Another task within my Master’s research is checked off. I have reviewed and noted the conversations and behaviors from video footage of 25 family groups using our Ideum multi-touch table exhibit. As I went through the footage, it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences in how groups used the exhibit, talked (or not) while using the table, and the elements of the exhibit that appeared most attractive to them. I will be analyzing the engagement and learning strategies data along with the group interview responses that I collected post-use of the exhibit. I am so thankful for the infrastructure that we have installed as part of the Cyber Lab. The video recordings that include audio of the group conversation has been a great way to examine the data beyond field notes from the date of observation. Quite a bit of data to make sense of!
This quarter I have had the opportunity to take the Socio-Cultural Dimensions of Learning course from Dr. Lynn Dierking at Oregon State University. It has aligned perfectly with where I am at in my project. Topics in the course have included how we learn through our interactions and observations of others, how culture influences learning, and how institutions scaling from families, to museums, up through society plays a role in the learning experience. Family learning in museum spaces has been one topic that we have focused on, particularly how different members of a multi-generational group make meaning of exhibits and content that is personal and relevant to their experience. An element that I have taken an interest in is the roles that the family members take, whether it is the adult or child, and who “takes charge” of the interaction with the exhibit. For example, is it primarily the adult showing the child how to use it, or explaining what the information means? In what ways do they make connections to what the child already knows? These questions relate to my observations with the touch table. I have seen evidence of the child taking charge of the interaction and showing the adult, and I’m curious to investigate what strategies the child uses to “show” the adult what to do. I wonder if it is because this generation is often around touch surfaces with their personal electronics, that they feel comfortable taking on that role to “teach” the adult.
I have also appreciated the opportunity to interact with other students in the socio-cultural dimensions class that are located around the country, many who also work in free choice learning venues. Several students have shared teaching and learning strategies that they use to interact and engage with their visitors. The course has inspired me to think more about the transition from theory to practice, by applying what we are studying to improving the learner experience. We can conduct this research, but until it is applied and shared, it seems anticlimactic (at least to me!). I hope from my research of watching the natural behaviors of families using the multi-touch table, I can provide recommendations for ways to improve content to facilitate the behaviors they are already expressing. The technology is a tool that is being used to share science content, so what meaning are the users making of that information? Research has been done on the overall usability of large scale touch surfaces in public spaces, but how does that connect to learning in a space where individuals have choice and control over their experience with the technology? It is not so much as HOW they use it, but what do they gain as a result of the interaction on a personal or social level? The beauty of research – you look to answer some questions and come up with more!