The goal of the National Science Foundation’s Research Coordination Network (RCN) program is to advance a field or create new directions in research or education by supporting groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate their research, training and educational activities across disciplinary, organizational, geographic and international boundaries. This RCN will bring together scholars and practitioners working at the intersection of equity and interdisciplinary making in STEM education. Making is a culture that emphasizes interest-driven learning by doing within an informal, peer-led and creative social environment. Hundreds of maker spaces and maker-oriented classroom pedagogies have developed across the country. Maker spaces often include digital technologies such as computer design, 3-D printers, and laser cutters, but may also include traditional crafts or a variety of artist-driven creations. The driving purpose of the project is to collectively broaden STEM-focused maker participation in the United States through pursuing common research questions, sharing resources, and incubating emergent inquiry and knowledge across multiple working sites of practice. The network aims to build capacity for research and knowledge, building in consequential and far-reaching mechanisms to leverage combined efforts of a core group of scholars, practitioners, and an extended network of formal and informal education partners in urban and rural sites serving people from groups underrepresented in STEM. Maker learning spaces can be particularly fruitful spaces for STEM learning toward equity because they foster interest-driven, collective, and community-oriented learning in making for social and community change. The network will be led by a team of multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary researchers from different geographic regions of the United States and guided by a steering committee of prominent researchers and practitioners in making and equity will convene to facilitate network activities.
Equitable processes are rooted in a commitment to understand and build on the skills, practices, values, and knowledge of communities marginalized in STEM. The research network aims to fill in gaps in current understandings about making and equity, including the many ways different projects define equity and STEM in making. The project will survey the existing research terrain to develop a dynamic and cohesive understanding of making that connects to learners’ STEM ideas, communities, and historical ways of making. Additionally, the network will collaboratively develop central research questions for network partners. The network will create a repository for ethical and promising practices in community-based research and aggregate data across sites, among other activities. The network will support collaboration across a multiplicity of making spaces, research institutions, and community organizations throughout the country to share data, methodologies, ways of connecting to local communities and approaches to robust integration of STEM skills and practices. Project impacts will include new research partnerships, a dissemination hub for research related to making and equity, professional development for researchers and practitioners, and leveraging collective research findings about making values and practices to improve approaches to STEM-rich making integration in informal learning environments. The project is funded by NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which supports innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of settings. As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches, and resources for use in a variety of settings.