Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
291 Conclusions and Recommendations 9 Learning science in informal environments is a vast and expanding area of study and practice that supports a broad range of learning experiences. Informal environments for science learning include not only science centers and museums but also a much broader array of settings, ranging from family discussions at home to everyday activities like using the Internet, watching television, gardening, participation in organizations like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and recreational activities like hiking and fishing. Each year tens of millions of Americans, young and old, choose to visit informal science learning institutions, participate in programs, and use media outlets to pursue their interest in science. Thousands of organizations dedicate themselves to building, documenting, and improving informal science learn- ing for learners of all ages and backgrounds. They include informal learning and community-based organizations, think tanks, institutions of higher educa- tion, private companies, government agencies, and philanthropic foundations. And through after-school programs and field trips, schools facilitate science learning in informal environments on a broad scale. Virtually all people of all ages and backgrounds engage in informal sci- ence learning in the course of daily life. Informal environments can stimulate science interest, build learnersâ scientific knowledge and skill, andâperhaps most importantlyâhelp people learn to be more comfortable and confident in their relationship with science. Researchers and educators interested in informal settings are typically committed to open participation in science: building and understanding science learning experiences that render sci- ence accessible to a broad range of learners. There is increasing interest in understanding cultural variability among learners and its implications: how learners participate in science and the intersections of values, attitudes, his-
292 Learning Science in Informal Environments tories, and practices that are evident in learner and scientific communities. Accordingly, two notions of the culture of science underlie the committeeâs conclusions and the recommendations that follow. In one sense, there is a culture of science in that science involves spe- cialized practices for exploring questions through evidence (e.g., the use of statistical tests, mathematical modeling, instrumentation) which people must acquire if they wish to enter the formal domains of science. This first sense of the culture of science also includes social practices such as peer review, publication, and debate. In a second sense, science reflects the cultural val- ues of those who engage in itâin terms of choices about what is worthy of attention, differing perspectives on how to approach various problems, and so on. From this latter perspective, as is the case with any cultural endeavor, differences in norms and practices within and across fields reflect not only the varying subject matters of interest but also the identities and values of the participants. The recognition that science is a cultured enterprise implies that there is no cultureless or neutral perspective on science, nor on learning scienceâany more than a photograph or painting can be without perspec- tive. Thus, diversity of perspectives is beneficial both to science and to the understanding of learning. It also stands as a potential resource for the design of informal environments for science learning. This chapter presents the committeeâs conclusions and recommendations for research and practice. We begin with conclusions drawn from the research reviewed by the committee, beginning with evidence about learners and learning, and then move on to informal learning settings and how to broaden participation in science learning. Finally, we outline our recommendations for practice and research that flow from our conclusions. LEARNERS AND LEARNING C onclusion 1: Across the life span, from infancy to late adulthood, individuals learn about the natural world and develop important skills for science learning. As the committee discussed in Chapter 4, a vast literature documents young childrenâs learning about the natural world. Even infants observe regularities in the world and build tacit understandings that help them reli- ably anticipate physical phenomena and create order in their experience. Very young children learn a great deal about the natural world in the first few years. They notice changes in the world around them (flowers bloom- ing, the moon changing shape, snow melting, airplanes flying overhead), they learn the names of objects and processes, and they engage in learning conversations with other people about these events. Children extend these early experiences by engaging with science-related media, asking spontane- ous questions of adults and peers, making predictions, evaluating evidence,
Conclusions and Recommendations 293 and building explanations of changes in the physical world. Throughout the school years, children and adolescents, with support, can piece together school-based and informal learning experiences to build scientific under- standing of the natural world. The drive to understand and explain the world continues into adulthood. As discussed in âWho Learns in Everyday Settingsâ (Chapter 4), over the life span, additional motivations stimulate science learning: pragmatic needs (e.g., dealing with health care issues, academic tasks, local environmental concerns), science-rich hobbies, and workplace tasks. Like children, adults (including scientists) pursue questions of personal interest and assemble evidence from their everyday experience to develop their understanding of the world. Increased memory capacity, reasoning, and metacognitive skills that come with maturation enable adult learners to explore science in new ways, summarized in Chapter 6 in the section âPrograms for Older Learners.â Senior citizens retain many of these capabilities, and as they mature their interests change. Informal environments are of fundamental importance for supporting science learning by adults, particularly because they thrive in environments that acknowledge their needs and life experiences. C onclusion 2: A great deal of science learning, often unacknowl- edged, takes place outside school in informal environmentsâ i Â ncluding everyday activity, designed spaces, and programsâas individuals navigate across a range of social settings. Most people routinely circulate through a range of social settings that can support science learning. The committee found abundant evidence of learning in everyday life experiences, designed educational settings, and programs. As discussed in Chapter 4, as individuals interact with the natural world and participate in family and community life, they develop knowledge about nature and about science-relevant interests and skills. Long-term, sophisticated science learning can occur through the individual and social processes (e.g., mentorship, reading scientific texts, watching educational television) associ- ated with science-related elective pursuits and hobbiesâfor example, amateur astronomy clubs, robot-building leagues, and conservation groups. Designed settingsâincluding museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and nature centersâcan also support science learning. Rich with educationally framed real-world phenomena, these are places where people can pursue and develop science interests, engage in science inquiry, and reflect on their experiences through conversations. There has been very little synthesis of this research to date. However, the committee compiled and reviewed extensive evidence from visitor studies, program evaluations, and design studies (Chapter 5) that sketch out the empirical evidence and the promise of designed settings for science learning.
