Can we enhance STEM outcomes though partnerships in informal learning contexts? A case study on a research collaboration between educational researchers and museum educators.

Year: 2018

Author: Durksen, Tracy, Martin, Andrew, Mansour, Marianne, Ginns, Paul, Derek, Williamson

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Given the downward trend in Australian students’ interest and achievement in science, research on what can inspire and sustain students as well as their teachers in STEM is necessary. Based on our educational psychology research conducted in a university-based medical science museum, this presentation explores informal learning contexts as one inspirational and sustainable option. In the form of a case study, we outline how a museum partnership with educational researchers can illuminate key educational issues and enhance students’ academic outcomes in science education. Specifically, we aim to encourage an inductive approach to creating integrative learning opportunities for students and their teachers where formal and informal contexts interact through reciprocal influences from interdisciplinary perspectives. By drawing on two of our research publications that provide methodological, theoretical, and reflective background, we present ways of enhancing academic outcomes through sustainable partnerships that focus on informal learning opportunities. We provide examples of how different research questions can be answered and the practical implications that can result from a museum-based educational psychology research program through: 1) a study of the role a museum-based science education program plays on promoting young visitors’ science knowledge and motivation, and 2) a proposed framework for partnerships between educational researchers and museum educators. With this collective analysis of our experiences, we highlight how the link between educational research and informal learning contexts is necessary and has implications for building students’ cultural capital and teachers’ professional capital. In addition to the museum’s structured workshops and exhibitions on various biological issues, with STEM syllabus-linked activities for secondary students, they also offer programs for teachers that align with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and related curriculum. As such, we build on our experiences with the museum’s school-aged programs and examine our partnership that now includes a study of teachers’ museum learning. This extension is essential since teachers’ professional development has the potential to influence (and be influenced by) their motivational beliefs and practices, which in turn influence student engagement and learning. Given that relevant professional development opportunities can help inspire and sustain teachers, efforts to evaluate or improve such opportunities are critical if we wish to retain quality STEM teachers. Therefore, our presentation will conclude with emerging results from our current investigation into how we can use informal learning environments to help develop STEM teachers’ ability to optimise students’ academic achievement and career aspirations.