Examining the Mediation of Power in Informal Environments

Considerations and Constraints

Critical Issues and Bold Visions for Science Education

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to examine two out-of-school learning contexts to gain insights into the mediation and manifestation of power among students. We investigated and report herein the participation of mainstream high school students in a robotics competition and elementary-aged underrepresented minority students in a supplementary and optional take home project (SOTHP). Informal learning contexts (including out-of-school contexts) provide alternative sites for knowledge production in the sense that students’ participation is mostly voluntary, free-choice, self-paced, and non-sequential. We argue that the language and culture of science, cultural products of the scientific community, are profoundly important as they have a unique system of resources for creating meaning and scientific knowledge. Examining students’ experiences in informal social settings allows for studying the manifestation and mediation of power and privilege (Puvirajah, Verma, & Webb, 2012). We contend that power is a phenomenon that is played out in everyday social interactions and therefore is not a distant construct. Michel Foucault (1975) argues that power is omnipresent in all human social endeavours. Artifacts such as language and social interactions reveal, create, reflect, obscure, and depoliticize power (Ng & Bradac, 1993). That is, these artifacts can show the extent to which power is exerted, used, negotiated, realized, abused, accepted, and challenged. As such, it is important to examine how these artifacts are used in doing science and especially how language is used in learning and teaching science. This examination allows us to create experiences for students to engage in and understand the language and culture of science so that they can move toward authentic membership in the scientific community. The chapter focuses on the following conceptual question: How do social contexts and discourses of two informal learning environments reveal the mediation of power among students?