294 Learning Science in Informal Environments Programs for science learning are offered through informal learning in- stitutions, schools, community-based organizations, and private companies. As discussed in Chapter 6, there is mounting evidence that such experiences can stimulate and enhance the science-specific interests of adults and chil- dren. There is also some evidence that participation in informal programs for science learning, such as those involving networks of science volunteers in data collection (e.g., citizen science programs for tracking migrations, environmental monitoring and clean-up), can promote informed civic en- gagement on science-related issues, such as local environmental concerns and policies. Science is also receiving more emphasis in out-of-school-time programs (clubs, after-school and summer programs, scouts) as part of an increased focus on academic subjects for school-age learners during nonschool hours (see Conclusion 12). With increased public and private funding, existing programs are adopting a science focus, and new science initiatives are be- ing developed. In our review of this literature in Chapter 6, we found that the current evidence base of science-specific learning in these programs is limited to data from individual program evaluations. These studies sug- gest that science programs can make important contributions to studentsâ understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts, their ability to think scientifically, and their use of scientific language and tools. They also can be effective in improving studentsâ attitudes toward science and toward themselves as science learners. C onclusion 3: Learning science in informal environments Âinvolves developing positive science-related attitudes, emotions, and identities; learning science practices; appreciating the social and historical context of science; and cognition. Informal environ- ments can be particularly important for developing and validat- ing learnersâ positive science-specific interests, skills, emotions, and identities. The committee outlined six strands of science learning that encompass a broad, interrelated network of knowledge and capabilities that learners can develop in these environments. In Chapters 4, 5, and 6 we use the strands to organize our review of the literature in order to illustrate the ways in which research supports these particular learning outcomes. The strands are statements about what learners do when they learn science, reflecting the practical as well as the more abstract, conceptual, and reflective aspects of science learning. Learners in informal environments: S trand 1: Experience excitement, interest, and motivation to learn about phenomena in the natural and physical world.
Conclusions and Recommendations 295 S trand 2: Come to generate, understand, remember, and use concepts, explanations, arguments, models and facts related to science. S trand 3: Manipulate, test, explore, predict, question, observe, and make sense of the natural and physical world. S trand 4: Reflect on science as a way of knowing; on processes, con- cepts, and institutions of science; and on their own process of learning about phenomena. S trand 5: Participate in scientific activities and learning practices with others, using scientific language and tools. S trand 6: Think about themselves as science learners and develop an identity as someone who knows about, uses, and sometimes contributes to science. The strands are distinct from, but necessarily overlap with, the science- specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions that can be developed in schools. Specifically, a previous National Research Council report (2007) on K-8 science learning, Taking Science to School, proposed a four-strand framework from which the current six-strand model evolved. By building on that four-strand framework, we underscore that the goals of schools and informal, nonschool settings are both overlapping and complementary. The two additional strandsâStrands 1 and 6âare prominent and of special value in informal learning environments. Strands 2 through 5 are explained in greater detail in Chapter 3. Strand 1, which focuses on the development of interest and motivation to learn through interaction with phenomena in the natural and designed world, is fundamental. Strand 1 emphasizes the importance of building on prior interests and motivations by allowing learners choice and agency in their learning. Strand 1 is particularly relevant to informal environments that are rich with phenomenaâa local stream, backyard insects, a museum exhibit illustrating Newtonian physics, watching pigeons downtown, ranger- led national park tours. Such phenomena often inspire scientific inquiry for scientists and nonscientists alike. They often serve as an âon rampâ to help the learner build familiarity with the natural and designed world and to es- tablish the experience base, motivation, and knowledge that fuel and inform later science learning experiences. Strand 6 is another strand that is particularly important to informal environments, addressing how learners view themselves with respect to scienceâtheir âscience learner identity.â This strand speaks to the process by which some individuals come to view themselves and come to be socially recognized as comfortable with, knowledgeable about, interested in, and
296 Learning Science in Informal Environments capable of engaging in science. Learning in this strand is the consequence of multiple science learning experiences across settings over significant time scales (i.e., weeks, months, years), reflecting multiple opportunities for learners to participate in science. It is important to note, however, that oneâs identity as a science learner is also shaped by factors that may be external to or beyond experiences with science, such as social expectations and stereo- types. Informal environments have the potential to promote nondiscriminatory expectations for learners and nonstereotyped views of participant groups and their capabilities in science, to support identity development. The strands may also facilitate developing shared enterprises between informal learning environments and schools. For example, there is currently extensive work being undertaken to develop and test learning progressions (National Research Council, 2007). A learning progression organizes science learning so that learners revisit important science concepts and practices over multiple years. Rooted in a few major scientific ideas (e.g., evolution, matter) and starting with childrenâs early capabilities, learning progressions increase in depth and complexity over the months and years of instruction. At each phase, learners draw on and develop relevant capabilities across the strands. Although this is a relatively new and developing area of work, informal settings could play a complementary role in supporting learning progressions despite the episodic nature of informal learning experiences. For example, informal settings could be designed with the explicit intent of supporting learning progressions in a manner tightly aligned with K-12 science curriculum goals. Alternatively, informal environments could differentiate themselves from the K-12 agenda. If schools were to go âdeepâ with a commitment to a small number of learning progressions, this could invite informal settings to go âbroad,â focusing on incorporating other scientific issues that may not be evident in learning progressions. C onclusion 4: Members of cultural groups develop systematic knowledge of the natural world through participation in informal learning experiences and forms of exploration that are shaped by their cultural-historical backgrounds and the demands of par- ticular environments and settings. Such knowledge and ways of approaching nature reflect a diversity of perspectives that should be recognized in designing science learning experiences. Although there are examples of culturally valued knowledge and practices being at odds with science (including spiritual and mystical thought, folk narratives, and various accounts of creation), a growing body of research documents that some knowledge and many skills developed in varied cultures and contexts serve as valid and consistent interpretations of the natural world
