Harrison used an interesting choice of phrase in his last post: “time-tested.” I was just thinking as I watched the video they produced, including Bill’s dissection, that I don’t know what we’ve done to rigorously evaluate our live programming at Hatfield. But it is just this sort of “time-tested” program that our research initiatives are truly trying to sort out and put to the test. Time has proven its popularity, data is necessary to prove its worth as a learning tool. A very quick survey of the research literature doesn’t turn up much, though some science theater programming was the subject of older studies. Live tours are another related program that could be ripe for investigation.
We all know, as humans who recognize emotions in others, how much visitors enjoy these sorts of programs and science shows of all types. However, we don’t always apply standards to our observations, such as measuring specific variables to answer specific questions. We have a general sense of “positive affect” in our visitors, but we don’t have any data in the form of examples of quotes or interviews with visitors to back up our thoughts. Yet.
A good example of another need for this was in a recent dissertation defense here at OSU. Nancy Staus’ research looked at learning from a live program, and she interviewed visitors after watching a program at a science center. She found, however, that the presenter of the program had a lot of influence on the learning simply by the way they presented the program: visitors recalled more topics and more facts about each topic when the presentation was more interactive than scripted. She wasn’t initially interested in differences of this sort, but because she’d collected this sort of data on the presentations, she was able to locate a probable cause for a discrepancy she noted. So while this wasn’t the focus of her research (she was actually interested in the role of emotion in mediating learning), it pointed to the need for data to not only back up claims, but also to lead to explanations for surprising results and open areas for further study.
That’s what we’re working for: that rigorously examining these and all sorts of other learning opportunities becomes an integral part of the “time-honored tradition.”