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About the NSF AISL Program

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The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning opportunities for the public in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments. The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) is an NSF-funded resource center which supports the AISL program. CAISE works in partnership with NSF Program Directors to plan resources that can help teams develop their proposals.

Key NSF Documents

NSF has several prescriptive documents that should inform your proposal development, preparation, and submission.

  1. The Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide or PAPPG (NSF 22-1) is the essential document for understanding how to prepare and submit proposals to NSF, as well as how NSF makes awards, and administers and monitors grants. Proposals must be submitted through Research.gov or Grants.gov platforms. 
  2. Prospective New Awardee Guide - There are significant administrative and financial accountability requirements associated with federal grant awards and it is your responsibility as a prospective awardee to understand them. Read this guide in its entirety, as missing, incomplete, or inadequate information may result in your proposal being declined!
  3. Data Management for NSF EHR Directorate Proposals and Awards - All NSF proposals must include a “Data Management Plan,” which is a supplementary document that describe how your project will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results. While some guidance on Data Management Plans is included in the PAPPG, this document provides additional guidance specific to the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate. 
  4. Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development - The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and NSF co-developed the Common Guidelines to clarify the different types of education and learning research and to provide guidance about the purpose, justification, design features, and expected outcomes from these various types. Also, be sure to review the 2018 Companion Guidelines on Replication and Reproducibility in Education Research, which focuses on the importance of replication and reproducibility of research and provides guidance on steps researchers can take to promote corroboration and build the evidence base.
  5. NSF Merit Review Website - NSF’s merit review process is intended to ensure that submitted proposals are reviewed in a fair, competitive, transparent, and in-depth manner. While the process is described in the PAPPG, this website offers a deeper dive and an interactive, graphical representation of the timeline. This animated video illustrates the process. You can also watch this video to get a sense of what really happens during a review panel. A new Merit Review Process Digest was released in Fiscal Year 2018. 
  6. Perspectives on Broader Impacts - All proposals to NSF must address two criteria—intellectual merit, or the potential to advance knowledge, and broader impacts, the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes. While NSF is not prescriptive about what qualifies as “broader impacts,” it did host a 2014 summit to bring together NSF staff, university leaders, and current Principal Investigators to share definitions and examples of broader impacts activities. This report outlines those diverse perspectives.

Want to Be An AISL Reviewer?

AISL is currently (and always) looking for proposal reviewers. These presentation slides help you understand what to expect. In addition, this website provides a detailed description of the merit review process. Understanding this process is central to conducting proposal reviews.  If you are interested in serving as a reviewer for the AISL program, email a resume or CV, as well as a paragraph about your expertise to DRLAISL@nsf.gov. AISL asks for a paragraph about your expertise because sometimes a resume and CV doesn’t necessarily highlight your full experience. Please include your experience with informal STEM contexts and topics, age groups and communities/audiences/professionals, theories and methods in terms of practice and/or research. If you are a PI or co-PI on a Jan. 18, 2022 AISL submission, or had any direct and substantial involvement in a proposal, you have a conflict of interest and are not eligible to review this round.

Other NSF Resource Centers

CAISE’s efforts complement those of other NSF resource centers that serve the larger professional STEM education ecosystem. Each center has tailored resources and tools that can be used to design, implement, evaluate, research, and disseminate the work of STEM education experiences and settings. The centers include:

  1. CADRE (Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education), which supports the Discovery Research K–12 (DRK–12) program (cadrek12.org)
  2. The recently sunsetted CIRCL (Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning), which supported the Cyberlearning program (circlcenter.org)
  3. CIRCLS (Center for Integrative Research in Computing and Learning Sciences), which supports the Research on Emerging Technologies for Teaching and Learning (RETTL) program (circls.org)
  4. CS for All Teachers (Computer Science for All Teachers), is a virtual community of practice that welcomes all teachers of PreK through high school who are interested in teaching computer science (csforallteachers.org)
  5. EvaluATE, which supports NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program (evalu-ate.org)
  6. STELAR (STEM Learning and Research Center), which supports the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program (stelar.edc.org)
  7. MSPnet (Math and Science Partnership Network), which supports the Math Science Partnership and STEM+C programs (hub.mspnet.org)
  8. The recently sunsetted ARC (Center for Advancing Research and Communication), which served the Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE) program (arc.uchicago.edu)

NSF's Response to COVID-19

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has created a covid-19 information page: Information from NSF on coronavirus. This page is updated frequently and includes links to the latest guidance on upcoming program deadlines, as well as budget and logistics questions pertaining to existing awards that may be affected in various ways. It is a good starting place for help in answering questions about disruptions to NSF-funded work.

NSF released additional information for the broader grantee community regarding adjustments that may be needed due to covid-19. See this guidance on NSF's implementation of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum (M-20-17), entitled, Administrative Relief for Recipients and Applicants of Federal Financial Assistance Directly Impacted by the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) due to Loss of Operations. Grantees are requested to review these documents, and bring any additional questions or concerns to their cognizant program officer. NSF encourages the research community to respond to this challenge through existing funding opportunities.