Very little is known about the experiences of people with learning disabilities in informal learning environments such as science centers and museums. This project will describe the ways in which engagement and intrinsic motivation for learning are and are not supported for visitors with learning disabilities, and build capacity for informal STEM education practitioners to apply this learning for the benefit of those with learning disabilities as well as any visitor who needs more support in the context of self-directed learning. Broadening participation science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a core goal of the National Science Foundation and its Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. This project pursues this goal with a focus on young people with learning disabilities. As the largest group of individuals with disabilities in the United States, people with learning disabilities make up an estimated 20% of the U.S. population. Science professions offer many life- and work-related opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities, and the flexible experiences of informal learning spaces offer important opportunities to promote participation, engagement in and motivation for science. This work represents the next generation of accessible design to broaden participation in, and impacts of, informal STEM learning opportunities. This project will generate guidelines and resources to support inclusive design for this group of visitors. Resources will include a Toolkit of Visual Assets that can be shared digitally and in print with youth with learning disabilities, informal STEM practitioners, and the learning disability research and practice community.
The project will develop empirical knowledge to support informal STEM practitioners to better facilitate the inclusion of youth with learning disabilities. Using the lens of Self-Determination Theory as an explanatory framework, this research will be pursued in three phases. Self-Determination Theory describes the psychological needs that must be met, such as autonomy and feelings of efficacy, to create an environment that supports individuals' engagement in self-motivated behaviors. Phase 1 will be an exploratory study describing the engagement and motivation of adolescents (ages 10-17) with learning disabilities when experiencing varied STEM exhibits. This first phase will adapt validated scales, employ an existing observation protocol, and conduct stimulated recall interviews with youth. Phase 2 will explore, develop and investigate design strategies to improve the intrinsic motivation of youth with learning disabilities at educational STEM exhibits. This second phase will involve a set of experimental studies in which design strategies related to intrinsic motivation are manipulated to inform principles of inclusive design for visitors with learning disabilities. As in the previous phase, Phase 2 will adapt validated scales and employ an existing observation protocol. Phase 3 will focus on design charrettes in which researchers and practitioners work with high school students with learning disabilities in a co-design process. The charrettes will generate guidelines and case examples of exhibit components using Universal Design for Learning to balance varying design priorities and effectively, inclusively design exhibits for this population. This third phase will rely on qualitative coding of co-design charette artifacts, field notes and researcher reflections; member checking will play an important role in the coding process. Dissemination efforts for this project will target youth with learning disabilities, informal STEM education practitioners, and the broader field of learning disability researchers and practitioners. In addition to the exhibit design guidelines and Toolkit described above, the project will publish peer reviewed articles and develop manuscripts aimed at educational research and practice.
This Research in Service to Practice project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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