Connecting Research and Practice in Informal STEM Education

October 6th, 2015

Connected expertise and collaboration of researchers and practitioners is an important dimension of many strong informal STEM education (ISE) projects. The following post contains a roundup of research and practice resources curated to inform the process of project and proposal development.

Previously Funded Research Practice Partnerships

The National Science Foundation has funded a number of projects that provide a variety of models for developing partnerships between learning researchers and ISE practitioners.

Get City is one example of such a collaboration. Learning researchers at the University of Michigan forged a partnership with the Lansing Boys and Girls Club in order to create out-of-school time experiences for diverse youth. The program focused on IT skills and green energy content Within the program, researchers investigated youth identity development in STEM and published findings.

The Lupe’s Story project was a collaboration between the Children’s Discovery Museum and the University of California, Santa Cruz. The project created the Mammoth Discovery! paleontology exhibit, which incorporated research on how children learn about the scientific process, particularly using evidence to develop argumentation.

The Gigapixel Cyberinfrastructure for Participatory Science Learning project was the result of a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE), the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Melon University. The project created an imaging device and online infrastructure for zoomable images while conducting research about how that technology can be used within three different models of participatory learning activities: Public Understanding of Science, Public Participation in Scientific Research, and Public Engagement in Science.

Resources for Thinking About Research and Practice

Relating Research to Practice

The project Relating Research to Practice: A Web Resource for ISE Professionals was funded in 2012 by the NSF Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program to create web-based summaries of peer-reviewed articles. These briefs are developed by collaborators from the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) at the Exploratorium, the Afterschool Alliance, the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center at the University of Washington, and King’s College London. The research briefs are geared toward a practitioner audience, and the project team has integrated the briefs into professional development webinars through a partnership with the AfterSchool Alliance. The research briefs are currently available in the repository and on the Relating Research to Practice website.

Research+Practice Collaboratory

The Research+Practice Collaboratory is an online resource center funded by the NSF Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. The Collaboratory provides tools and workshops to support new and ongoing research-practice partnerships. The Collaboratory recently produced the synthesis paper Enriching and Expanding the Possibilities: Research-Practice Partnerships in Informal Science. The synthesis provides a brief overview of research-practice partnerships, and establishes three cultural models of what they can look like: (1) research alliances, (2) design-based research partnerships, and (3) networked improvement communities. Interested in collaborating with other educators & researchers? Want to learn how to form an equitable partnership? The Collaboratory is hosting a new webinar series exploring these topics and more. Join Bill Penuel (CU-Boulder School of Education) and leaders of research-practice partnerships from around the country in discussing the opportunities and challenges of long-term collaborations between educators & researchers. Webinars will stream live from Google+ Hangouts on Air every third Thursday at 5-6pm ET, starting Thursday, October 15. Mark your calendars and sign up for an email reminder. To learn more about these and other resources, visit the Research+Practice Collaboratory website at

CAISE Resources

The Bridging the Research-Practice Gap Forum was recently held on in anticipation of the upcoming Science Learning Plus (SL+) phase two solicitation. Forum participants shared insights and resources geared toward building strong collaborations. Although the forum itself has ended, the conversations in the archive can help identify potential synergies and inform thinking about future research-practice collaborations. Many sectors within the informal learning community have developed Research Agendas to help integrate social science research into the process of designing informal learning experiences and settings. Some of these include:

  • Learning in Natural History Settings
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
  • National Art Education Association
  • Learning Value of Children’s Museums
  • Giant Screen Cinema
  • Making as Learning
  • CAISE Practice & Research Roadmap

A recent session at the 2015 Visitors Studies Association conference further explored the topic of integrating research agendas into practice. How has your work approached connecting and integrating research and practice? Share your experiences by leaving a comment or Submitting a Perspective.

Photo: DSC_0785 CC BY 2.0