About the website
There is a growing body of knowledge about teaching and learning in informal learning environments such as museums, after-school programs, and home settings. However most educational research still takes place in classrooms, and much of this research is not easily accessible to educators working in informal settings. Because we believe that these studies can be informative and relevant to the field of informal science education (ISE), this website attempts to make at least some of this large body of knowledge about STEM teaching and learning accessible to informal educators.
We do not suggest that research findings always directly map to educational practices -- oftentimes the contexts in which they are carried out are very different or the research questions may not take into account critical features of practice. Indeed, there is a growing call for new approaches to conducting research developed collaboratively between researchers and practitioners, with the questions, needs, ideas, and contexts of practitioners shaping the research questions and designs so that the results are more useful and practical for implementation (Penuel, et al. 2010). Yet many researchers are deeply concerned with questions that also deeply concern practitioners -- questions of educational design, of equity, of the learning experience, and others. Their questions and findings can be used to stimulate discussion and inform the professional practices of educators, both informal and formal.
Relating Research to Practice contains a set of research briefs summarizing recent peer-reviewed educational research. This website focuses on papers published in over a dozen different educational journals since 2009, including a few from the UK/EU representing global perspectives on teaching and learning. Research briefs are organized by a set of relevant topics and tagged with keywords. Additional website resources include: a set of synthesis papers that provide a historical and theoretical context for key domains of research; a glossary of common terms; a bookshelf space where you can save briefs for future use ; and resource spotlights featuring relevant reports and articles that relate to particular topics identified as important in the ISE field today. The website resources are produced by hybrid educational researcher-practitioners with the interests, needs, and institutional settings of informal science educators in mind. We hope that they'll be used to inform professional development, discussion, reflection, and practice.
If you have comments and feedback on the website, or are interested in submitting a research brief to the site, please contact us at cils[at]exploratorium[dot]edu.
About the project
In 2011, with funding from the National Science Foundation, we piloted the website to determine if current peer–reviewed educational research could be made available, accessible, and useful to informal science educators and if it would be used to inform practice. During a three-month pilot phase, 500 users registered and used the website. At the close of this phase, we surveyed users and received 237 responses. We also interviewed a stratified sample of 20 of the survey respondents. Of the 237 surveys 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. The most frequent comment about the site was that there was a need for a trusted, curated site that assembled relevant research that users might not otherwise find on their own. These results seem to confirm our hypothesis -- that current educational research, even when conducted in classrooms, can be informative and also relevant to informal educators and practices.
About the contributors
Relating Research to Practice is led by the Exploratorium and is a collaboration among researchers affiliated with the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) at the Exploratorium, the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center at the University of Washington, King’s College London, and the Afterschool Alliance. Please note that the research briefs found on this site summarize the published papers of other researchers and do not reflect the work, perspectives, or opinions of the collaborators.
Melissa Ballard is a research assistant at the Afterschool Alliance, working on the organization's STEM initiatives. Prior to joining the Alliance, she developed and taught informal STEM programs at a children's science center for over three years. Melissa has a background in engineering and liberal studies, earning a B.S.E. and a B.G.S. from the University of Michigan.
Philip Bell pursues a cognitive and cultural program of research across diverse environments focused on how people learn about science and technology in ways that are personally consequential to them. He is the Geda & Phil Condit Professor of Science & Mathematics Education and an associate professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Washington where he directs the ethnographic and design-based research of the Everyday Science and Technology Group. He is a co-lead of the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center. He has a background in human cognition and development, science education, computer science, and electrical engineering.
Bronwyn Bevan is the Associate Director for Program at the Exploratorium and directed the NSF-funded Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS). Currently, CILS develops professional practices and knowledge related to strengthening connections between learning in- and out-of-school. Bevan’s work in both research and professional development focuses on strengthening partnerships between cultural institutions and other educational organizations, and building understanding about the ways different settings shape opportunities for learning. Her work draws on a combination of cultural-historical and ecological theory.
Toni Dancu is a Researcher at the Exploratorium. The looks of wonder and shrieks of surprise that fill the Exploratorium inspire her to better understand the visitor experience, and to help ensurethat challenging moments at exhibits are motivating rather than discouraging. She uses her developmental psychology background to identify research designs and methods that address questions about engaging underserved audiences, such as females and African Americans; the role of relevance in the museum experience; and the effects of exhibit characteristics on visitors' exhibit use, time spent, conversations, and more. In order to help create intuitive and engaging experiences that reflect exhibit developers' intentions, Toni conducts formative evaluations that fold visitors' voices into the process. She often provides statistical consulting within the Department and the visitor studies community. Prior to joining the Exploratorium, Toni interned at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and the Institute for Learning Innovation.
