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.
Feinstein, N. W., & Meshoulam, D. (2013). Science for what public? Addressing equity in American science museums and science centers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(3), 368–394. doi:10.1002/tea.21130
Feinstein and Meshoulam’s study examines the nature of equity work in museums and science centres across the U.S. Based on 32 interviews with leaders from 15 informal science education organisations, the authors identified two different perspectives, client and cooperative, each with its own strengths and implications for informal science education.
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.
Tsybulskaya, D., & Camhi, J. (2009). Accessing and incorporating visitors' entrance narratives in guided museum tours. Curator: The Museum Journal, 51(1), 81–100.
ISE educators who provide guided tours at museums and similar institutions will be interested in this paper as it addresses how informal educators can assess a visitor's "entrance narrative," or collection of experiences, memories, and knowledge related to the subject matter of the museum, and respond to it in ways that enhance and increase visitors engagement with the subject matter during the tour. Visitors that experienced the entrance narrative mapping technique described here believed it helped them more deeply engage in the subject matter of the tour.
Evans, E. M., Spiegel, A. N., Gram, W., Frazier, B. N., Tare, M., Thompson, S., et al. (2010). A conceptual guide to natural history museum visitors’ understanding of evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(3), 326–353.
This study is an examination of the patterns of explanation in adult museum visitors about evolution and creationism, and the coherence of their reasoning patterns, including the persistence of intuitive childhood beliefs. The responses of all the visitors were a mix of novice naturalistic (intuitive), informed naturalistic (evolutionary), and creationist reasoning patterns. This paper can be of help to science educators to recognize different patterns of visitors’ reasoning about evolution to support the development of a more informed understanding of natural selection, the micro- and macro- processes of evolution, and the evolutionary ideas of Darwin.
Van Schijndel, T. J. P., Franse, R. K., & Raijmakers, M. E. J. (2010). The Exploratory Behavior Scale: Assessing young visitors’ hands-on behavior in science museums. Science Education, 94, 794–809.
The authors of this paper were interested in knowing how parents can support exploratory behaviors of their preschool-aged children at museum exhibits. They developed a quantitative instrument based on psychological literature on exploration and play in order to describe and quantify young children's increasing levels of exploration of their environment. They then tested the measurement tool with parents and their preschool-aged children to investigate what types of adult coaching would achieve high-level exploratory behavior at various exhibits.
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
Miller, J. D. (2010) Adult science learning in the internet era. Curator: The Museum Journal, 53(2), 191–208.
Focusing on where people find information about issues relevant to civic society, the author of this paper concludes that, in contrast to the Internet and related information technologies, informal science institutions are less impactful on civic science literacy. The implications of his findings are that in the Internet era an informal science institution's in-house presentation of intriguing phenomena may not be sufficient to supporting an engaged scientifically literate citizenry.
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.
Davidson, S. K., Passmore, C., & Anderson, D. (2009). Learning on zoo field trips: The interaction of the agendas and practices of students, teachers, and zoo educators. Science Education, 94, 122–141.
This study outlines the learning goals, expectations, and perceived outcomes of a zoo field trip from the perspective of students, classroom teachers, and informal educators. They find, among other things, that that students most highly valued the social aspects of the field trip – opportunities to be with their friends and to discuss the field trip events with their friends. They also find that informal educators did not quite understand the needs or interests of the students and therefore missed opportunities to engage students with the science in the zoo. The authors close with several recommendations for planning class visits to museums, zoos, and other informal science institutions.