In my previous post, I shared research scientist Bronwyn Bevan’s piece on ecological perspectives and learning ecosystems in STEM education. Bevan provides four considerations that can help those involved in learning ecosystems confront existing norms and rethink dominant practices. These considerations seek to disrupt traditional methods and can help us think more critically about the ways we might expand learning opportunities across environments and groups.
1. We need to support a robust, diverse, and redundant STEM learning ecosystem.
Bevan expands on this first consideration by describing the need for multiple learning opportunities across contexts and ages. Regarding redundancy, she points to the fact that learning is not linear, and that many times people will return to particular interests after a brief departure. Understanding the nature of these opportunities involves a closer look at what exists, where it exists, and for whom it exists.
2. We need to make connections, and broker connections, within the STEM learning ecosystem.
Making connections, developing partnerships, and accessing social and cultural resources strengthen the ecosystem approach. Rather than seeing opportunities as existing in isolation, relationships can be brokered in ways that further participation. For example, Bevan suggests a connection between museums, after-school programs, and schools.
3. We need to design experiences in our organizations that recognize and build on the prior experiences, interests, and cultural repertoires of our audiences.
Bevan is clear that many of our practices and opportunities have been designed for dominant communities, and changing that reality takes effort. She advocates for a culturally responsive approach in which the resources that participants bring “are the very means (not the obstacles) for productive participation.”
4. Equity-oriented programmes need to position science, not as an end unto itself but rather as a means towards meaningful futures.
This consideration draws on humanizing pedagogies and critical consciousness to position STEM education as a socially-just endeavor. When participants recognize that learning opportunities can better position them to challenge injustices in their communities or address health and safety issues, they are more likely to experience purposeful and meaningful participation.
As we look critically at the histories of learning ecosystems, we will be better prepared to confront patterns of inequity and embrace a more connected, humanizing future.