Investigating Measurement of STEM Engagement and Advocacy in Older Adults
While prior research has explored the reasons adults seek learning opportunities, little is known about the factors that moderate older adults' desire to participate in particular learning experiences. This study will contribute to understanding strategies that engage older adults in STEM learning in informal settings. The specific informal STEM Learning (ISL) experience to be studied here involves the innovative use of a carefully structured multigenerational team engineering design challenge that incorporates the engineering design process, recognized as integrative approach to STEM. The project will develop and pilot new tools to measure the impacts of the ISL experience on older adults. The work will ultimately generate new knowledge that supports general measurement practices through the rigorous, systematic development of measures of older adult learning.
During the 18-month pilot study, the team will: (a) develop and test methods for measuring engagement in informal STEM learning and STEM advocacy in adults 50+ years of age; and (b) explore factors that lead to the engagement of this population in ISL and that moderate the outcome of enhanced STEM advocacy. For research purposes, engagement is being defined as focus, participation, and persistence on a task. STEM advocacy is defined as a stance toward personal actions that supports or promotes a cause or policy. The study design includes use of an intergenerational team engineering design challenge involving 48 older adults as the focal ISL activity of the research. Findings from this pilot study will inform a future large-scale study of ISL environments, including specific instructional practices and resulting outcomes, for older adult learning. Defining the construct of STEM advocacy and examining its validity as a potentially measurable outcome will better position the field to design and evaluate more effective older adult learning experiences.
Project results will be disseminated widely through the literature on ISL, adult education and research tool development, as well as existing practitioner networks. The project's connection with networks of lifelong learning institutes creates additional infrastructure opportunities for ISL experiences, including the broader use of intergenerational learning methods and informal STEM design challenges. This Pilot & Feasibility study 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. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.
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.