Recap of the 2019 NSF AISL Principal Investigator Meeting

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March 20th, 2019

The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) had the pleasure of hosting the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) Principal Investigator (PI) meeting on February 11-13, 2019, in Alexandria, Virginia. A community of 275 PIs, co-PIs, and other project leaders came together to share their work, discuss relevant opportunities and common challenges, and learn about NSF priorities and future directions for research and funding.

Attendees represented more than 200 NSF AISL projects that are taking place in a wide variety of settings and learning environments. Watch a highlight reel of the meeting below (or on YouTube), and view the meeting program.

Reflections on Identity and Social Inequality

Participants were inspired by a talk by keynote speaker Dr. Na’ilah Nasir on Cultivating Learning Identities in the Context of Social Inequality. Her remarks set the tone for thinking and discussion throughout the meeting about the roles of identity, interest, and engagement in learning and communication, as well as the importance of out of school time in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. Dr. Nasir is the president of the Spencer Foundation, a Chicago-based foundation supporting education research. View her full talk below, or watch it on YouTube.

Breakout Sessions on Key Issues

As with past PI meetings, CAISE invited participating AISL PIs to organize and lead concurrent sessions on issues, opportunities, and challenges that arise in the process of designing, researching, and evaluating informal STEM learning and science communication experiences, across various settings and approaches. These sessions included 16 discussions on topics ranging from what equitable and asset-based models of STEM engagement look like to what diverse audiences are teaching us about particular strategies, technologies, and platforms for addressing their learning interests and needs. PIs from the Science Learning+ program, which is funded through a partnership between NSF, the Wellcome Trust, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council, also joined the meeting, providing an international perspective on citizen science, embodied learning, and science capital, among other topics. CAISE has compiled session summaries and shared resources in the slides below.

Throughout the meeting, other unprogrammed topics surfaced among participants, and as in past years, CAISE planned for “open space” sessions to end the event on a forward-looking note. We held 11 discussions led by AISL PIs who nominated ideas and subjects that arose during the course of the meeting or are top of mind in their current work.

The Project Showcase

CAISE experimented with an alternative to a traditional poster session at this PI meeting. Instead, we conducted a “project showcase” that began with small group discussions. Attendees were assigned to an “affinity group” of projects that were related in terms of audience, setting, or subject matter. They started the showcase by sharing their research questions and project designs with each other before rotating through all of the posters and projects. Given the wide variety of learning environments in which AISL-funded activities are being conducted, the opportunity to interact with colleagues who are working in similar areas was valuable in stimulating a nuanced level of discussion among these projects.

Grant Management and NSF Opportunities

NSF’s Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) provided an informative session on award management. Although DGA’s presentation was not recorded, you can view an October 2018 webinar about preparing effective budgets and budget justifications. It contains similar information to the PI meeting presentation and includes a set of audio-enhanced slides that provides additional context and reminders.

NSF Program Directors presented a lightning round of current and upcoming funding opportunities within the NSF AISL program, the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL), the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), and beyond. Download the slides on NSF opportunities.

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Important New Publications for the Field

A panel of evaluators led by CAISE co-PI Cecilia Garibay, which previewed key ideas from a special issue of the American Evaluation Association’s journal, New Directions for Evaluation, focused on evaluation of Informal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education.

A flash panel of other ISE-relevant reports discussed Learning Through Citizen Science from the National Academies Press, Encountering Science in America from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Public Face of Science initiative, and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) plan for U.S. STEM education as detailed in America’s Strategy for STEM Education.

CAISE Resources Shared

CAISE launched two sets of new resources at the PI meeting, and used them as tools to seed table discussions between mixed groups of attendees which included evaluators and researchers and practitioners from Informal STEM Education (ISE) and Science Communication. These included a set of practice briefs designed to foster reflective professional learning conversations about particular topics relevant to equity and inclusion in ISE—including What is Considered “STEM” and Why?, What Are the Cultural Norms of STEM and Why Do They Matter? and What Does Learning Have to Do with Science Communication?

We also shared new resources intended to help define and measure the ever-evolving concepts of identity, interest, and engagement in STEM. Attendees examined and discussed real tools that measure identity from the Activation Lab, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s DEVISE project (Developing, Validating, and Implementing Situated Evaluation Instruments), Adam Maltese’s project, “Role Models in Elementary Engineering Education,” and Scott Pattison’s project, “Head Start on Engineering.”

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Extending Professional Learning

The timing of this AISL PI meeting was planned to coincide with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting, which took place in Washington D.C. from February 14-18. With the meeting theme of “Transcending Boundaries,” and a Communicating Science Seminar that was expanded to include breakout sessions relevant for attendees who design, research and evaluate STEM engagement and learning experiences and settings, the AAAS meeting provided an opportunity for AISL PIs and project leaders to enrich their professional learning and network with a broader audience. Twenty five PI meeting participants stayed for all or part of AAAS, including AISL PI Karen Rader, who gave the annual Sarton history and philosophy of science lecture entitled Science for Grown-Ups: Assessing Past and Present Adult Informal Science Education.

What’s Next

Going forward, CAISE will share additional outcomes from the PI meeting as they become available and will continue to work with AISL projects to disseminate their products, findings, and progress through blogs, webinars, and social media. To receive updates, sign up for the CAISE monthly newsletter.

CAISE is supported by NSF under awards DRL-1612739 and DRL-1842633. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog or in meeting materials are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of NSF.

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