The National Girls Collaborative Project and Education Development Center are convening “Advancing the Conversation on Scaling National Informal STEM Programs,” a two-and-a-half day knowledge-building conference that brings together key stakeholders in informal STEM education (ISE) to examine what scale looks like across informal learning settings. Currently, there is not a common definition or set of dimensions related to what it means to scale programs in informal learning settings. Approaches to scale in ISE too often center on the perspectives and needs of people who are developing and spreading programs while less consideration is given to the realities of those responsible for operationalizing programs in hyper-local contexts. This conference approaches the question of scale from the perspective of the program implementers, who are the beneficiaries of capacity building and serve as facilitators of these scaled programs. The conference also gives voice to program developers, researchers, evaluators, and funders of national informal STEM programs who study and support scale in education. The aim of the conference is to develop a new framework for scale in ISE that centers partnership and capacity building of informal educators. Such an approach to scale addresses issues of local access and diversity, equity, and inclusion, and promotes sustainability of ISE in high-need communities.
Conference discussions challenge three common misperceptions of scale across ISE: (1) simple spread and replication of turnkey programs lead to effective scale in ISE; (2) definitions of scale derived from formal learning settings should be used to scale across ISE; and (3) scale across ISE should be defined by program developers and those that seek to study it. Participants with a wide range of perspectives and who represent a diversity of organizational types will attend the conference and work together to articulate scaling success factors, barriers, diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, and intended outcomes, distilling themes, questions, and concerns about current approaches to evaluating and researching scale in ISE. Together, conference participants will co-create a framework for scale in ISE which will define new and expanded dimensions of scale that center on capacity building and diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as a Program Developer’s Guide for scaling ISE programs through the lens of the framework. These products will increase the knowledge and capacity of informal learning organizations involved in nationally scaled initiatives, STEM-rich institutions wanting to scale their own locally developed programs, informal STEM researchers and evaluators, and the broader field of ISE including program funders. Conference findings will be broadly disseminated through publications, conferences, and a national webinar co-hosted by the National Girls Collaborative Project and Education Development Center.
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