Conclusions and Recommendations 297 that can form the basis for further science learning. This literature is reviewed in Chapter 7 and includes evidence from cultural psychology, anthropology, and educational research. The committee thinks that the diverse skills and orientations that members of different cultural communities bring to formal and informal science learning contexts are assets to be built on. For example, researchers have documented that children reared in rural agricultural com- munities who have more intense and regular interactions with plants and animals develop more sophisticated understanding of ecology and biologi- cal species than urban and suburban children of the same age. Others have identified connections between childrenâs culturally based story-telling and argumentation and science inquiry, and they have documented pedagogical means of leveraging these connections to support studentsâ science learn- ing. The research synthesized in this volume demonstrates the importance of enlisting, embracing, and enlarging diversity as a means of enhancing learning about science and the natural world. C onclusion 5: Learnersâ prior knowledge, interest, and identityâ long understood as integral to the learning processâare especially important in informal environments. The committee urges that researchers, practitioners, and policy makers pay special attention not only to the long-established importance of prior knowledge (National Research Council, 2000), but also to the broader array of learnersâ prior capabilities and interests reflected in the six strands and discussed throughout this report (see especially Chapters 3 through 6). The committee underscores the idea that prior interest and identity are as important as prior knowledge for understanding and promoting learning. Prior knowledge, experience, and interests are especially important in informal learning environments, where opportunities to learn can be fleeting, episodic, and strongly learner-driven. At any point in the life span, learners have knowledge and interests, which they can tap into for further science learning. This includes their comfort and familiarity with science. Although learnersâ knowledge may remain tacit and may not always be scientifically accurate, it can serve as the basis for more sophisticated learning over time. Educators can support learners of all ages by intentionally querying, drawing on, and extending their interests, ideas about self, and knowledge. INFORMAL ENVIRONMENTS C onclusion 6: Informal science learning, although composed of multiple communities of practice, shares common commitments to science learning environments that:
298 Learning Science in Informal Environments â¢ engage participants in multiple ways, including physically, emotion- ally, and cognitively; â¢ encourage participantsâ direct interactions with phenomena of the natu- ral and designed physical world largely in learner-directed ways; â¢ provide multifaceted and dynamic portrayals of science; and â¢ build on learnersâ prior knowledge and interests. Direct access to phenomena of the natural and designed physical worldâboth familiar and foreignâis fundamental to informal environments. In informal environments, basic aspects of daily life are frequently framed in light of associated scientific ideas (e.g., draining a bath tub, swinging on a rope, throwing a baseball pitcherâs curveball, and setting off the chain reac- tion of dominos falling can all be examined from the standpoint of physical mechanics). Informal environments may also provide access to phenomena and experiences that are difficult or impossible for learners to access oth- erwise, such as extreme micro- and macro-scale phenomena (e.g., views of earth from space, the merging of a human sperm and egg), cutting-edge science (e.g., nanotechnology), and historical and contemporary tools of scientific inquiry. Hallmarks of learning in informal environments include interactivity driv- en by learner choice, an emphasis on the emotional responses of individual participants, and group experiences. At its best, informal science learning builds on both long-term and momentary or situated interests and motivations of learners. These hallmarks are evident in research and evaluation and in the practices, tools, and institutions of informal science learning. Informal science education portrays science as multifaceted, highlighting that the knowledge and processes for building knowledge vary across fields. For example, much of physics and cognitive science is experimental. Many fieldsâastronomy, geology, anthropology, evolutionary biologyâalso draw on observational and historical reconstruction methods. Also, the values and practices of science reflect the diverse cultural values of practicing scientists as well as their shared professional commitments. Although science is fundamentally evidence-based and draws its pre- dictive power from scientists collectively testing theoretical models against evidence in the natural world, there is sociological and historical evidence that its accomplishments are shaped by who participates in science and how it is carried out (see Chapter 7). The influence of diverse perspectives on science is most evident in research in which a dominant view is ultimately overturned or challenged. For example, in making the case for increasing the participation of women in science, numerous examples have been identified that show how a scientistâs gender can shape the questions asked and influ- ence the interpretation of data. One of the most powerful examples is the involvement of a critical mass of female scientists in biology, which has been
Conclusions and Recommendations 299 extremely influential in challenging assumptions about female health issues based on findings historically drawn from the data of only male subjects. Science as portrayed in informal settings reflects a growing under- standing that it is a dynamic enterprise in terms of its tools, practices, and knowledge. For example, until the past few decades, biology relied primarily on observed phenotypic features of species to determine the story of their evolution. Now powerful tools help scientists sequence DNA to provide precise and sometimes very surprising insights into speciation, such as the close relation of birds and dinosaurs. Some relationships once accepted on the strength of phenotypic similarities have been dashed in light of new genetic information, and new relationships are being established. Informal science learning environments seek to provide insight into how the creative tension between stable and changing information and perspectives creates reliable knowledge. C onclusion 7: Broadcast, print, and digital media can play an im- portant role in facilitating science learning across settings. The evidence base, however, is uneven. Although there is strong evi- dence for the impact of educational television on science learning, there is substantially less evidence regarding the impact of other mediaânewspapers, magazines, digital media, gaming, radioâon science learning. Educational programming, âserious games,â entertainment media, and science journalism provide a rich and varied set of resources for learning science. Through technologies such as radio, television, print, the Internet, and personal digital devices, science information is increasingly available to people in their daily lives. For most people, television is the single most widely referenced source of scientific information, though it may be losing ground to the Internet. Media can support learning by expanding its reach to larger and more varied audiences. They can also be used in combination with designed spaces or particular educational programs to enhance learnersâ access to natural and scientific phenomena, scientific practices (e.g., data visualization, communication, systematic observation), and scientific norms (e.g., through media-based depictions of scientific practice). Interactive media have the potential to customize portrayals of science, for example, by allow- ing learners to select developmentally appropriate material and culturally familiar portrayals (e.g., choosing the language of a narrative, the setting of a virtual investigation). Media offer tools that can be used well or poorly and may or may not influence science learning in desirable ways. While many learning experi- ences may be enhanced with media, evidence suggests that educators must carefully consider learning goals, learnersâ experience bases and interests,
