Hybrid Spaces for Collaborative Learning

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January 01, 2016

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Informal science education has the potential to help merge the everyday lives of youth with the world of science by creating hybrid, or third, spaces of learning. In these environments, educators pay attention to the cultural knowledge and resources that youth bring with them across their everyday lives in order to make science accessible.

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

What are hybrid spaces?

Hybrid spaces represent a model of supportive learning environments where students draw on their everyday knowledge and experiences in discipline-specific learning (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2009). These spaces describe the physical and/or social spaces that merge the experiences and knowledge of learners’ home communities and networks, which are traditionally marginalized in learning settings, with those of formal, privileged spaces, such as school (Moje et al., 2004). Theories of hybrid spaces assume that all learners draw from a variety of sources to make sense of the world (Moje et al., 2004) and to support learning in a variety of settings. Researchers contend that learners have associated multiple or “hybridized” identities they take on as they interact across the settings and cultures of their lives (Rahm, 2008).

There are many definitions of hybrid space in research and learning, but it is commonly conceptualized in three related ways. Gutiérrez, López, Tejada, and Baquedano-López (1999) discussed hybrid or third spaces as those in which acknowledgement of alternative and competing ways of being in the world has the power to “transform conflict and difference into rich zones of collaboration and learning” (p.286). These spaces serve as support systems that bridge traditionally marginalized communities and privileged spaces to make all voices heard (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2009). Hybrid space can also be a navigational strategy, used to negotiate differing communities (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2009). Finally, hybrid spaces can be those where traditional boundaries of official or academic ways of thinking and doing can be expanded, as conflicting knowledge and discourses of different spaces are brought together (Moje et al., 2004).

How do hybrid spaces support learning?

According to Gutiérrez (2008), understanding and following student learning outside of traditional learning spaces allows us to consider how student learning translates across the settings of their everyday lives (Gutiérrez & Lee, 2009). This allows for a broader conception of learning than just mastery, but takes into account how learners adapt what they learn to fit their needs. For example, Gutiérrez (2008) found that by actively facilitating the inclusion and expansion of marginalized voices and stories in the context of a traditional school setting leads “to new forms of learning, a reframing of the role of education and of the self as a historical actor, and the development of an important set of tools that facilitates social and cognitive activity” (p. 159).

Rahm (2008) argued that in order to understand how youth engage or disengage in science, learners and educators must understand and embrace youths’ multiple (or hybridized) identities. These identities are grounded in an array of cultural practices that constitute student’s understanding of science and self in science. Accordingly, ISE is about vertical and horizontal learning and development (Gutiérrez, 2008). The former suggests that science literacy and identity in science develops over time as one is engaged with science. The latter attests to the idea that we come into contact with science in a number of practices and that they together, constitute our understanding of science and identity of self in science. These ideas also led researchers refer to learning in ISE in terms of life-deep, life-wide and life-long learning (Banks et al., 2007). Hence, we may “take hybridity to mean the bringing together of different ways of knowing, doing, talking and relating to science” from such life-deep, life-wide and life-long learning (Rahm, 2010, p. 302).

In ISE, hybrid spaces are the ones that can offer traditionally disengaged youth in science with meaningful opportunities to put to use their funds of knowledge and become users and creators of science, making an insider identity in science a possibility.  For example, Rahm (2008) found that hybrid spaces can be thought of as “opportunity spaces” that draw on youths’ prior experiences and knowledge, potentially developing interest into “genuine science literacy” (p. 120). Additionally, taking youths’ prior experiences and knowledge into account in learning settings positions them as collaborators and experts in ways that allow youth to see science as an integral part of their everyday experiences (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2009). In this way, hybrid spaces have the potential to give learners authentic authority and authorship in learning settings (Calabrese Barton, Tan, & Rivet, 2008). Hybrid spaces are also about embodied science, a science that emerges from doing, social interaction and negotiation, that is mediated by tools in practice (Rahm, 2010). They address “the cognitive, social, and emotional needs in a holistic manner and position the learner as competent” (Gutierrez & Lee, 2009, p. 221), making for productive and meaningful ISE.

Hybrid spaces may also include the digital spaces where students explore and play individually or in virtual communities.  Subramaniam et. al. (2012) suggest that school libraries can be one hybrid space that allows students to access virtual STEM learning environments. Smørdal et. al. (2012) emphasize that digital hybrid spaces are “inherently social, facilitating dialogue and social exchange, as well as the construction of knowledge, paralleling the nature of contemporary science”; they provide many examples of how students’ actions or interactions in digital media can influence physical space and vice versa. In their study of youth producing digital videos for community broadcast, Sato and Calabrese Barton (2011) argue that critical science literacy emerges when students’ vertical knowledge (scientific learning) intersects with their horizontal knowledge (their understanding of their community).


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Calabrese Barton, A., Tan, E., & Rivet, A. (2008). Creating Hybrid Spaces for Engaging School Science Among Urban Middle School Girls. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1), 68-103.  Retrieved from

Gutiérrez, K. D. (2008). Developing a Sociocritical Literacy in the Third Space. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(2), 148-164.

Gutiérrez, K., and C. D. Lee. (2009). Robust informal learning environments for youth from nondominant groups. In Handbook of research on literacy and diversity, ed. L. M. Morrow, R. Rueda, and D. Lapp, 216-232. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Gutiérrez, K. D., López, P. B., Tejeda, C., & Baquedano-López, P. (1999). Rethinking diversity : Hybridity and hybrid language practices in the third space. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 6(4), 286-303.

Moje, E. B., Ciechanowski, K. M., Kramer, K., Ellis, L., Carrillo, R., & Collazo, T. (2004). Working toward third space in onctent area literacy: An examination of everyday funds of knowledge and Discourse. Reading Research Quarterly, 39(1), 38-70.

Rahm, J. (2010). Science in the making at the margin: A multisited ethnography of learning and becoming in an afterschool program, a garden, and a math and science Upward Bound Program. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Rahm, J. (2008). Urban youths ’ hybrid positioning in science practices at the margin : a look inside a school – museum – scientist partnership project and an after-school science program. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 3, 97-121.  Retrieved from

Sato, T. & Calabrese Barton, A. (2011). Youth Authored Multimodal Digital Video: Expansive Learning, Counterstories, and Critical Science Literacy. National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Orlando, FL, USA. Retrieved from

Smørdal, O., Slotta, J., Moher, T., Novellis, F., Gnoli, A., Lopez Silva, B., Lui, M., Jornet, A., Jahreie, C., & Krange, I. (2012).  Hybrid spaces for science learning: New demands and opportunities for research.  International Conference of the Learning Sciences. Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from

Subramaniam, M., Ahn, J., Fleischmann, K., & Druin, A. (2012). Reimagining the Role of School Libraries in STEM Education: Creating Hybrid Spaces for Exploration.  The Library Quarterly 82(2), 161-182. Retrieved from