This follows Nick’s post on “preparing for a different type of Tsunami”, when he discussed initial challenges of the tsunami tank exhibit, especially in terms of the Lego activity and resources used. Nick pointed out some mechanical/ physical challenges already encountered during initial prototyping but nevertheless said he was confident that the exhibit will be fun, interesting, and popular among Hatfield visitors.
POPULAR without a doubt! I have done some observations and brought in some groups to test the Lego activity at the tank and already can tell you Nick, the tsunami tank will most certainly be very popular. As a consequence, challenges to the exhibit are not only related to the resources used in the activity as you pointed out and whether it works or not, but also brings up issues of crowd management, flow and accessibility to the tank area and interactions among visitors.
In sum, here are some main points that surfaced from my short prototype:
a) The Lego activity and concept for the tank seem to generally work, apart from a few glitches already being addressed such as computer malfunctions and the sanding of Lego blocks so that they don’t stick so strongly together causing poorly constructed structures to stay firm after a potentially strong tsunami wave.
b) There is a need for establishing some rules for building structures so that participants won’t just build a solid square block that will stand still no matter what. The rules during the prototype were that each participant gets a cup full of Legos and have to build a structure of whatever shape but that will not surpass eight blocks tall to survive a tsunami wave. However, a few malfunctions were observed. As an example, the cup idea did not work well as most groups will go to the activity table and search for parts they want to use that were not in their cups.
c) Groups, especially children will spend a long…long time at the tank, which is good and challenging at the same time since crowds accumulate around and things can get really chaotic pretty fast. Creating clearly defined stations for building structures, providing a set of steps to be followed (through a facilitator or signage) and reinforcing time management can address the issue. Although I am afraid there isn’t really a definite solution for that, and at some degree we will have to rely on the visitors themselves (especially parents) to make good judgments and facilitate the process.
d) Visitors have LOTS OF FUN, interact and participate in shared learning. After all, isn’t that the important aspects to cultivate if we are trying to facilitate learning?
Other subsequent observations were also made when the tank was opened to the public for a day with no facilitator and all my initial speculations were confirmed that crowd management will pose a huge issue, and while some creative solutions are on the making, the exhibit will need constant prototyping through time and even after it is completely opened to the public in order to minimize the problem. Should I even call it a problem in the very sense of the word? Maybe I should say it is a good problem to have.
The exhibit has all the potential to foster active prolonged engagement (APE) and promote meaningful interactions. Humphrey and Gutwill (2005) importantly point out that APE exhibits are empowering to visitors as they can take pleasure in “observing, playing, investigating, exploring, collaborating, searching and speculating”. That is what I just saw groups starting to do at the tsunami tank.
(Humphrey, T., Gutwill, J. P., & Exploratorium (Organization). (2005). Fostering active prolonged engagement: The art of creating APE exhibits. San Francisco: Exploratorium).