300 Learning Science in Informal Environments and the trade-offs associated with a particular form of media and means of delivery. Although there are not yet enough data to generalize, some studies have shown the power of media to support science learning in informal environments. For example, as summarized in Chapter 8, several studies (both experimental and quasi-experimental) have examined science television as an informal learning medium for children and youth and have shown that educational science programming can support science learning. In particular, researchers have documented concept development (Strand 2), some evidence that television can support learning science inquiry skills (e.g., Strand 3), and that it can positively influence interest in scientific top- ics (Strand 1). Digital media, including user-developed media, are expanding rapidly. As discussed in Chapter 8, there are strong theoretical reasons to believe that deeply immersive digital gaming environments and simulations designed for informal educational purposes may enable learners to test out new identi- ties and develop a sense of science and science careers. However, to date empirical evidence in this new research area is limited to a handful of studies of gaming and simulations, most of which are not science-specific. C onclusion 8: Designers and educators can make science more accessible to learners when they portray science as a social, lived experience, when they portray science in contexts that are relevant to learners, and when they are mindful of diverse learnersâ existing relationships with science and institutions of science learning. While it is the case that, as a group, scientists have the goal of being objective and place a premium on replicable empirical results, the very presence of debates in science reveals it to be a social activity in which competing background assumptions and judgments come strongly into play. The committee views science learning, science instruction, and the practice of science itself as forms of sociocultural activity. The practices and episte- mological assumptions of science reflect the culture, cultural practices, and cultural values of scientists and others involved in the scientific endeavor more broadly. Learning to communicate in and with a culture of science is a much broader undertaking than mastering a body of discrete conceptual or proce- dural knowledge (see, e.g., Strands 4 and 5, Conclusion 2). Aikenhead (1996), for example, describes the process of science education as one in which students must engage in âborder crossingsâ from their own everyday-world culture into the subculture of science. The subculture of science is in part distinct from other cultural activities and in part a reflection of the cultural backgrounds of scientists themselves. As we have argued throughout this report and in particular in Chapter 7, by developing and supporting experi- ences that engage learners in a broad range of science practices, educators
Conclusions and Recommendations 301 can increase the ways in which diverse learners can identify with and make meaning from their informal science learning experiences. C onclusion 9: Informal environments can have a significant impact on science learning outcomes for individuals from nondominant groups who are historically underrepresented in science. Several studies suggest that informal environments for science learn- ing may be particularly effective for youth from historically nondominant groupsâgroups with limited sociopolitical status in society, who are often marginalized because of their cultural, language, and behavioral differences. For example, as discussed in Chapter 6, evaluations of museum-based and after-school programs suggest that these experiences can support academic gains for children and youth from nondominant groups. These successes often draw on local issues and the prior interests of participants (e.g., integra- tion of science learning and service to the community, projects that involve participantsâ own backyard or local community). Several case studies of community science programs targeting participation of youth from histori- cally nondominant groups document participantsâ sustained, sophisticated engagement with science and sustained influence on school science course selection and career choices. In these programs, children and youth play an active role in shaping the subject and process of inquiry, which may include local health or environmental issues about which they subsequently educate the community. C onclusion 10: Partnerships between science-rich institutions and local communities show great promise for fostering inclusive science learning. Developing productive partnerships requires considerable time and energy. Many designers in informal science learning are making efforts to ad- dress inequity and wish to partner with members of diverse communities. Effective strategies for organizing partnerships include identifying shared goals; designing experiences around local issues of local relevance; sup- porting participantsâ patterns of participation (e.g., family structure, modes of discourse); and designing experiences that satisfy the values and norms and reflect the practices of all partners. Community-based programs that involve diverse learners in locally defined science inquiry, such as identifying and studying local health and environmental concerns, show promise for developing sustained, meaning- ful engagement (see Chapter 6, âCitizen Science and Volunteer Monitoring Programsâ). Specific cultural resources can also be harnessed in program design (see Chapter 7, âScience Learning Is Culturalâ). Many cultural groups spend leisure time in extended, multigenerational families, and partnerships
302 Learning Science in Informal Environments have explicitly built cross-generational educational experiences in efforts to capitalize on this social configuration. These efforts merit replication and further study, including analysis of how science-rich institutions can collabo- rate with and serve community-based organizations and how these programs support and sustain participantsâ engagement. PROMOTING LEARNING C onclusion 11: Parents, adult caregivers, peers, educators, f Â acilitators, and mentors play critical roles in supporting science learning. Just as informal settings for learning vary tremendously, so do the prac- tices in which facilitators, educators, and parents engage to support it. Even in everyday settings, facilitators can enhance learning. For example, a childâs cause-seeking âwhyâ questions are an expression of an everyday, intense curiosity about the world. Parents, older peers, facilitators, and teachers can and often do support these natural expressions of curiosity and sense-making. Evidence indicates that the more they do, the greater the possibility that chil- dren will learn in these moments. Recognizing expressions of curiosity and sense-making supports and encourages learning as productive and signals this value to learners (e.g., by listening to learners, helping them inquire into and answer their own questions, and involving them in regular activi- ties that place learners into contact with natural and designed phenomena and scientific concepts). Their means of supporting learning range from simple, discrete acts of assistance to long-term, sustained relationships, collaborations, and appren- ticeships. For example, just by interacting with children in everyday routine activities (e.g., preparing dinner, gardening, watching television, making health decisions), parents, caretakers, and educators are often helping them learn about science. In addition, family and social group activities often involve learning and the application of science as part of daily routines. For example, agricultural communities regularly analyze environmental condi- tions and botanical issues. Even facilitators who are not experts in science (e.g., in after-school and community-based programs) can serve as intermediaries to informal science learning experiences. For example, the choice of pursuing a science badge in Girl Scouts may rest on the enthusiasm and assistance of a facilitating adult (see Chapter 5, âDoing and Seeingâ and âMeaning-Makingâ). Cognitive apprenticeships are a specialized form of informal science learning in which learners enter into relationships with more knowledgeable others who help them refine their science understanding and skill deliberately over sustained time periods. For example, seasoned science enthusiasts may
