Welcome to the Cell EXPLORERS research page!
Our research aims and scope:
We investigate the learning and teaching of informal science education, particularly modern biology, using methods drawn from discipline-based education research, the learning sciences, social sciences and science education. Note that ‘informal science education’ is often referred to as ‘public engagement’ or ‘science outreach’. We define 'informal science education' as science education that is voluntary, student-led and not formally assessed, regardless of the setting.
The research group activity is linked to the Cell EXPLORERS programme. The group applies evidence from research to improve the design and assessment of informal science programmes like Cell EXPLORERS. We also investigate the impact these programmes can have on its participants, such as children, volunteer scientists (students and staff), and the higher education institutions (HEIs) which facilitate them (both universities and ITs).
In recent years, our work has concentrated on researching children’s perceptions about science and scientists. Further efforts have involved the development of learning materials and the training and support of HEI students, staff, and faculty members on best practices for informal science.
Current team members:
Dr Muriel Grenon
Cell EXPLORERS Director
Dr Sarah Carroll
The Cell EXPLORERS 'informal science Education' research group is based at the University of Galway.
The group also works in collaboration with Dr Veronica Mc Cauley, Andrea Higgins from NUI Galway School of Education, Lindsay Deely from Curám, Dr Jennifer De Witt and Dr Ran Peleg from the University of Southampton.
Past research collaborators include Dr Martin Javornicky from Teagasc, and Professor Jerome Sheahan from the School of Mathematics.
Past team members:
Dr Tereza Brumovská
Postdoctoral researcher 2019-2021
Dr Shane McGuinness
National Coordinator 2018-2019
Dr Claudia Fracchiolla
Dr Claire Concannon
If you are interested in joining our group or collaborate with us, please contact Muriel Grenon at email@example.com.
Our research projects:
Below is a list of our current and previous research projects. Click on a link to read more details about them.
Design, development and impact of Educational Science Escape Room
Investigation of the impact of a 5-week Science Club on participants' science-related attitudes
T.J. Brumovska, S. Carroll, M. Javornicky and M. Grenon (2022). Brainy, Crazy, Supernatural, Clumsy and Normal: Five profiles of children's stereotypical and non-stereotypical perceptions of scientists in the Draw-A-Scientist-Test. International Journal of Educational Research Open.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2022.100180
M.Grenon, J.Schulte, S.Carroll et al. (2021). Adapting hands-on STEM public engagement in schools for for online live interactions. Poster presented at Science Foundation Ireland research summit 2021.
S. Carroll, V. McCauley, and M.Grenon (2021). A scientist knows what s/he's doing: Exploring the effect of scientist-led outreach on primary children's science self-efficacy beliefs. Conference Proceedings, Strands 16: Science in the Primary School. In conference proceedings for ESERA 2019: The beauty and pleasure of understanding: engaging with contemporary challenges through science education, Bologna.
S. Carroll, J. Sheahan, V. McCauley, M. Grenon (2020). Development and validation of the Irish Science Self-Efficacy Children's Questionnaire to assess short-term influence of scientists facilitating outreach. Manuscript preprint on BioRxiv pre-print server for biology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.25.919357
S. Carroll, M. Grenon, A. Nistor, V. James, S. McGuinness. et al. The sustainability of STEM education projects. Scientix observatory report, September 2019
M. Grenon, S. Carroll, C. Fracchiolla & C. Concannon The Cell EXPLORERS programme – piloting a STEM engagement programme in Ireland. Conference Proceedings of the 2017 European Science Education Research Association (ESERA) Conference . Strand 12, p1620-1630 (2018)
M. Grenon, C. Fracchiolla, S. Carroll, C. Concannon. Multiple benefits of the Cell EXPLORERS programme – a STEM public engagement model in Ireland. Conference proceedings. Published in Pixel (Ed.), New perspectives in science education, 7th edition (2018)
S. Carroll, V. McCauley & M. Grenon. Investigating the effect of scientist demonstrators on primary children’s science self efficacy. Published in Pixel (Ed.), New perspectives in science education, 7th edition (2018)
C. Concannon & M. Grenon. Researchers: share your passion for science! Biochemical Society Transaction44 (5), 1507-1515. DOI: 10.1042/BST20160086 (2016)
C. O'Connell, Research lifes, Dr Muriel Grenon: Exploring a hands-on approach to engaging with science. The Irish Times, February 13th 2020
M. Grenon, 'Try Everything' in Burke E. (Author) 7 secrets of successful science communication. Silicon Republic advice column, November 2019
S. Carroll, C. Fracchiolla, M. Grenon,Why science education is for life and not just a week in November Brainstorm RTÉ, 17th Nov 2017
Research projects summary:
Primary pupils attitudes towards science & scientists
In 2019 we started to further investigate children’s attitudes to science and scientists through an empirical research study, led by postdoctoral researcher, Dr Tereza Brumovská.
