Synthesizing Research on Facilitation

Project Team: Tamara Ball, Lisa Hunter, Austin Barnes, Nicholas McConnell, Rafael Palomino

This project is focused on synthesizing research findings related to facilitating learners in a range of learning environments in STEM higher education.

“Facilitation” is defined as the small, moment-to-moment interactions that occur as an instructor or mentor is guiding a learner engaged in STEM. For example, a verbal response to a student’s question, or mentor’s decision to let an intern figure out how to make sense of confusing results rather than explain it to her.

A broad range of research in the learning sciences is being reviewed and organized through the lens of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). Using CHAT, the practice of facilitating learners can be viewed through the mediational effects of discourse, material tools, roles and power dynamics, and the norms of the community, and how all these factors are intersecting, relevant to the activity at hand (e.g. an instructor or mentor responding to a student’s question).

The literature related to facilitation is vast, and this project is progressing through thematic areas and producing technical reports, including:

  • Ownership, or the sense that “I figured it out myself”

Though learners can feel a sense of ownership over many aspects of their learning, emphasis in this report is put on transferring and maintaining ownership over learning core concepts and practices in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

This synthesis outlines the diverse research supporting the importance of ownership as both a strategy and an outcome for improving STEM education, including an excerpt of an interaction between a mentor and a student that brings to life how active facilitation can transfer ownership to learners.

This synthesis is complete, and a  technical report on this synthesis is now used in ISEE’s Professional Development Program and Mentor Workshop:

Using Active Facilitation Strategies to Transfer Ownership in Teaching and Mentoring Contexts

  • Making thinking accessible, a key aspect of formative assessment