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Learner-centered interactions, whether in formal or informal settings, are by their nature unscripted and require both the educator and learner to improvise. In fact, improvisation skills have been recognized as beneficial and applied in a variety of professional development training programs (including science communication, organizational development in university administration, teambuilding and leadership in business, and communication skills in medical education); yet, their inclusion in educator training has been limited. MOXI and UCSB partnered with a professional actor and theater instructor (third author of this paper) to implement applied improvisation training to support informal educators' skills development. After four years of incorporating applied improvisation training in our facilitation training program, we have found that the basic skills of listening, observing, and responding that are critical in learner-centered education are taught effectively through the well-developed, practical, and fun exercises of improvisational theater. In this article, we describe our applied improvisation training and how it builds skills pertinent to implementing learner-centered facilitation, how graduates of our training program connected applied improvisation training to their facilitation, and how other institutions can incorporate it into preparing educators for working in either informal or formal settings.Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2023
MOXI is an interactive science center focused on physics topics such as forces, energy, sound, light, and magnetism. MOXI’s exhibits and education program are informed by Physics Education Research (PER) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As a result, MOXI is an outstanding laboratory for research on how people learn physics through interactive experiences and how best to support this learning. However, conducting research in public spaces with diverse audiences differs from classroom based research. These differences provide both opportunities and challenges. Effective research and program design requires multiple types of expertise including content, research design, and informal environments. In MOXI’s first two years of operation, we have conducted research across a wide variety of participants and topics through a research- practice partnership (RPP) model. This paper focuses on establishing RPPs and methodological considerations when conducting research in informal science education settings such as interactive science centers.