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.
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.
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.
Atkins, L. J., Velez, L., Goudy, D., & Dunbar, K. N. (2009). The unintended effects of interactive objects and labels in the science museum. Science Education, 93(1), 161–184.
In this study, the authors consider the pros and cons of providing structures that focus inquiry at exhibits. Their research examined visitor behaviors with and without specific prompts at an exhibit. They found that the provision of additional materials and textual explanations limited visitor engagement at the exhibit to the express purpose defined by the added materials/text. Without the additional props, visitors were more exploratory and inventive in their uses of the exhibits; however, in these cases visitors often did not focus on a particular conceptual idea that the exhibit developers had been trying to communicate. The authors of this study examine these trade-offs by considering the “frames” that the museum visitors use and how they might be cued by physical artifacts.
Dahlstrom, M. F., & Ho, S. S. (2012). Ethical considerations of using narrative to communicate science. Science Communication, 34(5), 592–617. doi:10.1177/1075547012454597.
Dahlstrom and Ho offer advice on using narrative to communicate about science. They conclude that the rhetorical purpose of the narrative should be thoroughly examined so as not to unfairly influence a reader or listener.
DeWitt, J., & Osborne, J. (2010). Recollections of exhibits: Stimulated-recall interviews with primary school children about science centre visits. International Journal of Science Education, 32(10), 1365–1388.
This study utilized digital media in the form of still photographs and video-clips of students’ visits to a science centre to stimulate recall of the visit and to explore the extent to which students were cognitively engaged, specifically looking at the meaning they constructed. Students were asked what was happening in the clip or photo, how the exhibit “worked” what they thought the exhibit was trying to show them, and whether or not they enjoyed the exhibit. The study found that the visits to science centres were highly memorable experiences for students and that students were highly engaged as they attempted to (mostly unsuccessfully) extract properties or characteristics of exhibits, make causal explanations, and utilize prior knowledge.