I is for Informal

| April 15, 2014

This semester I have taken an “Informal Science Education” class held at the American Museum of Natural History. For one of my assignments, I had to engage in an activity which would allow me to experience teaching/learning interactions in a setting outside of the formal classroom boundaries. I chose to volunteer as an educator for a workshop on neurotoxins, held in the Genetics and Anthropology lab of the museum during Brain Awareness Week. The purpose of this workshop was to teach the audience about the effects of toxins on the nervous system and how this might translate into useful medical applications. This experience was an extremely valuable one in terms of understanding the advantages informal education has over its more formal, classroom-based counterpart. The most evident one is that it allows interactions with people who are already intrinsically motivated to learn about that particular subject, as they supposedly personally chose to attend the event. In addition, the more flexible format allows you to experiment with novel teaching methods and techniques. However, while the efficiency of formal teaching practice is relatively easier to evaluate (standardized testing based on curriculum content), the assessment of such informal methods represents a substantial challenge. Some ways of assessing this include the administration of questionnaires and surveys in order to obtain feedback from the “users”. Another valuable measure is attendance (are more people participating to the event over time?). With regards to my experience, I took the time to ask other educators who were volunteering what were the most frequently asked questions posed by the audience. This provided me with great insights into what motivates people to engage in learning processes, what are their major interests and how activities can be modified in order to fit the needs of the public.

As statistics show that only about 5% of an American’s lifetime is spent in the classroom (Ref. Falk and Lynn., 2010), I believe the development of valid educational alternatives with which people can interact in the remaining 95% of the time is a priority.

Reference: “The 95 Percent Solution; School is not where most Americans learn most of their science” by John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking. American Scientist; p. 486-493, Volume 98, © 2010 Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.