Read latest paper: T. Brumovska, S. Carroll, M. Javornicky & M. Grenon (2022): ‘Brainy, Crazy, Supernatural, Clumsy and Normal: Five profiles of children's stereotypical and non-stereotypical perceptions of scientists in the Draw-A-Scientist-Test’ International Journal of Educational Research Open https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2022.100180
Project lead: Dr Tereza Brumovská
Study background: This explorative qualitative study employed an interpretive research paradigm through a constructivist view. In other words, the study builds an understanding of children’s attitudes to science/scientists from the study of their subjective experience based on their personal and/or social experiences.
Methods: More specifically, we explored in-depth participating children´s attitudes to science with the aim to give children the voice and space to express their experiences (Lundy, 2007) both in their own language and non-verbally. Explorative qualitative methods will involve child-centred interviews and arts-based participatory research method in line with and often used in the interpretive ontological paradigm (Kuhn, 1967).
Data were collected via semi-structured interviews with children (11-12 year olds). Children were asked to narrate their experiences with science both in and out of school, their interest in science and their perception of scientists. To triangulate this and to further contextualise data, interviews were als conducted with children’s teachers and parents, to add their perceptions on any changes in children’s attitudes to science and scientists.
Progress: The children's interview, drawing and questionnaire data have been analysied and published in a manuscript - Brumovska et al. (2022), see above. The remaining data are currently being analysis and further manuscripts are being prepared.
Children Science Self-Efficacy: (Completed)
Between 2016-2020, Sarah Carroll worked on the topic of science self-efficacy as past of her PhD project Science self-efficacy can be described as the self-belief an individual has in completing specific science-related tasks successfully. Those with high science self-efficacy are more likely to do well in science at school, participate in science events, and pursue science at third-level.
Read this preprint: Sarah Carroll, Jerome Sheahan, Veronica McCauley, Muriel Grenon (2021). Development and validation of the Irish Science Self-Efficacy Children’s Questionnaire to assess the short-term influence of scientists facilitating outreach 2020.01.25.919357; bioRxiv doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.01.25.919357
Dr Sarah Carroll
If you or your child(ren) participated in any of this work - Thank you!
We hope that the findings of this study will serve to inform other science outreach practitioners, like in Cell EXPLORERS, on best practice on increasing pupil's confidence in science.
Progress: This PhD project completed, and Sarah was successfully awarded her PhD in November 2020. Her thesis was entitled: The science self-efficacy beliefs of upper primary pupils and the short-term effect of a scientist-facilitated hands-on informal workshop'.
Evaluation research study of Fantastic DNA
About: As part of our commitment to excel, Cell EXPLORERS carry out evaluation research to both assess the quality of our programme, and to understand the impact that participation in the Fantastic DNA and Fantastic DNA in a Box session has on children's perceptions of science and scientists.
How we do this: We invite children to complete anonymously a questionnaire. Children are asked about their experience in the session, their thoughts about the content of the session and their reaction to working with real scientists. They are also asked to draw a scientist (DAST). Teachers are also asked questions related to their perception of the content of the session and the perceived benefit it has for children taking part. Our scientist volunteers are asked to complete an online questionnaire. Volunteers are asked to comment on the organisation and structure of session, including suggestions for improvement, as well as any interesting questions that the children may have asked.
As part of the study, some of the information collected might be presented in research conferences or published in research journals. The information is anonymous and participation (or otherwise) in the study does not affect the child's participation on the session. We provide a link to the questionnaire that children are invited to complete if they participate in the study. If you have more questions or would like more information, you can contact us directly.
Progress: This evaluation is done on a national scale every year, using feedback collected from all of our Cell EXPLORERS teams.
Read our activity summary report to see some insights from 2019
Implementation of the Science Capital Teaching approach in scientist-facilitated public engagement
In 2021 Shannon Stubbs joined the CE Informal Science Education research group as a PhD student. Shannon's PhD is funded by a Governement of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship. It also received funding from A University of Galway Hardiman PhD Scholarship.
