A multifaceted assessment of adult informal learning at the Hatfield Marine Science Center Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/mk61rk46g

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  • Authentic assessment of visitor learning in museum settings is a challenging endeavor. Evaluation literature includes very few studies that link adult visitors' behavior to their learning. Multiple data collection methods in a naturalistic environment hold great promise for increasing understanding of informal public education. In 1997, Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport, Oregon, opened a new visitor center. This unique science museum was designed with strong educational goals in mind. The first gallery, the Pattern Garden, was intended to provide a framework of understanding that visitors would build on during their journey through the museum. The three main exhibits in this gallery include a touch pool with live tidepool animals, a sound exhibit with listening stations, and a water wheel that demonstrates chaos theory. This study is a summative evaluation of these three exhibits and their educational effectiveness, both individually and as part of the overall gallery. Data on exhibit holding power and visitor behavior were collected for this evaluation. The touch pool and the sound station were videotaped, while field notes were used to document holding power at the water wheel. In addition, a wireless microphone was mounted at the touch pool to document discussion between visitors and docents. Visitors who spent a minimum of ten seconds at each of the three exhibits were interviewed as they prepared to leave the museum. The interviewer asked the visitor to recall the Pattern Garden exhibits, with special attention to things they learned and associations they made to their daily lives. Both holding power and learning proved to be the greatest at the touch pool. Further investigations are indicated to isolate whether it was the content of the exhibit, the presence of a docent, or other factors that made it particularly effective. The water wheel's holding power was nearly as high as that of the touch pool, but visitor learning scores were lower. Interview data indicated that the complex, difficult nature of the chaos concept was partly responsible for the low educational results. The sound station resulted in moderate holding power and moderate learning. Difficulties and successes in the research design indicate important factors to consider for future evaluation studies at informal science learning centers.
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