Collaborative Research: Creating a Mechanism for Youth to Document Out-Of-School-Time STEM Learning as a Means for Expanding Educational Pathways
This award is funded in part under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (Public Law 117-2).
This project will create the specification for a learner-controlled system to represent youth learning in Out-of-School-Time (OST) settings, to improve access to future Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning opportunities. For learners to pursue a STEM education, and STEM careers, they must be able to move through "gatekeeping" mechanisms that filter and sort students based on factors such as prior coursework and grades, teacher recommendations, and language proficiency assessments. Even though abundant evidence shows that such measures fail to capture all important aspects of STEM learning, they are traditionally relied upon in secondary and post-secondary STEM education contexts as indicators of preparation for future STEM learning. These systemic processes exclude certain minoritized groups, including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), low income, immigrant and refugee youth, and youth learning English, from high-quality secondary and post-secondary STEM learning experiences because existing measures do not validate their prior knowledge and experiences. Yet, minoritized youth often engage in OST STEM learning opportunities, where their readiness for future learning opportunities is nurtured and valued. One challenge is to reliably document this readiness in a usable format so youth can access new STEM learning opportunities, especially in post-secondary contexts. This project builds strategically upon earlier work focusing on the democratization of STEM learning through vehicles such as digital micro-credentials or badges, and upon digital portfolios. Missing from these earlier efforts was integration of these platforms with an infrastructure that connected youth learners to OST STEM learning organizations and to future STEM learning opportunities. This Innovations in Development project brings together minoritized youth and their families, OST providers, and admissions officials from higher education institutions to explore the needed design features for OST "transcripts," and user stories that describe how software systems can support their creation and sharing. Grounded in the concept of mastery-based learning, where learning is demonstrated via action, learners will control what is included in the transcript so that they create their own narratives about their learning experiences. Recognizing that documentation is not the key focus of most STEM OST organizations, this project will provide direct support for identifying and codifying learning goals or outcomes that learners and their families find relevant and important within different STEM activities. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments.
The project will take a Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR) approach and proceed by convening representatives from three main stakeholder groups (youth and their families, OST providers, and admissions staff) to engage in a series of discovery and design activities. Project partners, including the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MA), STEAMville (IL), STUDIO (WA), and Wolverine Pathways (MI), will work together with the PIs to design templates learners can use to characterize STEM learning from each provider, aligned with different STEM learning foci (e.g., computer science, computational thinking, cross-cutting concepts, science and engineering practices, and mathematics). Data collected from these sessions will be used to address the following research questions: (1) How and why do youth and families from minoritized communities understand and choose to participate in STEM OST learning opportunities?, (2) How do youth understand and interact with STEM OST learning opportunities?, (3) How do OST providers characterize the STEM learning goals in the activities they provide?, and (4) How do college admissions personnel view the role of informal STEM learning as part of a holistic admissions process? This work has the potential to further the understanding of how OST learning can be documented and shared as a part of the larger ecosystem of STEM learning trajectories. By deeply engaging the perspectives and voices of minoritized youth and families, this project seeks to develop a valid and trustworthy instrument that recognizes and serves their STEM learning, thus broadening the participation of minoritized youth in STEM education and careers. This work will also benefit OST providers, by translating the documentation of youth STEM learning into forms that may help communicate the efficacy of their programs in ways that further their missions, including communicating evidence of effectiveness to both future participants and funders.