Posts Tagged ‘observations’

Coffee Break IconLast month, we discussed “The Lost Art of Urban Tracking,” an excerpt from The Urban Bestiary by nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt. In this chapter, Haupt describes observation as a practice which “requires in equal measure contemplation, curiosity, art, wonder, poetry, play, and love.” Looking at the word’s Latin roots, ob- and servare, Haupt suggests “observation can be more than watching,” as servare means “to attend,” which “implies…a graced allowing, a room for the movement of the observed in its own sphere – a sphere that, as attendants, we are invited to enter.” Haupt also thinks observers must recognize a certain amount of responsibility in allowing the observed “to have a presence, to speak for itself.”

I first read The Urban Bestiary while traveling to conduct my second of three observations of the Social Stories Spectrum Project at theNAT in San Diego. As an avid birdwatcher, I’d packed my binoculars and birding guide to occupy my downtime. Birding put me in just the right mindset to observe a 4-hour museum program. Integrating observation into daily practice is useful for developing a skill set that I can flex when it matters most – kind of like practicing a sport or an instrument. As Haupt writes, “with practice, our attendance deepens, becomes more astute, and also easier, more natural, part of our lives, our days, our intellects, our bodies.” Observing the world, and especially its animal life, is a hobby, survival skill, and a means of tuning in—to the life around us. With practice, observation prepares our minds to evaluate museum programs with natural attention.

 

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Whole Garden and West Gallery exhibition [2013]

(Read the full report)

The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) contracted RK&A to study visitors’ experiences in the current West Gallery exhibition. However, after an initial meeting, USBG recognized that any changes to the West Gallery should be intentional and done in the context of staff’s aspirations for the whole Garden experience; thus, the study evolved into a more holistic endeavor with two main goals: (1) collect data about visitors’ experiences in the West Gallery exhibition to inform redesign of the Gallery; and (2) study visitors’ experiences in the whole Garden in the context of the newly-articulated visitor impact statement: Inspired by the welcoming, sensory, and restorative experience, visitors appreciate the diversity of plants, value the essential connection between plants and people, and embrace plant stewardship.

How did we approach this study?

RK&A facilitated a series of planning workshops with USBG staff to help them articulate the impact they aspire to achieve with their audiences. An Impact Framework resulted from these workshops. The Framework articulates the impact statement above, as well as audience outcomes and indicators which make the impact statement concrete and measurable. Guided by the Impact Framework, RK&A conducted an audience research study, employing four methods to explore West Gallery experiences and the Garden’s intended impact: (1) a standardized questionnaire; (2) in-depth interviews; (3) focused observations and interviews in the West Gallery; and (4) focus groups with teachers. Following the audience research study, RK&A facilitated two Using Evaluation Results workshops to help staff reflect on findings and develop action steps moving forward.

What did we learn?

The audience research study revealed many rich findings related to the Whole Garden, its audiences, and the West Gallery exhibition specifically, including visitor types that the Garden can use to inform their decision making (see full report for details). Study findings revealed that visitors’ experiences are, in some ways, well aligned with the Garden’s desired impact and, in other ways, not as well aligned. Specifically, staff used study findings to brainstorm more cohesive interpretive themes for the Whole Garden and West Gallery exhibition. Looking forward, USBG staff has two great opportunities to leverage these themes for an upcoming Garden-wide interpretive planning project and Conservatory Room evaluation.

What are the implications of the findings?

This project highlights the all-important link between planning and evaluation. Too often, evaluation is conducted in a vacuum (one program or exhibition at a time) as opposed to considering the organization’s aspirations for impacting the visitor. USBG staff recognized the need to consider changes to the West Gallery exhibition in the context of their intentions for the Whole Garden experience. In doing so, they now have baseline information about their audiences in the context of the impact they hope to achieve. This information helps USBG staff understand the alignment between their aspirations and visitors’ experiences and how they might need to change their practice to achieve greater impact.

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Summative Evaluation of Cyberchase: The Chase is On! [2008]

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Children’s Museum of Houston (CMH) contracted with Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to evaluate the National Science Foundation-funded exhibition Cyberchase: The Chase is On! The exhibition used a popular children’s television show as an entry point to convey two key exhibition messages—“Math is a way of thinking and everyone can be successful at it,” as well as “We use math every day.” The Museum developed the exhibition for travel; thus, data for the summative evaluation were collected in two locations: Children’s Museum of Houston and the New York Hall of Science in Queens, New York.

 How did we approach this study?

RK&A combined three data collection strategies in order to generate both quantitative and qualitative data for analysis. Evaluators used these strategies to assess visitors’ experiences in the exhibition, including visitors’ use of the exhibits, visitors’ understanding of the exhibition as a whole, and the level of engagement fostered by select exhibits. Methodologies included: timing and tracking observations of visitors between the ages of 5 and 10, cued exit interviews of both adults and children, and stationed observations at two exhibits.

 What did we learn?

Data from the timing and tracking observations showed that the median time visitors spent in the exhibition was seven minutes. However, while the time spent was relatively short, observational data revealed that the exhibits fostered interactive experiences for both adults and children. For instance, timing and tracking observations showed that more than two-thirds of all visitors were coached by an adult. Further, stationed observations demonstrated that activities at the two observed exhibits were often shared or collaborative experiences, with adults either participating in or leading the activities. Findings from the interviews further contextualized this data, revealing that both children and adults were able to extract meaning from these experiences. One-half of adult interviewees spoke about the exhibition’s main idea in terms of math; similarly, slightly less than one-half of children interviewed recalled doing something math-related in the exhibition (without prompting from the interviewer).

What are the implications of the findings?

Overall, Cyberchase successfully promoted interactions between adults and children and effectively conveyed proposed themes. Math is a difficult concept to incorporate in an exhibition; however, the familiarity of the Cyberchase television show coupled with the highly interactive nature of the exhibits allowed visitors to actively engage with these demanding concepts. In addition to incorporating videos, computers, and low-tech interactive components, most exhibits created challenges for children to complete, allowing children to leave the exhibition with a sense of accomplishment for having finished a task. Notably, adults often participated in these challenges, increasing children’s understanding of and interaction with the exhibits. Both children and adults understood the theme of Cyberchase and enjoyed the interactive experience, indicating that using a familiar concept as an entry point and incorporating simple, user-friendly components in an exhibition can nurture meaningful learning experiences in the museum.

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RK&A’s work with the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is today’s featured project on the Museum Education Monitor’s (MEM) social media sites!  RK&A has been working with the Perez Art Museum Miami since 2013 to evaluate its Knight School Program, a single-visit program designed to serve all third grade students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.  We began our work together by helping staff articulate and clarify student outcomes and indicators.  The program intends to enhance students’ critical thinking skills related to observing and interpreting works of art.  We are now in the process of conducting a formative evaluation  that will identify the strengths and areas in need of improvement, before finally conducting a summative evaluation in 2015.

Check out the MEM posting for some additional information by visiting these social media sites today!

Web– http://www.mccastle.com/Public/Default.aspx

Facebook– http://www.facebook.com/Museum.Education.Monitor

Twitter– http://twitter.com/mchriscastle

Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/mchriscastle/

YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/user/MChrisC54

FORUM Blog– http://forum.mccastle.com/

 

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