Detailed Program of the Conference

Parallel session - C.3 Networks Of Practice: Informal Learning And The ‘Employability’ Policy/Curriculum Discourse in STEM
Wednesday, 02/June/2021:
12:00pm - 2:15pm

Session Chair: Simon Nicholas Leonard
Session Chair: Manuela Repetto
Location: Room 4

Session Panels:
C.3. Networks of Practice: Informal Learning and the ‘Employability’ Policy/Curriculum Discourse in STEM

External Resource:


Wayne Andrew Jaeschke

University of South Australia, Australia

Education reform has been shaped by growing demands to develop complex competencies that students will need to flourish as citizens and workers and to shape a globalised world. Amidst the reforms, government and industry have been strong advocates of STEM education to provide workers with the technical competencies needed in the future employment landscape (Millar, 2020). These new educational priorities require practices that are not supported by the practice architecture of current school models. For schools, the challenge of creating new approaches to developing and assessing complex competencies is compounded by a risk-averse educational environment with increasing accountability around student attainment of basic competencies such as numeracy and literacy. For students, whose attitudes towards learning are vital for success (Kennedy et al., 2020), the educational experience is an often confusing mix of 20th century learning driven by grade achievement for university entry, and experimentation with future oriented learning and abstract ideas of 21st century skills that are difficult to measure. The South Australian school in which this case study is based is representative of many schools that are experimenting with novel approaches to developing complex competencies alongside discipline-based knowledge and skills. The need for 21st century capabilities is acknowledged in the Australian Curriculum in the form of the ‘General Capabilities’ and ‘Cross-curriculum priorities’ (Lingard & McGregor, 2014). Most students’ STEM education is typically undertaken in the form discipline-based subjects with formal curriculum. Learning and assessment emphasises knowledge and skills, with approaches towards the development and assessment of the General Capabilities varying significantly across disciplines. Additionally, a complex and ambitious curriculum initiative intended to develop students’ capabilities in the form of an Extended Learning Initiative (ELI) known as the ‘Research Project’ (RP), was introduced as a compulsory subject in the final years of high school. The introduction of the subject presented pedagogical challenges as schools adopted experiential and self-directed learning approaches (Hattam et al., 2015). This study asked two questions regarding these developing approaches to curriculum and assessment design in the context of STEM education. Firstly, it asked how curriculum and assessment in Mathematics, Science and Research Project showed interdisciplinarity and made connections to real-world problems. Secondly, it asked how student attitudes towards learning varied across those contexts. Curriculum and assessment artefacts were analysed to identify interdisciplinarity and real-world links in Science, Mathematics, and Research Project. Student attitudes towards STEM education were analysed using the School Attitude System (SAS) which periodically surveys students regarding attitudinal factors including anxiety; difficulty; opportunities for creativity; enjoyability, career usefulness; and personal usefulness (Kennedy et al., 2016). Results for the discipline-based subjects with formal curricula showed that students reported more positive attitudes towards Science compared to Mathematics, particularly relating to career usefulness and enjoyability and despite increased difficulty. Student attitudes in Research Project, having an informal curriculum and being strongly grounded in real-world problems, indicated higher levels of perceived difficulty and anxiety. The findings have implications for the ongoing development of curriculum and assessment for STEM education and student attainment of complex competencies.


Simona Tirocchi

Università di Torino

Skills-based approaches are becoming increasingly important to give value to student's learning, in order to promote social inclusion that is essential in a global society characterized by deep inequalities, also in education.

Maker education movement is aimed at the valorization, in the classrooms, of the use of maker technologies that can support students’ skills and knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects (Godhe, Lilja & Selwyn, 2019). On the other side, media education and media literacy are mainstream approaches aimed to promote critical analysis of the media and the ability to produce information (Livingstone, 2004).

To encourage formal and informal educational paths, which can guarantee the enhancement of students' skills and the promotion of equality and social inclusion at all levels, projects that are able to integrate the acquisition of critical, practical and technological skills could be encouraged (Storksdieck, 2016). These projects are related to the ability to critically analyze media content and many other aspects related to the role of media system in contemporary societes.

After all, media education is an approach based on the centrality of pedagogical and sociological theory, but also on the role of hands-on experience, which emphasizes such values as creativity and practicality (Choi et al., 2020). Especially with the rapid dissemination of communication technologies (ICTs) and digital platforms (van Dijck, Poell, & de Waal, 2018), it becomes increasingly important to value a critical approach to technologies, especially in the age of information disorder and in the era of Covid 19, In this perspective, learning how to move in the current information landscape is essential to promote innovation and professional success of young people, their ability to prevent inequalities and discrimination from becoming even more severe

Godhe A-L., Lilja P. & Selwyn N. (2019), "Making sense of making: critical issues in the integration of maker education into schools", Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 28(3), 317-328, DOI: 10.1080/1475939X.2019.1610040

Choi JR, Straubhaar J, Skouras M, Park S, Santillana M., & Strover S. (2020), "Techno-capital: Theorizing media and information literacy through information technology capabilities", New Media & Society, doi:10.1177/1461444820925800

Livingstone S (2004), "Media literacy and the challenge of new information and communication technologies", The Communication Review 7(1), 3–14.

