Finding Significance

Description:

A visitor research project at the Exploratorium that assessed interpretive enhancements to existing exhibits: to what degree did they deepen visitors' experiences and improve their ability to make connections between the exhibits and their own lives?

s:
<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p>

The Finding Significance project grew out of the idea of sharing with visitors the behind-the-scenes interactions and explorations of exhibit staff—their stories, observations, and questions. The main research question of the project: "If we incorporate narratives or inquiries into existing exhibits, will visitors be more likely to think deeply about the exhibits, explore them more fully, and in particular, to make more connections between the exhibits and visitors' own lives?" (photo © Exploratorium)

<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p> thumbnail
<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p>

The Finding Significance team was comprised of researchers, exhibit developers, builders, writers, designers, and videographers. This unusual mix ensured a good balance between researcher and practitioner perspectives. (photo © Exploratorium)

<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p> thumbnail
<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p>

The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.

<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p> thumbnail
<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p>

The Finding Significance final report, available at Left Coast Press, identified the following five Implications for Museum Professionals: (1) Adding Inquiries and Narratives to existing exhibits can enhance the visitor experience. (2) Both Inquiries and Extended Stories can help visitors make personal connections, but not radically novel ones. (3) It may be unrealistic to think we can move visitors in powerful ways with stories about our interactive science exhibits. (4) Inquiries are much easier to create. And (5) visitors' responses to the enhancements do not systematically depend on their learning styles. (photo © Exploratorium)

<p>The team struggled with the inherent tensions between a focus on visitors' personal meaning-making, the intentions of exhibit developers, the pedagogical mission of the museum, and the requirements of experimental research design.</p> thumbnail
Date:
2000 – 2004
Role:
Co-Principal Investigator
Funder:
  • National Science Foundation #ESI-0072917
Venue:
  • Exploratorium
Collaborators:
Dr. Sue Allen, Dr. Joshua Gutwill, Theodore Koterwas