The purpose of the research study was to understand museum visitors’ reactions to and learning outcomes from Evolved, and to utilize that information to inform and further improve the design of the exhibition.
This evaluation aimed to:
-Determine how and if visitors interact with the exhibition activities and concepts
-Determine if visitors enjoy learning about human evolution as an informal learning experience
-Determine what visitors gain from the exhibition, whether in terms of formal learning objectives or less strictly defined outlooks or perceptions.
The evaluation was conducted at COSI through the Center for Research and Evaluation. It included the completion of an activity (outlined further below) and a brief verbal questionnaire conducted with participants after completing the activity, as well as the taking of observational notes on participant demographics and interaction by the evaluator after each trial. The experience testing station consisted of an activity table and an informational sign to attract participants, and both the activity and questionnaire phases were conducted at the station.
The questionnaire gathered demographic information including the number of participants in a trial, the ages of the participants, and their relationship to one another. This information was collected to determine whether the activity is effective for different ages and group makeups. The post-activity participant questionnaire consisted of 6-7 open-ended questions meant to assess participants’ enjoyment of and ability to complete the activity, as well as whether the learning objectives of the exhibit come across as intended. After completing the activity and questionnaire, the evaluator answered a series of nine questions reflecting on the experience. They recorded the logistics of the demo, if and how participants completed the activity, and the level of engagement groups of participants had with one another.
Participants were given an introduction to bipedalism and how it can have both benefits and drawbacks. They then did an activity similar to the “Childbirth” component on the obstetrical dilemma. A female pelvis (wide, optimal for childbirth) and male pelvis (narrow, optimal for bipedalism) were set out, and they attempted to pass an infant skull through each one to illustrate the principle. After completing the activity they answered the questionnaire.
Participants were told that the exhibit was about skin color and melanin was explained. They then did an activity that replicated the “Skin Color” component. A lamp was set up at one end of a table and a white screen on another. They picked up tinted pieces of plexiglass and saw how they blocked out the light in different levels. The evaluator then asked them, based on what they observed, why people have different skin colors. They also went on to further explain the principle. After completing this activity participants answered the questionnaire.
Participants were told that the three activities (the termite mound, the boxes, and the calculator) were a group of activities that made up an exhibit. They then had the chance to interact with all of them. For the termite mound they compared using their hands and the magnetic stick to catch magnetic termites, for the boxes they pushed the one with wheels and the one without, and for the calculator they found the solution to the equation by hand or with the calculator. They were then asked what each of the items (the stick, the wheels, and the calculator) all had in common – the answer: they were all tools! The evaluator then explained the adaptive benefits of tools. After completing this activity they answered the questionnaire.
This evaluation was successful in shedding light on where these components were effective and on what shortcomings they have that could be addressed in future work. Overall, they showed that the components were logistically very effective, but could be improved by making the evolutionary connections more inherent in the interactives for those who do not engage as deeply with the written (or, as in the evaluation, spoken) content. For all of the tested components, the designs of the interactives were practical and intuitive enough for visitors to complete as intended. In terms of meeting learning objectives, participants demonstrated a basic understanding of the concept underlying the component; however, more complex evolutionary principles did not come across as readily.
Locomotion: ChildbirthThe “locomotion: childbirth” component was conducted in a similar fashion to the designed exhibition; however availability of materials necessitated a focus more on the comparison of male and female pelvises rather than strictly the demands of walking and giving birth. Participants tended to focus on this comparison, rather than the adaptive significance as was intended. This may have been a result of the different formulation of the activity though, and some participants did suggest that adaptation was a component of what the exhibit was teaching. One of the major goals of the bipedalism component was to highlight aspects that certain visitor demographics could particularly connect with, such as arthritis for elderly visitors or, in this case, childbirth for mothers. The participants that showed the highest levels of engagement with the exhibit and asked the most follow up questions were mothers, which encouragingly demonstrated its effectiveness in this regard. A small number of participants were uncomfortable with the birthing aspect of the exhibit and chose to leave the evaluation. This may have been a result of the more birth-focused framing of the evaluation activity and could be mitigated by the more bipedalism-focused framing of the actual component.
Skin ColorEvaluation of the “skin color” component demonstrated that it was both an effective interactive and teaching mechanism. In the majority of trials participants were able to accurately identify the purpose of melanin after using the interactive. Some showed further engagement as well, using the skin color map to compare their own skin and identify their ancestry. Overall, participants perceived the component to be about why skin colors are different, with quite a few explaining the process itself in their answer. Ties to ancestry and the myth of race were also important educational aims, and while they were not as often mentioned, several participants did see them as an important part of the component.
Tool Use“Tool use” proved to be engaging in surprising ways. Of the three interactives, the termite mound was the favorite among participants, and many turned the calculator activity into an exciting math challenge by competing with one another to write out faster than calculate the answer. This was encouraging as it showed participants working together and learning within their group, which is an important method for promoting engagement and learning. In about half of the trials participants were able to correctly identify the objects as tools, though many others mentioned similar concepts such as “inventions” or “technology.” The learning goals came across fairly successfully, and though the most commonly perceived lesson was more general than intended, many participants recognized the main ideas of what tools are and how they represent innovations and changes over time.