Practice-driven Research: Developing Constructivism-informed Tools for Supporting Learning in Informal Contexts
Research on how museum staff are trained continues to emerge. Training varies considerably across institutions and typically includes observations, shadowing, and trial and error. While museum educators put high value on increasing visitor-centered participatory experiences, engagement based on acquisition-based theories of learning is still common among floor staff, even after training. Facilitating learning about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) topics in ways that support visitors in constructing their own understanding is difficult, especially since floor staff/facilitators may be working simultaneously with children and adults of a range of ages, backgrounds, and goals. This project will advance understanding of how to facilitate open-ended learning experiences in ways that engage visitors in practices that align with the STEM disciplines. The project will result in an evidence-based facilitation framework and training modules for training informal science educators. The work is grounded in constructivist theories of learning and identity work and focuses on visitors constructing understanding of STEM topics through active engagement in the practices of STEM. This model also results in learning experiences in informal settings that are mutually reinforcing with the goals of schools. This research is being conducted through an established researcher-practitioner partnership between MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).
The two primary goals of the work are to (1) enable visitors to better engage in STEM practices (practice-based learning) and (2) investigate the role of training in helping facilitators develop the practice-based facilitation strategies needed to support visitors' learning. STEM content in this study is physical science. Prior work resulted in two tools that constitute part of a facilitation framework (a practices-by-engagement matrix and three facilitation pathways) which help educators identify appropriate goals based on how the visitor is engaging with exhibits. The development of the final tool in the framework, facilitation strategies, and the refinement of the first two tools will be done using a design-based implementation research (DBIR) approach. Data collection and analysis will be directed and completed by research-practitioner teams of UCSB graduate students (researchers) and MOXI educators (practitioners); MOXI educators will be both participants and researchers. Data collection activities include: video data using point-of-view cameras worn by visitors and educators; interviews of educators and visitors; observations of the training program; and educator reflections. In the final year, a small field test will be done at six sites, representing different types of museums. Interviews and reflections comprise the data collection at the field sites.
This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of learning settings.