Collaborative Research: An Evidence-based Informal STEM Learning (ISL) Professional Framework
There is a growing body of evidence that informal learning environments focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines cultivates an interest among young people in STEM careers and promotes understanding of STEM content knowledge and the scientific process. This project centers on the creation and validation of a theoretically grounded and empirically derived framework for professional growth and learning within the informal STEM learning (ISL) field ("Framework"). The Framework will be useful to ISL practitioners at any stage of their education or career by laying out the necessary skills, knowledge, and dispositions to guide their professional growth. While the immediate beneficiaries of the project will be ISL professionals themselves, the ultimate beneficiaries of the work will be the children, youth, teachers, and general public that engage with STEM experiences designed and implemented by a skilled and knowledgeable ISL professional workforce. The Association of Science-Technology Centers, Oregon State University's Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, Pacific Science Center, University of Washington Museology Department and the Lifelong Learning Group of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, OH (COSI Columbus) will collaborate to develop the ISL professional framework. The Framework will be built from qualitative and quantitative empirical analyses of actual practices used by staff of science centers and ISL institutions, assessing perceived and actual needs at various career stages, as well as an analysis of the creation and use of similar learning frameworks in other professions. The project will be conducted in three phases: (1) Literature review, research synthesis, and "Developing a Curriculum" (DACUM) workshops to develop a preliminary framework; (2) Stakeholder review and feedback in order to improve the preliminary framework; and, (3) Creation of an online platform to share the final framework draft and conduct iterative testing for utility and ISL community acceptance. The project will address two current and pressing issues: (1) Ensuring that professionals working in science center-type settings have the necessary knowledge and skills to apply the substantial and growing evidence base in ISL, and (2) Understanding and supporting the needs of the full range of ISL professionals during their basic education and at particular points throughout their careers. Effective support for ISL professionals requires, at the most basic level, a fundamental understanding of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by working professionals at critical points along their career pathway if they are to use evidence-based practice in their work. This project is being 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.
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