Conclusions and Recommendations 303 serve as de facto mentors for newcomers in hobby groups (e.g., amateur astronomy, gardening). Productive science learning relationships frequently involve sustained in- dividual inquiry but also intensive social practices with affinity interest groups and in apprenticeship relationships. Distributed and varied expertise in groups allows less knowledgeable individuals to interact with more knowledgeable peers and mentors. Frequently the roles of expert and novice shift back and forth over time, based on specific aspects of the inquiry in question. C onclusion 12: Programs for school-age children and youth (includÂing after school) are a significant, widespread, and grow- ing phenomenon in which an increasing emphasis is placed on science. Programs, especially during out-of-school time, afford a special oppor- tunity to expand science learning experiences for millions of children. These programs, many of which are based in schools, are increasingly focused on disciplinary content, but by means of informal education. Out-of-school-time programs allow sustained experiences with science and reach a large audi- ence, including a significant population of individuals from nondominant groups. Ensuring that the principles of informal science learning (e.g., learner choice, low-stakes assessments for learners) are sustained as out-of-school- time programs grow will require careful attention to professional develop- ment, curricula, and best practices. INFORMAL ENVIRONMENTS AND K-12 SCHOOLS C onclusion 13: Currently there are not good outcome measures for assessing the science learning goals of informal settings. Con- ventional academic achievement measures (e.g., standardized tests of science achievement) are too narrow and not well aligned to the goals of informal providers. One of the more noteworthy features of informal learning settings is the absence of tests, grades, class rankings, and other familiar approaches to documenting achievement that are characteristic of schools. The informal science community has nonetheless recognized the need to assess the im- pact of informal learning experiences in order to understand how everyday, after-school, museum, and other types of settings contribute to the develop- ment of scientific knowledge and capabilities. Everyday interactions about science frequently involve embedded informal evaluation and assessment of activity and reasoning. In Chapter 3 we outline three criteria that need to be satisfied in order to develop the types of assessments that are most useful for science learn-
304 Learning Science in Informal Environments ing in informal environments. First, the assessments should not be limited to factual recall or other narrow cognitive measures of learning, but should address the range of relevant capabilities (depicted in the six strands) that informal environments are designed to promote. Second, the assessments used should be valid, providing authentic evidence of participantsâ learning and competencies. Third, assessments of informal science learning should fit with the experiences that make these environments attractive and engag- ing; that is, any assessment activities undertaken in informal settings should not undermine the very features that make for effective engagement, such as learner choice, voluntary participation, and pursuit of science-related interests. C onclusion 14: Learning experiences across informal environ- ments may positively influence childrenâs science learning in school, their attitudes toward science, and the likelihood that they will consider science-related occupations or engage in lifelong sci- ence learning through hobbies and other everyday pursuits. Although, as discussed in Conclusion 13, the committee has serious reservations about using academic measures to assess learning in informal settings, we did find evidence that these settings may support improvements in student achievement, attainment, and career choices (see, for example, discussion of Strand 2 in Chapter 6). These outcomes reflect a degree of overlap between academic and informal settings. However, informal environ- ments may particularly foster capacities that are unlikely to register traceable effects on conventional academic measures, notably around interest and motivation (Strand 1) and identity (Strand 6). TOWARD A COMMON FIELD C onclusion 15: The literature on learning science in informal envi- ronments is vast, but the quality of the research is uneven, at least in part due to limited publication outlets (i.e., dedicated journals and special editions) and a lack of incentives to publish for many researchers and evaluators in nonacademic positions. Although there is a tremendous body of evidence relevant to learning science in informal environments, there is a limited (but growing) number of peer-reviewed outlets for publication devoted to it. While many scholars publish in a variety of peer-reviewed journals in education, psychology, and museum studies, others are not in academic positions and hence receive few rewards for publication. At present, much of the literature that informs the science learning in informal environments has not undergone rigorous, systematic peer review. In fact, the committee observed enormous variety
Conclusions and Recommendations 305 in norms with respect to evidence, warrants, publication, and peer-review practices. C onclusion 16: Evaluation reports on particular programs pro- vide an important source of evidence that can inform practice and theory more generally. Other kinds of research and data are needed, however, to build and empirically shape a shared knowledge base. Evaluations can be designed to support improvement during the design and implementation phase (formative) and to measure final impact of edu- cational practice (summative). Although a substantial body of high-quality evaluation reports informs the knowledge base on learning in informal set- tings, important findings are not always widely disseminated and reports can be difficult to obtain. Also, evaluation is typically carried out by external evaluation consultants hired by the science learning institution. This arrange- ment can result in uncomfortable conflicts between the material interests of the institution to document successes and the interests of obtaining even- handed and theoretically oriented analysis. Many opportunities to learn from evaluations are lost as reports of outcomes are often not accompanied with careful description of practice or relevant comparisons to prior efforts and findings. C onclusion 17: There is an interdisciplinary community of Âscholars and educators who share an interest in developing coherent theory and practice of learning science in informal environments. How- ever, more widely shared language, values, assumptions, learning theories, and standards of evidence are needed to build a more cohesive and instructive body of knowledge and practice. The literature reviewed in this report is derived from widely varied tra- ditions, including researchers in different academic disciplines, evaluators and communities of inquiry and practice associated with informal learning institutions. Although their disciplinary and organizational affiliations vary, these scholars and educators share common interests in understanding, building, and supporting science learning in informal environments. Further development of common frameworks, standards of evidence, language and values will require new ways to share knowledge and expertise. Several leading thinkers have recognized this need. Journal special issues, the new Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education, and new guidelines from the National Science Foundation on evaluating the impact of informal science education have initiated and furthered this work, with the goal of contributing to better knowledge integration.
