Telementoring Physics: University-Community After-school Collaborations and the Mediation of the Formal/ Informal Divide

Sammanfattning: For several decades improvement of science education has been a major concern of policy makers concerned that the U.S. is a “nation at risk” owing to the dearth of students pursing careers in science. Recent policy proposals have argued that provision of broadband digital connectivity to organizations in the informal sector would increase the reach of the formal, academic sector to raise the overall level of science literacy in the country.This dissertation reports on a longitudinal study of a physics telementoring activity jointly run by a university-community collaborative at a community learning center. The activity implemented a digital infrastructure that exceeds the technical and social-institutional arrangements promoted by policy makers. In addition to broadband internet access (for tele-conferencing between students at the community center and physicists at a university), supplemented by digital software designed to promote physics education, the activity included the presence of a collaborating researcher/tutor at the community learning center to coordinate and document the instructional activities.The current research revealed a fundamental contradiction between the logic, goals, and practices of the physics instructors, and the corresponding logic, goals, and practices of the participants at the community learning center. This contradiction revolves around a contrast between the physicists’ formal, logocentric ways of understanding expressed in the ability to explain the scientific rules underlying physical phenomena and the informal, pragmatic orientation of the youth and adults at the learning center.The observations in this dissertation should remind techno-enthusiasts, especially in the arena of public education policy, that there are no turnkey solutions in “distance” science education. Technically “connecting” people is not equivalent to creating conditions that expand opportunities to learn and a functioning socio-technical system that supports learning. Secondly, for designers and practitioners of informal learning in community-university collaborative settings, it is critically important to understand distance learning activities as developing “cross-cultural, ” collaborative encounters, the results of which are more likely to be hybrids of different ways of learning and knowing than the conversion of informal learning into a tool for instruction that will allow youth to “think like physicists.”