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VSA Week: Ellenbogen on Evaluating Identity Development in Informal Learning Environments

My name is Kirsten Ellenbogen. I’m Director of Research & Evaluation at the Science Museum of Minnesota and President of the Visitor Studies Association.  I hope you’re enjoying VSA Week on AEA365.

Rad Resource: Development of individual identity has for some time been considered an outcome of informal learning environment experiences. But identity has recently become more central in the field with the 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS): “Learning Science in Informal Environments.” The report identifies and provides evidence for six “strands of learning” that occur in informal learning environments. What’s so rad about this? NAS reports are based on systematic reviews of literature that use strict criteria for what counts as good evidence. This report is unique in the strength and systematic nature of the evidence for learning in informal environments that it provides. You can read (and search) the entire book online or purchase a copy:  http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12190

Cool Trick: Two evaluation approaches that are particularly useful for gathering data about identity development in informal learning environments are embedded evaluation and reflective interviews. Embedded evaluation integrates “invisible” tools for evaluation into the existing program activities. For example, in a youth program that has a focus on interactive media, the projects produced by youth are posted to online environment. http://info.scratch.mit.edu/ScratchR:_The_Online_Community The projects can be downloaded by others, modified, and reported. All activity in the online community can be tracked, and the ongoing development of the youth’s projects can be analyzed for more detail.

Cool Trick: Another evaluation approach useful for gathering data on identity development in informal learning environments is video-based reflective interviews. For example, videotaping a museum visitor using an exhibition (using IRB-approved informed consent as appropriate). In the post interview, after the initial set of questions, show the visitor a video segment of his or her interactions with the exhibition that was taped just moments before. Use a semi-structured interview approach and ask the visitor to narrate their video and tell you more about what they were doing. This approach can become somewhat automated using technologies like Video Traces. http://depts.washington.edu/pettt/projects/videotraces.html

Hot Tip: There’s an app for that. There are reflective tools that support annotation of images, audio or video diaries, and other approaches that support the evaluation of identity development.  Take a look at Everyday Lives or Storyrobe as a great starting point. These apps are useful for you to use as the evaluator or can be added to the participants phone, iPod, iPad or other device. Adding a tool like this to a device that a participant regularly carries around allows ongoing data collection that is reflective and in some instances, embedded. This makes them ideal tools for monitoring identity development.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. We are pleased to welcome colleagues from the Visitor Studies Association – many of whom are also members of AEA – as guest contributors this week. Look for contributions preceded by “VSA Week” here and on AEA’s weekly headlines and resources list.

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