306 Learning Science in Informal Environments C onclusion 18: Ecological perspectives on informal environments can facilitate important insights about science learning experi- ences across venues. The committee stresses the broad theoretical relevance of an ecological perspective on learning science in informal environments. An ecological learn- ing perspective makes learnersâ activity and learning the organizing element in educational research. Rather than focusing on discrete moments of learn- ing (e.g., as in a short-term, pre-post assessment), an ecological perspective strives to understand learning across settings: exploring, for example, how learning experiences in one setting prepare learners to participate in other settings. Working from an ecology of learning perspective, educators and researchers focus on learning experiences as they occur in specific settings and cultural communities and on the continuity of a learnerâs experiences across science learning environmentsâfrom classrooms to science centers to community sites. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND RESEARCH The committee has developed a view of informal science education that takes learning seriously while maintaining a clear focus on personal engage- ment and enjoyment of science. In other words, we use the term âlearningâ in a broad sense that incorporates motivation and identity (see the six strands). Advancing the research and practice in ways that reflect this view of learn- ing more fully will require careful consideration of goals, alignment of goals with learning experiences, and design of experiences that are informed by the values and interests of learners. Our recommendations flow from the conclusions presented in this chapter and focus on improving both science learning experiences and research on learning science in informal environments. Given the nature of the evidence base, the recommendations for improving informal learning environments should be understood as promising ideas for further development that require additional validation through research and evaluation. These recommenda- tions reflect practices that have been developed in some settings and may have been replicated; however, they have not been adopted widely. These recommendations are relevant for a range of actors involved in science learning in informal settings. We consider three major groups: ex- hibit and program designers, front-line educators (e.g., scout leaders, club organizers, docents, parents and other care providers) who facilitate these experiences, and researchers and evaluators. These actors shape the educa- tional experiences of learners in important ways collectively and individually. Through their collective actions they convey important messages about what
Conclusions and Recommendations 307 science is, how science can benefit learners and society, and how learners can and should engage with science. While their roles, actions, and goals overlap in important ways, particular actors have varying levels of control over different aspects of the learning environment. Here we organize our recommendations around the respon- sibilities of the three major groups. Exhibit and Program Designers Exhibit and program designers play an important role in determining what aspects of science are reflected in learning experiences, how learn- ers engage with science and with one another, and the type and quality of educational materials that learners use. Recommendation 1:â Exhibit and program designers should create informal environments for science learning according to the following principles. Informal environments should â¢ be designed with specific learning goals in mind (e.g., the strands of science learning) â¢ be interactive â¢ provide multiple ways for learners to engage with concepts, practices, and phenomena within a particular setting â¢ facilitate science learning across multiple settings â¢ prompt and support participants to interpret their learning experiences in light of relevant prior knowledge, experiences, and interests â¢ support and encourage learners to extend their learning over time Learners are diverse and may be driven by a range of motivations, in- cluding nonscience ones (e.g., entertainment, socializing with family and friends). To increase the likelihood of engaging diverse learners with science, experiences should be multifaceted and interactive and developed in light of science-specific learning goals. Designers should also be cognizant of the fact that learning experiences in informal settings can be sporadic and that, without support, learners may not find ways to sustain their engagement with science or a given topic. To support productive learning experiences and promote sustained engagement, designers should draw on learnersâ prior experience and knowledge and illustrate for learners both immediate and distal pathways for engagement and learning. Recommendation 2:â From their inception, informal environments for sci- ence learning should be developed through community-educator partnerships
308 Learning Science in Informal Environments and whenever possible should be rooted in scientific problems and ideas that are consequential for community members. Local community members and individuals from nondominant groups, including culturally diverse groups, older adults, and people with disabilities, should play an active role in the development, design, and implementation of science learning experiencesâserving as designers, advisers, front-line educators, and evaluators of such efforts. The questions, materials, and con- texts that constitute science learning experiences should be infused with the interests, knowledge, local activities, and concerns of partnering communities and diverse groups. Recommendation 3:â Educational tools and materials should be devel- oped through iterative processes involving learners, educators, design- ers, and experts in science, including the sciences of human learning and development. The relevant knowledge and skill needed to design state-of-the-art learn- ing experiences reside among a constellation of actors. Ideally the design of science learning experiences in informal environments would begin with such diverse teams, who would work collaboratively over time in the devel- opment process. Over time repeated observation of participantsâ experiences and learning outcomes should inform efforts to improve educational tools and materials. Front-Line Educators Front-line educators include the professional and volunteer staff of in- stitutions and programs that offer and support science learning experiences. Front-line educators influence learning experiences in a number of ways. They may model desirable science learning behaviors and help learners develop and expand scientific explanations and practice, in turn shaping how learners interact with science, with one another, and with educational materials. They may also work directly with science teachers and other edu- cation professionals, who themselves are responsible for educating others. Given the diversity of community members who do (or could) participate in informal environments, front-line educators should embrace diversity and work thoughtfully across diverse groups. In important ways, even parents and other care providers who interact with learners in these settings are front-line educators. They organize group visits, facilitate interactions among learners, and even convene pre- and postvisit activities. Thus, while parents and other care providers are not trained education professionals, they shape learning experiences and can be supported to do so more effectively.