Storksdieck, M. (2016), "Critical information literacy as core skill for lifelong STEM learning in the 21st century: reflections on the desirability and feasibility for widespread science media education", Cultural Studies of Science Education, 11(1), 167–182.

van-Dijck, J., Poell, T., & de-Waal, M. (2018), The Platform society: Public values in a connective world. New York: Oxford University Press.


Simon Nicholas Leonard

University of South Australia, Australia

The combining of science, technology, engineering and mathematics into ‘STEM’ is now a global curriculum and policy trend. STEM is typically understood as more than simply an alignment of inter-related disciplines. In the popular and policy discourse, STEM is presented as a set of essential skills and dispositions that are in demand in the economy of 21st Century. Through STEM, this discourse holds, young people can become better problem solvers, enhance their creativity, develop inquiring minds, improve their ability to collaborate, and engineer solutions to the problems of the world. STEM is an educational discourse that is not about what young people should know, rather it is about what young people should become. In this sense, STEM is a discourse about ‘practice’ — the embodied use of knowledge for a social purpose.

Critics of the STEM policy and curriculum discourse have shown that the practices promoted by many STEM educational programs tend to serve the interests of racialised capital (Morales-Doyle and Gutstein, 2019; Zheng, 2019). They argue that while STEM gives the appearance of being democratic and equitable and of providing wide access to employment in the 21st Century, it is actually serving to entrench stratification in the workforce. Not all STEM practices are equal, and access to powerful STEM practices tends to rely on prior acquisition of the capitals and capabilities of a global techno-scientific elite.

This presentation reports on the enactment of STEM practices in a setting far away from the global techno-scientific elite. It reports on a five-year project undertaken in a remote part of Australia where unemployment and poverty are high, and where racially based disadvantage is ever-present. The presentation will outline the steps taken in this context to work with teacher through a networked professional learning program to understand and to enact strategies to build the capitals and capabilities needed in order to access powerful STEM practices. The underlying focus of the project was on improved use of executive function in the context of mathematics education. Important to the argument in this presentation, though, is the theory of change adopted in the project that assisted teachers to reach beyond the employability discourse of STEM. The project was successful in supporting teachers to adopt new pedagogical and curriculum practices. In turn, it was successful in providing the young people with access to a powerful set of STEM practices that they had been excluded from through the pedagogical approaches of the STEM-as-jobs-of-the-future discourse.


Samuel Fowler

Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning, University of South Australia, Australia

Technologically Enhanced Learning Environments (TELEs) have become a physical embodiment of the increased focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Despite the promotion of these spaces as conduits for innovative teaching of 21st century skills, few studies indicate pedagogical change. This paper uses Kemmis’ concept of practice architectures to explore how three teaching spaces, a regular science classroom and two newly built innovative learning spaces, influenced the teachers’ practice and the students’ interaction with the subject matter. Practice architectures helped to highlight the way teachers’ practices, enabled by the environment, produced lessons which used either the teacher, the student cohort or the device as the source of knowledge. As such the importance of the design behind the learning takes on a more prominent role than the physical features of the innovative learning space.


Manuela Repetto

University of Turin, Italy

Maker Education is an innovative and promising cultural movement that can apparently offer significant opportunities to students in conditions of socio-economic and cultural disadvantage. The supporters of this movement claim democratic access to technologies and practices of the business and industrial environment that are not usually available for students or ordinary people, underlying the opportunity to enhance their most relevant competences.

Nevertheless, the uncritical and non-pedagogically founded adoption of the maker approach in several contexts like in the school setting can even exacerbate inequalities and discrimination, depriving children and young people of an opportunity that could be more exploited. Practice theories could instead offer a deeper way to understand what maker spaces are about and how could be better used in a more equitable and inclusive direction. Practice theories can be used as lenses for examining a social phenomenon like the maker movement in the educational field. According to the theory of practice architectures (Kemmis et al, 2014), a practice is socially established human activity involving forms of understandings (sayings), modes of action (doings) and ways in which people interact (relatings). These three elements are connected in specific ways within each initiative of maker education: the interplay between semiotic, physical and social space takes place in the practice architectures available for students, who should perceive maker practices as authentic and connected with their real world. Actually, as underlined by Vossoughi et al (2016) maker approaches should take in account stories, practice repertoires and experiences of the most disadvantaged students, who need to be involved in creative, interdisciplinary and experiences meaningful for their needs. In order to understand what has value for learning and to achieve a higher level of educational equity, it is necessary to start from the identities of these students and of the communities to which they belong and to critically question the culturally dominant norms.

A new reference framework for maker movement will be presented, based on the Theory of Practice Architectures by Kemmis et al (2014) and on STEM Practices Framework (Lowrie et al, 2018). This framework, besides providing a stronger theoretical foundation made of principled practice knowledge and heuristics for transforming maker movement, could guide the design and implementation of initiatives related to Maker Education, imprinting them on equity, inclusiveness and on the enhancement of the hidden talents of disadvantaged students.


Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P., & Bristol, L. (2014). Changing practices, changing education. Singapore: Springer.

Lowrie, T., Leonard, S. N., & Fitzgerald, R. (2018). Stem practices: A translational framework for large-scale stem education design. EDeR. Educational Design Research, 2(1). doi:10.15460/eder.2.1.1243

Vossoughi, S., Hooper, P. K., & Escudé, M. (2016). Making through the lens of culture and power: Toward transformative visions for educational equity. Harvard Educational Review, 86(2), 206-232.