Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Erin M. Furtak

Second Advisor

Joseph L. Polman

Third Advisor

Susan Jurow

Fourth Advisor

Patrick Kociolek

Fifth Advisor

Bronwyn Bevan

Abstract

Informal STEM educators, teaching in out-of-school environments, have few opportunities for professional development. These educators often have widely varied professional backgrounds and areas of expertise, which can lead to rich opportunities for learning with and from other informal STEM educators in the context of professional learning communities. In this dissertation, I draw on the concept of boundary crossings as a framework to understand how summer STEM camp instructors share experiences from their other personal and professional communities as they work together in a series of bi-weekly online professional development meetings designed to support them in enacting high quality informal STEM teaching practices. Drawing on a design-based research approach and using qualitative analytic methods, I share the results of this study through cross-case analyses of individuals’ participation embedded within a single critical case of the professional learning community.

Findings indicate that online professional development meetings with activities designed to engage participants in discussion and reflection around common and emergent problems of teaching practice do serve as sites for learning. Analysis of the data focused first on identification of instructors’ shared prior or concurrent experiences as evidence of potential boundary crossing activity, and then on the potential of those boundary crossing episodes to serve as sites of learning through sociocultural differences that lead to change in participation or practices. Instructors in this project shared prior or concurrent experiences based on teaching experiences more than from other professional communities. Professional development activities based on emergent problems of practice resulted in boundary crossing episodes that informed instructors’ teaching practices more so than activities focused on more abstract teaching concepts.

Implications for these results support the expansion of online, longer-term, facilitated professional development opportunities as a way of supporting year-round and seasonal informal STEM educators in the development of high-quality teaching practices. These findings also imply that the purposive formation of professional learning communities of instructors with varied professional backgrounds can provide rich resources for development of informal teaching practices and the design of informal learning environments that build on young peoples’ interests.

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