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date: 01 October 2022

Facilitation in Informal STEM Education as a Complex Practicelocked

Facilitation in Informal STEM Education as a Complex Practicelocked

  • Stephanie HladikStephanie HladikDepartment of Information Science, University of Colorado Boulder


Museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, after-school clubs, summer camps, community workshops, and other informal education spaces are becoming the sites of new teaching and learning for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In all of these settings, facilitators (alternatively known as docents, explainers, educators, volunteers, or leaders) are key individuals who create learning opportunities with visitors of all ages and interests. They provide demonstrations of STEM concepts, lead tours and school groups, design activities, and support learners in making and tinkering activities—and this work is inherently complex and is intertwined with strands of pedagogy, role negotiation and identity, and labor. Educational approaches of constructivism and constructionism are clear in facilitators’ commitments to creating opportunities for learners to connect their own personal knowledge and experiences with STEM and to build new things from a variety of analog and digital technologies that can be displayed and shared with others. These pedagogical interactions are also social interactions, and facilitators work to invite learners into activities, guide and encourage them, and introduce new STEM content learning goals, even as they negotiate tensions involved in balancing these learning goals with interactional power dynamics and individual learner interests. Additionally, traditional tensions arising from the perceived binary of child-centered and adult-centered pedagogies are being challenged by research that highlights the ways in which intergenerational and equitable teaching and learning can take place as joint activity between adult facilitators and youth in informal STEM settings. Rather than trying to classify facilitation practices as child-centered or adult-centered, we should attend to the when and how of facilitation practices, which highlights their complexity and has implications for how to design and facilitate equitable informal STEM learning opportunities. Finally, the complexity of informal STEM facilitation is made visible when educational researchers consider the impact of institutional constraints on pedagogy and labor, factors that are often invisible or missing in observational studies of facilitator practices. Facilitators also adapt and improvise around these constraints to perform the behind-the-scenes labor of infrastructuring—the emergent, ongoing creation of support systems involving people, objects, and practices that are necessary for the success of new educational innovations. Future directions for research in informal STEM facilitation include greater attention to settings other than science museums, further research into informal computing and mathematics facilitation, and an explicit focus on equity in informal STEM facilitation.


  • Alternative and Non-formal Education 

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