Conclusions and Recommendations 309 Recommendation 4:â Front-line staff should actively integrate questions, everyday language, ideas, concerns, worldviews, and histories, both their own and those of diverse learners. To do so they will need support oppor- tunities to develop cultural competence, and to learn with and about the groups they want to serve. In order to serve the goal of broadening participation in science, front- line staff should have the disposition and repertoire of practices and tools at their disposal to help learners expand on their everyday knowledge and skill to learn science. They need well-honed questions, dialogue prompts, and multiple examples of how the science that learners encounter in informal environments can be related to everyday experiences. Professionals on the front line also should embrace diversity, so that they can empower learners by drawing on their knowledge, skills, and language to promote science learning. For example, youth are deeply interested in peer relations and so may benefit from intentional efforts to foster and sus- tain peer networks for science learning. Peers may be particularly important for encouraging underrepresented groups to participate in science learning. Front-line staff can also encourage and support cross-generational dialogue for multigenerational family groups. In order to accomplish this, practitioners need professional development to support their efforts. Researchers and Evaluators Improving the quality of evidence on learning science in informal envi- ronments is a paramount challenge. Research and evaluation efforts rely on partnerships among curators, designers, administrators, evaluators, research- ers, educators, and other stakeholders whose varied interests, expertise, and resources support and sustain inquiry. Accordingly our recommendations address investigators and the broader community that collaborates with in- vestigators and consumes research and evaluation results. Recommendation 5:â Researchers, evaluators, and other leaders in informal education should broaden opportunities for publication of peer-reviewed research and evaluation, and provide incentives for investigators in nonaca- demic positions to publish their work in these outlets. Recommendation 6:â Researchers and evaluators should integrate bodies of research on learning science in informal environments by developing theory that spans venues and links cognitive, affective, and sociocultural accounts of learning. Building and testing theoretical frameworks is a central goal of scientific inquiry, which drives the development of research questions, methods, tools,
310 Learning Science in Informal Environments and integration of previous research findings across fields. Several bodies of work on nonschool learning are well established, although they often exist in isolation from other areas and could be integrated more broadly. Research on informal environments for science learning could enhance the community-wide development of theoretical frameworks by (1) making their theoretical frameworks and influences explicit in research and evaluation reports and presentations, (2) further testing common theoretical frameworks in science learning activities and analyses, and (3) exploring how theoreti- cal frameworks in other social science fields can inform science learning in informal environments. Recommendation 7:â Researchers and evaluators should use assessment methods that do not violate participantsâ expectations about learning in in- formal settings. Methods should address the science strands, provide valid evidence across topics and venues, and be designed in ways that allow educators and learners alike to reflect on the learning taking place in these environments. One of the main challenges at present is the development of means for assessing participantsâ learning across the range of experiences. Currently, studies that measure similar constructs often include unique measures, scales, or observation protocols. For example, research on media and learning tends to take different methodological approaches depending on the type of media in question (e.g., television, radio, digital environments). While some of this diversity reflects responsiveness to real differences inherent in the learning characteristics of such media, the lack of coherence hinders synthesis of re- search findings and the development of reliable measures. Rigorous, shared measures and methods for understanding and assessing learning need to be developed, especially if researchers are to attempt assessment of cumulative learning across different episodes and in different settings. At the same time, the focus of assessment must be not only on cogni- tive outcomes, but also on the range of intellectual, attitudinal, behavioral, sociocultural, and participatory dispositions and capabilities that informal environments can effectively promote (i.e., the strands). They must also be sensitive to participantsâ motivation for engaging in informal learning experiences, and, when the experience is designed, assessments should be sensitive to the goals of designers. AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH Informal environments can be powerful environments for learning. They can be organized to allow people to create and follow their own learning agenda and can provide opportunities for rich social interactions. While this potential is often only partially fulfilled, research has illustrated that experi-
Conclusions and Recommendations 311 ence in informal environments can lead to gains in scientific knowledge or increased interest in science. However, further exploration is needed to provide a more detailed understanding of not only what is learned, but also of how the distinct features of informal environments contribute to their broad and long-term impact on learners. The committee outlines below the areas in which further research is particularly needed. Tools and Practices That Contribute to Learning Additional research is needed to explore what physical, social, and symbolic tools best support science learning in informal environments. Researchers should build on the current research findings from studies of science learning in informal settings and draw more on approaches from across related fields (educational research, cognition, anthropology) to iden- tify and adapt methods of discourse and conversational analysis, as well as observation techniques, that have been effective in describing settings in such a way that they can be compared, measured, and analyzed for change over time (e.g., Waxman, Tharp, and Hilberg, 2004). Learning Strands The committeeâs six-strand framework represents a broader view of science learning than is typically found in the research. This view includes aspects of science learning that are supported in informal environments as well as in schools. It also aligns with the commitment informal education to participant engagement and development of interest and identity (Strands 1 and 6). Evidence to support the impact of experiences in informal learning on Strand 6 is emergent. It is commonly believed that even participants who do not demonstrate increased knowledge as measured in pre-post assess- ment designs take away the potential to learn later. Do participants whose interest is sparked go on to learn more in the months that follow? Do they seek out other, related learning experiences? Does their relationship to sci- ence and science learning fundamentally shift? There is a need for studies to investigate how interest, future learning, and identity develop through informal science learning experiences over long time spans (e.g., weeks, months, and years). In order to better understand participantsâ perceptions of opportunity and how deeper forms of knowledge and enjoyment can be supported, it would be useful to further explore the relationship between interest and other motivational factors in an informal learning context. The inquiry-based, free-choice nature of these experiences offers the possibility of examining how motivation and interest relate to future science learning across a range of venues. In addition, an exploration of how interest devel- opment influences learner identity may help create a better understanding of
