What Are The Important Gaps in Informal STEM Education Research?

Scores of studies of learning in ISE have been published in peer-reviewed journals. An even greater number of studies conducted in classroom settings have advanced theory in ways that can inform ISE practice.There are an even greater number of studies conducted in classroom settings that have advanced theory in ways that can inform ISE practice. For example, studies of how to support “science talk” in classrooms can guide practices in afterschool, field trips, and on-line networks. Furthermore, research on how science talk is supported in ISE settings could potentially advance theory that could, in turn, support practices in classrooms as well as ISE. Summaries of some of these studies can be found here and many of the original articles can be accessed through EBSCO.

Understanding the gaps in the research literature – the ways in which your ISE programs could contribute to knowledge for the field – requires familiarity with the research literature. Partnerships (see How can I integrate more research in my practice?) with researchers can help to identify the gaps relevant to your work. Some of the more pressing and significant domains of research currently being developed in ISE research include:

Actual research questions generally tend to be narrow. For example, within the domain of broadening participation, designers of a science festival program may want to test particular theories of learner engagement involving culturally relevant pedagogy. Producers of a radio program may want to explore how the addition of online components can deepen learner involvement with a given subject matter.

ISE Research Agendas

Several professional associations and projects have mapped out what they see as key issues for their fields. These research agendas, which may be periodically updated, can be found here.

Gaps in Science Communication Research

The 2017 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine consensus study report Communication Science Effectively: A Research Agenda includes an Additional Questions for Research section and is accessible for pdf download at no cost. 

A 2017 article in the Journal of Science Communication, Science Communication as a field of research: identifying trends, challenges and gaps by analysing research papers is a literature review that identifies gaps and includes recommendations for diversity in the field. 

Key issues identified in these publications include: identifying key content relevant to audience’s needs; learning more about connection of attitudes about science and behaviors (around sustainability, health, political action; connecting science communication to issues of diversity and equity; necessary competencies for science communicators.