First page of the study
The results of this aren't surprising in part because we tend to gravitate toward comfortable or common labels even if we don't object to other labels out there. The issue for me, however, isn't how to create an ISE community because that puts boundaries in place between "informal" and "formal" education communities and this is, I think, exactly the opposite direction we need to go. It seems that sometimes the "formal" education world is marginalized when it should be embraced. My suggestion here, then is to shift the question from one that inquires about creating an informal science education community of practice to one that inquires about creating a community of learning that capitalizes on all of the strengths of our community resources, new media, and otherwise "informal" institutions.
I agree with you, Jeanne--the distinctions between informal and formal science education have mostly been unhelpful. I wonder if they persist because the informal science education community is concerned about being swallowed up and tied up in knots by the strictures that the formal science education lives under--the bureaucracy, the standards (often of questionable value), the high stakes testing, etc. I don't know. What I do know is that at a time when funding and other resources are increasingly zero-sum, science education professionals risk being divided and conquered by persisting in the distinction.
I also agree that the results of the CAISE study are not surprising on the level Jeanne identifies. Still, with everything as interconnected as it is now, thanks to the Internet, you'd think these groups would at least be talking to each other more than they are. A "simple" way to start to change that might be to create and distribute to organizations in all of these categories an RSS-type widget of some kind that collects news and dialog that's going on across the entire community and sorts it in some way that makes it actually readable and usable. All the participating organizations could link to the widget from their sites as well as, of course, check it out regularly internally to see what people all across the space are up to. You'd have to have some hot categories of information like "funding" to get people to really adopt it, and you might have to allow people to disaggregate back into their favorite silo, but hopefully, over time if you presented enough interesting material at the margins of what they are most comfortable reading about, you'd see various parts of the community making the necessary connections. Some kind of shared bulletin board/forum system that all organizations agreed to link to prominently from somewhere within their sites would help, too, though that might be harder to pull off because of proprietary interests.
I don't doubt that one of the reasons, as is suggested below, is because "informal" institutions want to avoid the bureaucracy that "formal" institutions have to manage. But I think there is more to it, perhaps. There is a perception (perhaps well-founded) that what is possible in education in "informal settings" doesn't happen or can't happen in formal settings. I've heard and read statements like, "We [informal educators] don't want informal education to be like school." In STEM education, there is no disputing that school is too often not something to inspire to in terms of being a model for learning. But, that does not mean that we shouldn't want the same things for "formal" settings that we want for "informal." If school were what it should be, we *would* want "informal" to be like school. But I think the real point is that at this moment in time, this discussion is, in a way, obsolete. Each setting, no matter how we characterize it, needs to lower its boundaries to make a more whole and connected learning experience for the learner. With the help of technology and commitment to collaborate using tools like those suggested in the comment, maybe we will get there.
Agreed on the need to have more connectedness between communities, and less of a silo mentality. BUT, we shouldn't underestimate the difficulties presented by the perceptions of "˜formal" schooling. To many, the image of the school setting is not one where creativity, innovation and flexibility are encouraged. And -- given much of the national political and policy dialogue -- the trend lines may be getting worse. So the solution to creating a single community of science educators may be deeper than just better communications.