Musings on the 2017 NARST Conference

Last week I attended the conference of the National Association of Research in Science Teaching or NARST in San Antonio, Texas. This is an annual conference that brings together researchers in science education from around the world. I am always surprised at the international aspect of this conference. A person is just as likely to have a conversation with someone from Germany, China, or India, as someone from the United States. It is always a good mix of senior researchers who are giants in the field and graduate students that are finishing up their dissertation, presenting their work, and looking forward to the future. Just as remarkable is the collegial aspect of those in attendance at a NARST conference. This is a group of like-minded people who are interested in learning from one another. In my opinion everyone is there to revel in new ideas, share their current research, and be part of a group that drives the future of science education. A NARST conference is not only informative but it is also inspiring to be part of discussions around science educational research which ranges from K-12 to college in scope.

What is also interesting is the broad and varied topics that science educational researchers are interested in from year to year. The “usual suspects” that are always being talked about include conceptual understanding, learning progressions, model-based teaching, and integration of NGSS and STEM into the classroom. What was noticeably absent this time was the talk of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which two years ago at NARST had a much larger presence.

What was new this year at NARST? There was a lot more discussion of technology used to drive educational research, including the use of eye-tracking and facial recognition software. The application of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in the classroom was a significant part of this research conference and I suspect that its impact will only grow larger in the next few years. There was also a significant number of talks on the innovative idea of the Maker movement and Maker’s Spaces in the classroom. Of course, my interest lies in spatial ability and spatial learning in education and I was able to attend a half dozen talks on that topic as well.

Four days of a NARST conference on educational research is a lot to absorb and even more to unpack in such a short, condensed period of time. I am hoping over the next few months to blog about different aspects of some of the research I heard about at NARST and to reflect on its significance to the work I am doing within the AIMS Center.

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