The Department of Education of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, with broad participatory support from free-standing, university-based and regional natural history museums across the nation will conduct a 3-day national conference on informal science learning in natural history settings. The goal of this conference will be to develop and disseminate a sustained, collaborative learning research agenda that begins to address the role of natural history museums in natural history learning and establish an infrastructure for communication and collaboration to pursue the research agenda. The conference builds on recent meetings among museums and informal learning professionals to this topic. Executive and Leadership Committees will implement a scaffolded project design involving a sweep of evaluation reports and audience research from the field, a foundational literature review, Committee workshops to review the field, conference planning and call for participation, and pre-conference dialogue through professional organizations and activities. The conference, to be held in Washington, DC in Spring-Summer 2012, will be followed by broad post-conference dissemination of findings and a call to action around the conference-generated research agenda. The conference will be evaluated by Oberg Research, an external audience research and evaluation firm. Oberg will develop an evaluation process that measures the quality, relevance, and impact of pre-conference, conference, and post-conference activities using an ethnographic fieldwork methodology involving in-depth interviews and participant observation of conference activities. The intended outcomes and impacts of this national conference are to develop, initiate, and disseminate a collaborative and sustained learning research agenda about how the 800 natural history museums in the United States can best use their resources for STEM learning. Among the topics to be considered by the Conference are new models for interaction among educators, curators, collection managers, exhibit professionals and museum leadership; audience research to more fully understand audiences and their needs; new technologies for discovery and learning regarding rapid response and current science; public participation in scientific research (citizen science); and collaboration in learning research across the Natural History field.
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