After all the preparation for my research study, it was finally time to sit and observe visitor behavior around exhibits and collect some data. This allowed me to personally see what natural behaviors in an informal science setting look like, while applying the skills and knowledge I have gained about conducting research and interviewing human participants.
Over the course of August I interviewed 25 family groups after they used the Ideum multi-touch table. My goal was to collect data in the Visitor Center over morning and afternoon hours each day of the week to get a wide distribution of visitor attendance. After each sampling session I was busy processing the data, inputting survey responses and typing up the comments from the open-ended piece of the interview, while downloading video footage of the interactions. I enjoyed the result of our team’s effort of putting the camera system in place, as it was convenient to go back to the day of the visitor encounter and know that their conversations and interactions were captured unobtrusively on film. The set-up of the Cyberlab provides an advantage to past methodologies where the researcher physically tracked the visitor or a large video camera was placed right over an exhibit. Through our methods, I believe we are collecting very natural behaviors by the visitor which will help us understand learning in the public science setting more efficiently and effectively.
Family use of museums and science centers have been investigated over the past few decades, but as learning researcher Doris Ash noted in 2003 in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, there are few studies that investigate at depth the dialogic analysis of interactions with the family group. This is important to understanding how meaning and sense-making between learners takes place in the informal science setting. In looking at the research on large touch surface technology, I have not found much on family group use in public settings with science-related content. The field of human-computer interaction has explored this technology with regard to usability features, particularly with gestures and software or program navigation. I hope that my research provides insight combining both family learning and how this technology can support that.
While there are many different layers to the informal science experience (physical, personal, and sociocultural elements), I thought about the individual and collective learning in the family group, as well as how they were positioned in the physical sense around the touch table during the “live” observations. As I look at footage, I will be exploring the interactions and roles that occur within the group while considering the conversations that are taking place. I am also interested in the overall response to the touch table. Part of my interview with the group was to hear how they would describe their attraction to the exhibit and how they described their interaction with this type of technology. I will be doing some content analysis in an effort to see what the common themes are within their responses.
Considering the other technology we have, a familiar digital “interactive” is a single user kiosk or desktop computer with games and information. The touch table allows for multiple users and inputs and is not commonly seen in other settings. We have a desktop interactive located near the touch table, and I observed families (in groups of two, three, even up to five) crowding around the computer and “coaching” the user in control of the mouse. As the desktop exhibit affords one kind of experience, the touch table allows for collective physical action at the same time. Five people could use this exhibit at once. Keeping this in mind, how can we (informal science centers with access to the technology) take advantage of this to facilitate learning for the individual and the group?
September and October will be busy months analyzing footage. I am eager to see just what comes out of all of this data!