Developing innovative techniques for using museum-based theater and gaming to support visitor understanding of complex systems
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative research, approaches and resources for use in a variety of settings. The project will use a design-based research process to research and develop an innovative theatrical game that will improve visitors' understanding of complex topics requiring conceptual change. This project will research a novel experience that helps visitors engage with difficult content in informal science education venues, uses existing exhibit and collection assets in a new way, and creates a venue for visitor engagement that requires less capitalization than a full exhibition project. For the public, this project will blend best practices from exhibit development, museum theater, and facilitation with emerging theories about game-based learning to create a novel experience that deeply engages visitors with an evolution storyline and allows them to explore the museum and interact with one another in new ways. For the field, the project will examine how theatrical games can be valuable, viable experiences in museum environments and what game mechanics and supports contribute to players' conceptual thinking. While the project's games with theatrical elements will focus on evolution, the tested strategies will provide valuable information about effective approaches for informal STEM education more broadly wherever audiences exhibit major misconceptions or discomfort with scientific ideas. The project will disseminate findings through conferences and workshops, academic reports, a research-to-practice implementation guide, and a training video about best practices for engaging the public in theatrical gaming.
The project will focus on the creation and modification of a theoretical framework that describes the content, program format, and degree of facilitation necessary to create experiences that support conceptual change in visitors' thinking about evolution--and, by extension, other complex topics. The project team and advisors will collaboratively will build varying levels of facilitation and challenge into theatrical programming that connects objects and experiences across the museum to help visitors construct a story of evolution. Project research will focus on the creation of three variants of a theatrical game to test a theoretical framework that describes the game dynamics and facilitation necessary for experiences that support conceptual shifts in visitors' understanding about evolution. This work will take place in four phases, and will be conducted by researchers at the Science Museum of Minnesota with input and review through an external evaluation process. The questions guiding the research are: (1) How, and in what ways, do game design features support conceptual shifts in evolution concepts?; (2) Do player outcomes differ in each game? If so, in what ways?; (3) What other factors (player profile, collaboration, evolution beliefs) influence player outcomes? (4) What are the best practices for facilitating the games and supporting visitors' experiences? The research will contribute to the under-studied field of participatory museum theatre experiences; broaden our understanding of the roles facilitation and gameplay have in informal learning; and help exhibit and program developers make informed choices about the potential of various exhibit components and aligned programming.