Rena Dorph is the Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked in the field of educational research and evaluation for over 20 years, and her research has focused on the relationship between learning experiences and outcomes, paying consistent attention to issues of equity, access, and impact.
You can watch this short video, download the full transcript, and get highlights from the interview below.
What is your definition of interest?
I don’t have a particular definition of “interest” per se. I think interest has been overused as kind of a catch-all phrase for too many concepts, some of which are interrelated, but sometimes people mean things that you’d be surprised to hear fall in the interest bucket. I’ve been studying interest in a lot of different ways. I’ll tell you a few of them, and they have different definitions.
One part of interest is the degree to which someone is fascinated by natural and physical phenomena, especially when you’re talking about science. Another part of interest is related to values, the degree to which someone might value science, and the role it plays in their lives or in society. Then some people use the word “interest” to talk about engagement, how much time will a person spend on science and with what affect and with what behaviors and with what attention.
And another way it comes out is in career interest. Are they interested in a future career in science? We’ve also broken that one up a little bit more to think about career preference. Part of it might be an affinity, part of it might be a certainty about a career. Part of it might be a general feeling, not as specific as “I’m going to be a rocket scientist,” but a sense that you want to do something related to science. We’ve made that category a little bit broader to understand interest with a lot more nuance across a lot more domains.
What kinds of tools or resources have you developed for evaluation?
We actually have had the opportunity through a National Science Foundation grant to transform the tools that we use to do this research on activation into an evaluation toolkit, which we call “ActApp.” You get to ActApp online by going to the Activation Lab website and clicking on the ActApp button. Basically it offers you the opportunity to explore all the instruments that we have to measure things like fascination, values, career preference, engagement, and a whole host of other things that people might have put into that interest bucket over time. Then you can use those, either with our help in partnership, or by yourself with your own evaluator, to understand what kind of outcomes you’re seeing in your local context.
What do you think might be important in informal learning and science communication five or 10 years from now?
I’ve thought about that from a lot of different perspectives, as a practitioner inside the research community and as the leader of an organization that is involved in both informal learning and science communication. I really think that in this field, we’re reaching the integration of ideas across the research and practice world, which is great. The design of an informal science organization is now both generated from and generative of research in the field. The researchers and practitioners are now sitting side-by-side and doing all their work in collaboration. It’s not the researchers going over to the practitioners and saying, “I really want to use you as guinea pigs or study what you’re doing because I’m really interested in this.” And it’s not the practitioners saying, “Can you give us some research to inform what we’re doing here? Or can you come give a talk or lead a seminar?” Both are sitting down and asking about these problems together, trying to work through solutions and also being really creative about what that means in terms of learning experiences, the kinds of ideas they’re built on, and what they offer to the people who participate in them.