Building Equity in Informal Science Learning Research

What kind of infrastructure do we need to help researchers, practitioners, and community-based organizations better connect with each other?

by Knology
Feb 28, 2024

Knology has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to host a conference dedicated to supporting more equitable participation in informal STEM learning (ISL) research. The two-day virtual conference – known as Research Infrastructure for Informal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (RIISE) – will bring together 25 stakeholders with expertise in STEM learning research, community-based work, education, and product development. Over 100 additional professionals will also contribute by sharing their insights on the following question:

What building blocks are needed in research infrastructure to advance the equity aims of informal STEM learning researchers, practitioners, and community-based organizations?

Members of the above groups continually seek ways to work with one another, but our existing systems for producing research make it hard for them to do this. Lacking the right mechanisms for connecting people with aligned interests, these systems all too often function like an echo chamber, succeeding only in reproducing the voices of already-invested groups. They prevent ISL researchers and practitioners from doing the good they want to do – namely, designing ISL experiences that engage broader audiences by involving more people in the research process. They also prevent community organizations from joining forces with researchers and practitioners who share their interests, and with whom they could launch collaborative studies to both advance their practices and produce generalizable knowledge for the benefit of ISL.

If our goal is to promote forms of ISL that truly speak to and meet community needs, then we need infrastructure that opens spaces of conversation and exchange between researchers, practitioners, and community organizations, making room for historically marginalized communities to become partners in shaping the future direction of ISL.

The RIISE conference will lay out one potential path for inclusive informal STEM learning through more equitable research. Conference participants will discuss the possibilities and limits of existing ISL research, as well as the tools currently available for making this research more equitable. Along the way, they will identify the key components of a research infrastructure built on the principles of equity, participation, and community engagement. This could include initial specifications for a network of ISL professionals and community members, and a library of professional development resources and community-appropriate data collection materials and protocols.

During the conference, we will ask participants to imagine ways to scale existing methods of equitable ISL research that meet people where they are (for example, in libraries, afterschool centers, and even laundromats) and simultaneously benefit community members, researchers, and ISL organizations. We will also ask them to imagine ways that new infrastructure could enable more community members to learn from and inform the direction of ISL research.

If you’d like to join us in this effort, or would like to learn more about the RIISE conference, please reach out! We’re looking to connect with anyone interested in becoming part of the project. Together we can work to build the kinds of systems needed to advance equity-focused ISL research!

About this Project

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation's ECR-EDU Core Research program (award number 2335009). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Photo by Abraham Barrera @ Unsplash

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