Impacts of STEM Experiences on Informal STEM Learning
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. Informal STEM educational activities have proliferated widely in the US over the last 20 years. Additional research will further validate the long-term benefits of this mode of learning. Thus, elaborating the multitude of variables in informal learning and how those variables can be used for individual learning is yet to be defined for the circumstances of the learners. Thus, the primary objective of this work is to produce robust and detailed evidence to help shape both practice and policy for informal STEM learning in a broad array of common circumstances such as rural, urban, varying economic situations, and unique characteristics and cultures of citizen groups. Rather than pursuing a universal model of informal learning, the principal investigator will develop a series of comprehensive models that will support learning in informal environments for various demographic groups.
The research will undertake a longitudinal mixed-methods approach of Out of School Time/informal STEM experiences over a five-year time span of data collection for youth ages 9-19 in urban, suburban, town, and rural communities. The evidence base will include data on youth experiences of informal STEM, factors that exert an influence on participation in informal STEM, the impact of participation on choices about educational pathways and careers, and preferences for particular types of learning activities. The quantitative data will include youth surveys, program details (e.g. duration of program, length of each program session, youth/facilitator ratio, etc.), and demographics. The qualitative data will include on-site informal interviews with youth and facilitators, and program documentation.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.