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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
Pedersen, and Norell (2001) studied and observed that a core group of deaf students rejected science. Two sets of interviews with deaf students were carried out to assess if there were differences between how deaf and hearing students reason about science. A survey from the National Evaluation of Compulsory Schools was used so that the results of the interviews with deaf students could be compared with the responses by hearing students that were previously reported. The first group interview, with three 15-year-old eighth grade students, was carried out to study how likely they were to use scientific concepts or models to answer the interview questions related to scientific phenomena. In the second set of interviews, seven 17-year-old tenth grade students were given the same questions and were also shown a scientific experiment described by one of the students in the first interviews to explain the process of recycling matter. Unlike other students, who, in the context of the interviews, freely mixed their personal experiences with scientific observations, a significant portion of deaf students did not. These students also made negative statements about their abilities in science. The researchers interpreted this as cultural resistance, speculating that students felt that joining a scientific culture would mean rejecting deaf culture. Similarly, in a study of deaf students, ages 7 to 17, about their understanding of cosmology, Roald and Oyvind (2001) observed that young deaf students performed as well as their hearing peers, whereas older deaf students did not.
Universal design for learning is a philosophy and educational practice based on a cultural conception of ability and learning that aims to create learning environments that are better for everyone. Tenets of universal design, according to the Center for Applied and Specialized Technologies (CAST), include representing information in multiple formats and media, providing multiple pathways to engage students’ action and expression, and providing multiple ways to engage students’ interest and motivation (Rose and Meyer, 2002). As a framework for research and development, universal design is in its infancy, but it may be a particularly useful framework for informal venues for science learning.
For example, Reich, Chin, and Kunz (2006) conducted a number of case studies on the accessibility of computer kiosks in a science museum. Her sample of 16 included learners ages 17 to 77 with a range of abilities and disabilities. She set out to understand the usefulness of three distinct interactive computer displays in the Museum of Science, Boston. Reich’s study validated certain design elements common to the three exhibits (e.g., button interface design), which were used successfully by all participants, as well as specific aspects of exhibit design that inhibited participation. Reich’s work also validated the idea that ability is situational. For example, she observed nondisabled computer users struggling with computer kiosks and a visually impaired noncomputer user who thrived in a computer environment.
In summary, this literature explores how adaptive technologies can ease access to science learning in informal environments. The general tenor of the