312 Learning Science in Informal Environments science learning not only in informal environments, but also in more formal learning environments. Cumulative Effects Science learning, and informal science learning more specifically, is a cumulative process. The impact of informal learning is not only the result of what happens at the time of the experience, but also the product of events happening before and after an experience. And interest in and knowledge of science is supported by experiences in informal environments and in schools. Although it is important to understand the impact of informal environments, a more important question may be how science learning occurs across the range of formal and informal environments. The science learning literatures and fields are segmented (e.g., into school learning, informal education) in ways that are at odds with how people routinely traverse settings and engage in learning activities. Thus, research should attempt to explore learnersâ longer term, cross-cutting experiences. Further work should increase understanding of the connections or barriers in learning between more formal and more informal science learning environments. The committee calls for additional efforts to explore science learning in longer term increments of time, tracking learners (rather than exhibits, tools, programs) across school and informal environments. Such research would allow researchers to examine the influence of experiences in different set- tings and over time and to explore how these experiences build on or con- nect to each other. It will require developing and refining research methods for tracking individuals over time and solving other problems pertaining to security of participantsâ personal information and attrition. Learning by Groups, Organizations, and Communities One of the more difficult but important research challenges that the sci- ence education in informal settings community faces is developing the means to study learning, growth, and change at the level of a group, organization, or community. How do social groups learn science through dinner table conver- sations, visits to the zoo, science laboratory meetings, hobbyist interest groups, civic engagement, and other everyday activities? Such interactions influence not only the individuals who participate in them, but also the group itself. What are the relevant changes at the group level? The literatures are turning toward exploring the learning that takes place through social interactions, yet it remains unclear what factors (e.g., participantâs behaviors, attitudes, intrinsic interest) are responsible for the impact of these social exchanges and how they play out at the group or organizational level.
Conclusions and Recommendations 313 Supporting Learning for Diverse Groups Informal environments for science learning may be particularly important for science learning for diverse groups. Research exists on how different groups participate in various venues, but questions remain about how to best empower science learning for diverse groups through informal learning environments. Research has documented that participation in many venues (e.g., designed informal settings, science media) is skewed toward the domi- nant cultural group and those most interested in science, although there are several important exceptions. School group visits to designed settings, community-based organizations and after-school programs, and exhibitions designed around local scientific or health issues have all been observed to serve a more diverse audience, in part because they are often designed with underserved populations in mind (as described in the committeeâs conclu- sions). Yet there is variability in the success of these environments in attracting and engaging their diverse audiences. A better understanding of the naturally occurring science learning in nondominant and dominant cultures is needed to inform basic theory and to design learning experiences that meaningfully attend to the cultural practices of diverse groups. Media Media, in particular television and Internet resources, are the most sought- out tool for learning about science. Meanwhile, through media, the nature of learnersâ interactions with science has changed. Many people now have at their fingertips immersive, interactive platforms that allow them to pursue their interest in science. Through various forms of digital mediaâblogs, vir- tual spaces, wikis, serious games, RSS feeds, etc.âaccess to scientific ideas and information and knowledgeable others has become, if not pervasive, at least widespread. It is unclear whether more frequent use of media is the by-product of engagement in and enjoyment of science learning experiences, or vice versa. Existing studies, with the exception of extensive research on television, are primarily correlational in nature, indicating that there is a relationship between enjoyment of science learning and frequency of use of media, but these studies do not indicate whether one factor causes the other or if there is a complex dynamic of interacting influence. Further studies are needed to determine whether the use of tools, such as media for science learning, promotes interests in science, whether interest in science inspires the use of such tools, or both in specific ways. Arguments about the transformative power of media for informal science learning are based on very modest evidence and warrant further investigation. Many emergent media forms allow users to receive and send information, leverage resources to communicate with huge numbers of learners, and honor
314 Learning Science in Informal Environments diverse ways of knowing and learning (through user-selected and designed interfaces), so that users can interact with content and with one another in ways that they deem valuable. And these characteristics of new digital tech- nologiesâdialogic structure, user-direction and organization, and expansive networking of learners and resourcesâresonate with the values and research findings of the informal science learning community. Research on the impact of media is needed to understand how the unique features of media can support different aspects of science learning (e.g., the six strands). Another related area worthy of further research is exploration of how learners evaluate the validity of science information from emergent media- based sources. Technologies have made it possible for almost anyone to author information about science and to make that content accessible to very broad audiences. This leaves the learner with the difficult task of deciphering the validity of information and discerning the likely sources of bias for any resource. With ever-increasing user-generated information spaces, it will be important for researchers to continue studying how learner characteristics influence their judgment of information presented through these media. REFERENCES Aikenhead, G.S. (1996). Science education: Border crossing into the subculture of science. Studies in Science Education, 26, 1-52. National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, J.D. Bransford, A.L. Brown, and R.R. Cocking (Eds.), and Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, M.S. Donovan, J.D. Bransford, and J.W. Pellegrino (Eds.). Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Research Council. (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Committee on Science Learning, K-8. R.A. Duschl, H.A. Schweingruber, and A.W. Shouse (Eds.). Washington, DC: The National Acad- emies Press. Waxman, H., Tharp, R.G., and Hilberg, R.S. (Eds.). (2004). Observational research in U.S. classrooms: New approaches for understanding cultural and linguistic diversity. New York: Cambridge University Press.