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Linking theory and practice through student research in informal learning environments

Anne Land-Zandstra  

In informal science education, as in any field, linking research to practice is a challenging endeavor. On the one hand, site-based evaluation reports often don't make it to the peer-reviewed journals, while on the other hand, many practitioners find it difficult to incorporate peer-reviewed research findings in their everyday practice. One way to bridge this gap between research and practice may be the joint supervision of student research and/or development projects by practitioners and university supervisors. Student projects are often site-based and evolve from practitioner questions. At the same time, students' academic training ensures the theoretical background of their projects. In this way, students' site-based research and development resembles action research projects by pre-service teachers in the formal education system. Such educational action research projects comprise any systematic inquiry conducted in the teaching and learning environment and encourage reflective practice of teachers. Teachers find action research findings relevant, persuasive and accessible, which contrasts many of the barriers they encounter with educational research in general. The goal of the current study is to investigate benefits and barriers of student research and development in informal science environments for practitioners as well as students. Online questionnaires will be distributed in the fall of 2015 among Dutch informal science practitioners and students who have conducted research and development at those institutions. A mix of open and closed questions will address their experiences, learning impacts, benefits and barriers. Data will be analyzed quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Based on the outcomes of this study (a.o. the perceived benefits by practitioners and students), suggestions will be given on how to benefit most from student research and development in informal science environments so that the exchange between theory and practice may be facilitated and improved.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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