Barriault, C., & Pearson, D. (2010). Assessing exhibits for learning in science centers: A practical tool. Visitor Studies, 13(1), 90–106.
In informal learning environments such as museums and science centers, researchers sometimes assess the effect of learners’ experiences by looking at their engagement. In this paper, researchers Barriault and Pearson describe a framework that identifies three different levels of visitor engagement with exhibits in a science center: initiation, transition, and breakthrough.
Ainsworth, S. (2006). DeFT: A conceptual framework for considering learning with multiple representations. Learning and Instruction, 16(3), 183–198.
Educators in informal science are exploring data visualization as a way to involve learners in analyzing and interpreting data. However, designing visualizations of data for learners can be challenging, especially when the visualizations show more than one type of data. The Ainsworth three-part DeFT framework can help practitioners design multiple external representations to support learning.
Dancu, T., Gutwill, J. P., & Hido, N. (2011). Using iterative design and evaluation to develop playful learning experiences. Children, Youth and Environments, 21(2), 338–359.
Dancu, Gutwill, and Hido describe a process for designing science museum exhibits to create playful learning experiences. They outline five characteristics of play: It is structured by constraints, active without being stressful, focused on process not outcome, self-directed, and imaginative. For each characteristic, they offer an example of iterative design using formative evaluation.
Hampp, C., & Schwan, S. (2014). The role of authentic objects in museums of the history of science and technology: Findings from a visitor study. International Journal of Science Education, Part B: Communication and Public Engagement. doi:10.1080/21548455.2013.875238
Objects define museums: The collection, maintenance, and display of objects are the central functions of museum practice. But does it matter whether the objects on display are authentic? Investigators Hampp and Schwan's findings suggest that visitors learn as much from non-authentic objects as from authentic ones, but that aspects of authenticity shape visitors’ emotional experiences of museum objects.
Achiam, M. F. (2013). A content-oriented model for science exhibit engineering. International Journal of Science Education, Part B: Communication and Public Engagement, 3(3), 214–232. doi:10.1080/21548455.2012.698445
Achiam presents a template for improving the exhibit design process to ensure that the visitor experience matches the designer’s intended learning outcomes. The template is based on praxeology—a model of human activity that, in the case of museum engagement, addresses the ways in which visitors know what to do with an exhibit and then come to understand the scientific phenomena the exhibit was designed to demonstrate
Szechter, L. E., & Carey, E. J. (2009). Gravitating toward science: Parent-child interactions at a gravitational-wave observatory. Science Education, 93(5), 846–858.
This study looks at how characteristics of parent-child dyads, in combination with exhibit qualities, contribute to their interactions in a science center. Parent schooling, parent and child attitudes toward science, and the type of activity supported at the exhibits play a role in how they interact together. For ISE professionals, this study shows that parents exert a great deal of influence over what and how their children feel and learn about science.
Schwan, S., Grajal, A., & Lewalter, D. (2014). Understanding and engagement in places of science experience: Science museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums. Educational Psychologist, 49(2), 70–85. doi:10.1080/00461520.2014.917588
Rather than focusing on how different they are, this literature review details shared characteristics of science museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums in order to contribute to an ecological view of learning. This article identifies four shared characteristics of these informal science environments: motives and goals, staging of popular science, physical layout, and social exchange and participation. The learning outcomes encompass not only knowledge acquisition but also changes in interests and beliefs.
Kisiel, J., Rowe, S., Vartabedian, M. A., & Kopczak, C. (2012). Evidence for family engagement in scientific reasoning at interactive animal exhibits. Science Education, 96(6), 1047–1070. doi:10.1002/sce.21036
Informal science educators are seeking ways to support scientific reasoning. This study of touch tanks at four different museums found that, although the exhibits were not designed to do so, they supported families in engaging in scientific reasoning practices. Specifically, they engaged family members in making claims, seeking evidence, devising tests, seeking information, testing claims, and challenging claims made by others.
Krantz, A., Korn, R., & Menninger, M. (2009). Rethinking museum visitors: Using K-means cluster analysis to explore a museum's audiences. Curator: The Museum Journal, 52(4), 363–374.
This paper presents a quantitative strategy (K-means cluster analysis) for exploring museum-motivated ideas that can be helpful in resource allocation, marketing, event planning, and designing exhibits. Cluster analysis provides a potentially useful way of knowing and understanding visitors, especially when the rating statements used in the questionnaire and in the analysis represent the museum's intentions.
Allen, S., & Gutwill, J. P. (2010). Creating a program to deepen family inquiry at interactive science exhibits. Curator: The Museum Journal, 52(3), 289–306.
Many informal science institutions design exhibits to encourage inquiry and experimentation. But the authors of this paper suggest that often museums have found that visitors lack the expertise or confidence to engage in coherent inquiry. They report here on their efforts to equip visitors with key inquiry skills through providing families and groups with focused trainings on how to use inquiry-based exhibits.