This EAGER grant supports initial exploratory work on the utility and feasibility of providing informal science education (ISE) educators with access to current and relevant peer-reviewed research findings. The investigators of the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) in England and the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center at the University of Washington will select about 200 peer-reviewed research studies from published journals and translate them into practitioner-friendly language. The translations will explicitly note the relevance of the findings to informal science education contexts. The translated abstracts will be posted on a website that will be field tested with some 200 ISE practitioners to determine whether the translations and presentations of the research are accessible and usable.

The audience during this exploratory phase will be educators who design and lead science education programs for children and youth in informal settings such as museums, botanical gardens, youth development organizations, after-school programs, and different media-based contexts, such as web, television, and radio. The research summaries will provide these educators, who do not have access to published research journals, with information about learning progressions, curriculum design and sequencing, use of new media, building on the cultural resources of children, the nature of scientific argumentation, and education policy. The journals covered will include those oriented primarily towards researchers (Science Education, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Journal of the Learning Sciences, Studies in Science Education, International Journal of Science Education) as well as practitioners (Curator, Science Communication, Journal for Education in Museums, and Afterschool Matters). The abstracts will be field tested with practitioners and will be evaluated by an experienced advisory panel. The results of the work will be published in journals and posted on a website.

Project Report

In 2011, researchers at the Exploratorium, University of Washington, and King’s College London launched a web resource called Relating Research to Practice (RR2P). The website targets informal science education (ISE) educators, designers, researchers, and administrators working in science museums, afterschool programs, and community-based organizations. The goal of the RR2P prototype was to build the ISE audience’s awareness of, access to, value for, and use of current peer-reviewed research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The fully searchable and interactive website features over 150 journal papers summarized in plain English and six synthesis papers covering key topics of interest to informal education practitioners. RR2P can be viewed at Intellectual Merit: RR2P tested whether or not direct engagement with the substantial body of research-based evidence and knowledge about the teaching and learning of STEM could be made accessible, relevant, and useful for professionals working in informal science education. This research includes studies as diverse as the role of identity in learning; designing for inquiry-based learning; developing visual methods for communicating climate change; and many others. During May-August 2011, over 500 ISE professionals (educators, evaluators, researchers, and administrators) signed onto the website. 237 users responded to the survey and a subset of 20 was interviewed by phone. Our findings indicated that the website was high regarded. Of the 237 survey respondents, more than 97% said that they would like to see the website continued. More than 82% stated that most of the research briefs were easy to comprehend. About 66% said that most of the briefs were useful to their work, and another 25% said that at least some of them were useful. More than 45% of respondents said that reading a brief had led them to download at least one original research paper. Interviews revealed that there was a need for a trusted, curated site that assembled relevant research in STEM education that informal education practitioners might not otherwise find on their own. These results demonstrated that current educational research, even when conducted in classrooms, can be informative and also relevant to the field of informal science education. Broader Impacts: Practitioners in the field of informal science education come from many different backgrounds and serve a wide range of audiences. The field test showed that, of the 502 registered users, 40% came from science-rich education institutions such as zoos, museums, and nature centers, about 35% came from institutions of higher education or research organizations, about 6% came from youth development or media organizations, and 5% were K-12 educators. In terms of their professional roles, 50% of registered users identified as educators of adults, children, or mixed-aged audiences. Almost 30% identified as institutional managers, evaluators or funders. About 11% identified as designers of exhibits, curricula, web, and other tools. Another 11% of these users were leaders of professional training and development programs who accessed the site to identify readings and assignments for their students or staff members. More than half of users reported that they visited the RR2P site to inform their work on specific projects. More than a quarter used the site as a resource for professional development activities they were leading (such as to find papers for participants in a professional network or a class) and about one-fifth used RR2P to support grant writing. RR2P is a resource to informal educators and to the informal science education infrastructure, such as professional preparation and development programs. that work with informal educators. Through advancing the integration of research-based evidence and findings into informal science education practices and programs, RR2P supports improved informal science educational opportunities for the broad range of audiences served by the ISE sector.

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