitat of technologies (Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009) that includes Facebook, Twitter, as well as online social space of our design. Wenger's (1998, 2000) construct of community of practice serves as the theoretical framework for our design. The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between potential community members' social media personas and their mental model of social paleontology. We examine the responses of citizens, amateurs, and professional paleontologists who completed a survey, a mental model task concerning the meaning of social paleontology and a follow-up interview. In addition to building our capacity to successfully design a community-centered social space, the results inform our understanding of contemporary science learning, that which is inherently social, technology-mediated, occurs outside of formal schooling involves people from across life-span, and recognizes the value of situated practice.

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