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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
yard fort is strong and complete; a new level of a game has been reached; an arc built with wood blocks stands on its own. In such cases, separate “measures” of accomplishment might be inherently rejected by participants who may not understand how their experience in the activity can be tied to a school-like assessment task.
Despite the difficulties of assessing outcomes, researchers have managed to do important and valuable work. Many of their approaches rely on qualitative interpretations of evidence, in part because researchers are still in the stages of exploring features of the informal learning process rather than quantitatively testing hypotheses.2 Yet, as a body of work, assessment of learning in informal settings draws on the full breadth of educational and social scientific methods, using questionnaires, structured and semistructured interviews, focus groups, participant observation, journaling, think-aloud techniques, visual documentation, and video and audio recordings to gather data.
DEVELOPING APPROPRIATE ASSESSMENTS
A first step in developing assessments is identifying the anticipated learning goals. In order to identify appropriate goals it is also important to determine the audience. This determination can be complex. It is not sufficient to simply target a demographic group as the audience, such as teenagers or Latinos, in part because of the broad diversity within social or demographic groups and because of the risk of stereotyping. It is equally important to understand what knowledge, skills, and beliefs the target audience brings to the learning situation. For this reason, key stakeholders in the informal learning experience, including representatives from the institution or organization involved in designing it and members of the community it is meant to serve, should be brought into the planning process. In fact, defining outcomes and target audiences for informal science learning experiences can be the most challenging tasks in the assessment process because it requires a deep understanding about purpose and the various ways in which informal experiences may be connected to past and future learning experiences.
Once goals and audience have been identified, the means of measuring these goals need to be established. The development of assessments appropriate for science learning in informal environments should be guided by three criteria. First, the assessments must address the range of capabilities that the designers have in mind, including not only cognitive outcomes, but also attitudinal, behavioral, and social outcomes. The six strands introduced in Chapter 2 can guide a discussion