This work aims to contribute to best practice in facilitating ISE activities by investigating how science capital-based pedagogical techniques, implemented in a hands-on, scientist-facilitated intervention, supports the development of children’s science capital.
Science capital is a methodological and empirical construct that encapsulates all science-related knowledge, attitudes, experiences and social contacts that a person may have (Archer et al., 2015). Briefly, the more science capital a person has, the more likely it is that they will engage in science-related activities. Existing work on science capital aims to widen participation and improve inclusivity in STEM. This work aims to explore the proximal outcomes of hands-on scientist-facilitated intervention, ‘Fantastic DNA’, which draws on the SCTA, related to children’s science capital.
Conduct a pre-post single cohort study design using a hands-on science workshop as an intervention.
Investigate the potential contribution towards supporting children’s science capital.
Identify which pedagogical elements of the intervention had the greatest effect (if any) on supporting pupils' science capital, specifically their perceptions of scientists and their own science-related attitudes and dispositions.
The project will involve 3 phases:
Phase 1: designing and validating a scientist-facilitated 'question and answer' session, aimed to widen young peoples' perceptions of scientists. This is currently in progress.
Phase 2: Study of the facilitator training efficiency ie. the ability of the facilitators to deliver the intervention according to SCTA
Phase 3: Children's perceived science capital, as well as perception of the intervention and its impact will be assessed before and after intervention using questionnaires and interviews of children, teacher and parents.
This work contributes towards formulating best practice for informal science practitioners wishing to support children science capital, which widen participation of children who might not have an interest in science.
Fourth year undergraduate research projects
Fourth year undergraduates studying Biochemistry/Biotechnology/Biomedical Sciences at the University of Galway have the option to complete their final year project with the Cell EXPLORERS programme as part of module BI 453.
The project format has been developped by Dr Claire Concannon and Dr Muriel Grenon with funding from the Wellcome Trust. During 10-12 weeks (dependent on course and year), students engage in a research project relating to science education and/or public engagement in science. You can learn more about the projects here.
We have run these undergraduate research projects with more than 100 students since 2012. Project students are integrated into the CE informal science education research group, and supervised by Dr Muriel Grenon in collaboration with Dr Sarah Carroll and members from the research team.
2022/23 Semester 2:
Charlene Harley, Evaluation of the Cell Explorers Escape Room as an educational outreach activity for Science Week 2022
Molly Maher, Evaluation of the Autumn 2022 Cell Explorers Science clubs as an informal science outreach activity
Aoife Carney, Development and Evaluation of an online module for Cell Explorers based on usability parameters
2022/23 Semester 1:
Emily Dunican, Cell Explorers Escape Room pilot 2 evaluation
Caoimhe Holland, Design of Articulate Rise e-learning modules for Cell EXPLORERS volunteers
- Hannah McGranne, Designing New Activities and Resources Reusing the Content of Cell EXPLORER’s Fantastic DNA in a Box Classroom Kit
2021/22 Semester 2:
2021/22 Semester 1:
Grace McNamara, Analysis of children’s feedback from Fantastic DNA in a Box sessions delivered in 2021, with a focus on session content
Nicole Campbell, Analysis of children feedback from Fantastic DNA in A Box delivered in 2021:A focus on attitudes towards science and views of scientists
Victoria Morley, An Evaluation of the revised ‘Fantastic DNA in a Box’ session delivered by the NUI Galway team in June 2021
Caitríona Ryan, Evaluating a revised session of ‘Fantastic DNA in a Box’, delivered by the NUI Galway team in June 2021 on children's perceptions of scientists and their science-related attitudes and views.
Roisín Guidera, Creating supporting videos for the Cell EXPLORERS Escape Room.
Dara McGlynn, Creating and Evaluating a Pedagogical Handbook and a Set-up Manual for the Cell Explorers Escape Room
2020/21 Semester 2
Andrew Collins, The creation and evaluation of a creative piece based on Coronavirus 2019 vaccines
Amy Kerigan, Analysing The Children’s Feedback On The Fantastic DNA In A Box Activities During Autumn 2020.
Emma Cheasty, Creation of an animated video about COVID-19 testing
Alexandra Mereuta, Investigating DAST drawings after carrying out Fantastic DNA in a box 2020with a Cell Explorer to determine stereotypes children have towards scientists
Jonathan Kelly, Addressing the stereotype: An analyses of the DAST drawings from the in person facilitated Fantastic DNA visits from 2019