On August 16-18 2009 Oregon State University hosted an invitational international conference specifically designed to examine the opportunities, challenges and barriers to developing cross-cutting research questions and paradigms that better reflect current understandings of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning as lifelong, life-wide and life-deep and discussed a range of new visions for possible future research directions.
In an increasingly scientific and technological world the need for science knowledgeable citizens who understand the fundamentals of STEM ideas and think critically about these issues has never been greater. There is growing appreciation across the broader STEM education community that STEM learning is part of the daily lives of citizens, not only regularly occurring in schools and in after-school programs, but also in free-choice environments like museums, science centers, zoos and aquariums, at home with family, in the workplace, during leisure time when children and adults participate in community-based activities and across a wide range of digital media. This blurring of the boundaries of where, when, why, how and with whom people learn, along with better understandings of learning as a personally constructed, life-long process of making meaning and shaping identity, has initiated a growing awareness in the field that the questions and frameworks guiding STEM research should be reconsidered in light of these new realities.
A major goal of this initiative is to help build bridges across diverse research communities in order to foster dialogue and synergies, making particular efforts to bridge the differences between those historically focused on specific aspects of STEM learning during early childhood, K-12, higher education and in and from informal environments. The conference and subsequent online forums provide the space to discuss strategies for breaking down silos between science, technology, engineering and mathematics content professionals, and building meaningful connections between research and practice within and across these diverse learning communities.
The invitational conference was part of a U.S. National Science Foundation-funded initiative 2020 Vision: The Next Generation of STEM Learning Research, designed to initiate a critical international conversation about the current state of STEM learning research frameworks, an iterative process of input, debate, synthesis and dissemination which will help to inform the next generation of STEM learning research.