Building an Evidence-Based ISL Professional Framework

A professional framework for the field of informal STEM learning (ISL) is under development through a collaborative NSF project among ASTC, Oregon State University’s Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning, Pacific Science Center, University of Washington Museology Department, and the Lifelong Learning Group of COSI Columbus. The ISL “Framework” project addresses two current and pressing issues:

  1. Ensuring that professionals working in science center-type settings have the necessary knowledge and skills to apply the substantial and growing evidence base in ISL, and
  2. Understanding and supporting the needs of the full range of ISL professionals during their basic education and at particular points throughout their careers.

What is a professional framework?
A framework is a comprehensive collection of resources supporting the development of professionals in a specific field as they continue to develop throughout their careers.

Why is it needed?
This framework will be useful to ISL practitioners at any stage of their education or career as it lays out the skills, knowledge, and characteristics needed to guide their professional growth.

How is it created?
The Framework is being developed through empirical analyses of actual practices of current staff at science centers and museums across the U.S. That is, the project team has planned a series of workshops, surveys, and interviews that are designed to derive information from practitioners about how they do their work, and about what their professional needs are at different career stages.

DACUM workshops

Initial information for the Framework research is derived using a facilitated workshop format called a DACUM (short for Developing a CurriculUM). DACUMs are intensive two-day workshops that extract information about jobs, duties, and work-related knowledge from practitioners. Through a facilitated storyboarding process, DACUM participants generate precise descriptions of their jobs, as well as the necessary knowledge, skills, and traits to do that job.

The Framework project held three DACUM workshops at science centers in different parts of the United States in March and April 2016. Each workshop engaged 12 practitioners at the same career stage (initial, middle, or mature), regardless of job title or type. Participants were invited from invited from small, medium, and large science centers in the area around each host site.

Verifying the DACUM results

DACUM results will be compiled and distributed to staff at ASTC-member institutions for review and verification in a survey, which will then inform the final, web-based framework design and content. A subsequent round of targeted interviews with ISL professionals will also help to inform a draft version of the Framework.

Who benefits?
While the immediate beneficiaries of the project will be ISL professionals, the ultimate beneficiaries of the work will be the children, youth, teachers, and general public that engage with STEM experiences designed and implemented by a skilled and knowledgeable ISL professional workforce.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants 1514815, 1514884, 1514890, and 1515315. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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