Evaluation and Research Manager, Science Museum of Minnesota and Independent Evaluation Consultant
Amy Grack Nelson conducts evaluation and research on a wide range of informal science education (ISE) experiences, including kids’ science podcasts, science festivals, public participation in scientific research projects, and science museum exhibits and programs. She is also involved with a number of projects focused on the development and validation of shared tools to improve the capacity of the ISE field to evaluate common outcomes. Grack Nelson has a PhD in quantitative methods in education, with a concentration on evaluation; a master’s in evaluation studies, with a minor in museum studies; and a master’s of environmental education—all from the University of Minnesota.
I’m excited to talk to you about the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) and the support they offer evaluators of informal science education (ISE) experiences. CAISE is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded resource center for NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program. Through InformalScience.org, CAISE provides a wide range of resources valuable to the EvaluATE community.
Defining Informal Science Education
ISE is lifelong learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) that takes place across a multitude of designed settings and experiences outside of the formal classroom. The video below is a great introduction to the field.
Outcomes of ISE experiences have some similarities to those of formal education. However, ISE activities tend to focus less on content knowledge and more on other types of outcomes, such as interest, attitudes, engagement, skills, behavior, or identity. CAISE’s Evaluation and Measurement Task Force investigates the outcome areas of STEM identity, interest, and engagement to provide evaluators and experience designers with guidance on how to define and measure these outcomes. Check out the results of their work on the topic of STEM identity (results for interest and engagement are coming soon).
Resources You Can Use
InformalScience.org has a variety of resources that I think you’ll find useful for your evaluation practice.
In the section “Design Evaluation,” you can learn more about evaluation in the ISE field through professional organizations, journals, and projects researching ISE evaluation. The “Evaluation Tools and Instruments” page in this section lists sites with tools for measuring outcomes of ISE projects, and there is also a section about reporting and dissemination. I provide a walk-through of CAISE’s evaluation pages in this blog post: How to Use InformalScience.org for Evaluation.
If you are not affiliated with an academic institution, you can access peer-reviewed articles in some of your favorite academic journals by becoming a member InformalScienceorg. Click here to join; it’s free! Once you’re logged in, select “Discover Research” in the menu bar and scroll down to “Access Peer-Reviewed Literature (EBSCO).” Journals of interest include Science Education and Cultural Studies of Science Education. If you are already a member of InformalScience.org, you can immediately begin searching the EBSCO Education Source database.
My favorite part of InformalScience.org is the repository of evaluation reports—1,020 reports and growing—which is the largest collection of reports in the evaluation field. Evaluators can use this rich collection to inform their practice and learn about a wide variety of designs, methods, and measures used in evaluating ISE projects. Even if you don’t evaluate ISE experiences, I encourage you to take a minute to search the reports and see what you can find. And if you conduct ISE evaluations, consider sharing your own reports on InformalScience.org.
Do you have any questions about CAISE or InformalScience.org? Contact Melissa Ballard, communications and community manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.