Justin Dillon is Professor of Science and Environmental Education and head of the Science and Technology Education Group at King’s College London. Justin has carried out research into teaching and learning in schools, museums, and science centres and co-edits the International Journal of Science Education. He is currently involved in a 5-year ESRC longitudinal study of 10–14-year-old students’ interests and aspirations in science and a European Union project which is promoting inquiry-based science education in botanic gardens (INQUIRE). Justin was President of the European Science Education Research Association from 2007-11 and is a trustee of the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.
Veronica Garcia-Luis is a Research Associate at the Exploratorium. Her scope of evaluation work includes exhibit development, public programming, orientation and wayfinding, and audience development. Before joining the Exploratorium in 1997, Veronica was a museum educator at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History in Los Angeles, where she explored object-based programming with a wide range of audiences. She then went on to receive her M.A. in Museum Studies from John F. Kennedy University in 1997, where she investigated how museums can create effective partnerships with urban Latino families. Veronica is very enthusiastic about creating accessible learning environments for diverse audiences.
Josh Gutwill is Director of Visitor Research and Evaluation at the Exploratorium. His work includes research on learning in informal environments as well as evaluation of exhibits and programs to improve visitors' experiences. He is interested in fostering and studying learners’ self-directed inquiry in science museum settings. His current projects include a qualitative study of STEM learning in the Tinkering Studio (the Exploratorium's "Maker" space), and a design-based study of metacognition at social psychology exhibits. Recent projects include quasi-experimental research on spatial reasoning at immersive exhibits in Geometry Playground, and an experimental study of “inquiry games” in the Group Inquiry by Visitors at Exhibits (GIVE) project. Before joining the Exploratorium in 1998, Josh was Director of Assessment and Evaluation for a consortium of university faculty creating an innovative college chemistry curriculum.
Heather King previously worked as a museum educator and as an educational researcher for international development charities before joining King’s College London in 2002. Since then she has been involved in a number of research projects examining the interrelationships between schools and informal science institutions both in the UK and internationally. Her doctoral thesis examined the pedagogical practices of museum explainers and their support for enquiry in natural history—a line of work that she continues to develop alongside an ongoing evaluation of a European museum initiative designed to foster girls’ engagement in science.
Fan Kong is a research associate at the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) at the Exploratorium. Her interest in education stems from teaching and working in museums and arts education organizations. Prior to joining the Exploratorium, she was active in social justice and community-based organizations in New York City. Fan holds a B.A. in art history from Columbia University.
Anita Krishnamurthi is the Director of STEM Policy at the Afterschool Alliance. She leads efforts to advance policies, research and partnerships so children and youth can have rich STEM education experiences in their afterschool programs. An astronomer by training, Anita received her PhD from The Ohio State University, conducting her postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Over the past decade, she has been deeply involved in science education and outreach through a range of roles at the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and the American Astronomical Society. Anita strongly believes that afterschool programs can play a critical role in STEM education reform and must be treated as strategic partners.
Suzanne Perin is a doctoral candidate in the University of Washington’s Learning Sciences program. Her research focuses on how social groups learn together in informal settings, particularly in science centers, museums and aquariums. She is interested in how design, the meanings of objects, prior knowledge and experience intersect in learning environments. Prior to graduate school, she worked in science museum exhibition development and exhibit evaluation. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Archaeology from UC Santa Cruz and an M.A. in Museology (Museum Studies) from the University of Washington.
Elaine Regan qualified as a biology and chemistry teacher in 1998 and has taught in a variety of formal educational settings in Ireland and the UK. Elaine joined the Science and Technology Education research group in 2009 following a number of post-doctoral positions including research on effective classroom practice. She is currently working on the EU funded Interest and Recruitment in Science project, examining educational choice of young people at undergraduate level, particularly women in science, technology and mathematics (STM). Her PhD research examined subject choice in secondary schools and the promotion of chemistry utilizing chemical magic.
Lisa Sindorf is a Research and Evaluation Coordinator at the Exploratorium. She joined the museum in 2008 to assist with research around the Geometry Playground exhibition, which looked at the visitor experience at immersive and tabletop exhibits. She is currently helping to investigate ways to scaffold observation and methods for encouraging inquiry around data visualization. Prior to entering the museum world, Lisa studied Linguistics with a focus on second language acquisition, and then taught middle school in Oakland while earning her M.A. in Education from U.C. Berkeley.
Project advisors include: James Bell (CAISE, ex-officio), Kirsten Ellenbogen (Science Museum of Minnesota), Karen Knutson (University of Pittsburgh), Nette Pletcher (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), Shawn Rowe (Oregon State University), Cary Sneider (Portland State University), Carol Tang (Coalition for Science After School), Amy Tonkonogy (WGBH Educational Foundation), Phoenix Wang (Startl), and Maria Xanthoudaki (Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci). Thank you to Ellen McCallie (National Science Foundation) and Goeff Butterfield and Anais Chakerian (Exploratorium) for making the site possible.