Exhibit appraisal and diverse populations: Pilot research about intersectional and science identities in science exhibits

Tuesday, October 1, 2019 to Thursday, September 30, 2021
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
General Public | Museum/ISE Professionals | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Education and learning science | General STEM
Museum of Science, Boston

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. This project will explore how understanding visitors' experiences with science museum exhibits may contribute to increasing engagement among diverse audiences. Museums have made great strides in understanding how exhibit design can support underrepresented audiences, but often tend to focus on individual demographic groups such as females, certain racial and ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities. This project will explore relationships between visitors' demographic and science identities to assess the affordances of using science identity as an intersectional proxy that could help the field move beyond its reliance on demographics. Building on prior National Science-funded work about museum engagement, the project applies appraisal theory--a psychological model about how people make conscious and subconscious assessments of situations that manifest in emotions--to the informal learning context. To date, museums have tended to focus on cognitive and behavioral aspects of engagement. Appraisal theory can add emotional processes to the conceptual understanding of engagement, and can be applied to help exhibit professionals develop a design framework that upholds complex identities. Such a framework could have implications for inclusive design of learning experiences in museums, schools, and other educational contexts.

This Pilot and Feasibility Study will address methodological and theoretical questions about the feasibility of a research approach that considers the relationships among: 1) exhibit design features; 2) multiple identity factors including science identity, demographics, and self-defined personal identity; 3) visitor appraisals; and 4) engagement with exhibits. Led by researchers at the Museum of Science, Boston and EdTogether, a non-profit research and development organization for inclusive design, the project will begin with a pre-piloting phase during which researchers will work with youth and professional advisors from local community organizations to test a suite of data collection approaches including self-report in the form of questionnaires and interviews; observations of visitor engagement; and biometric data collection including galvanic skin response and eye tracking. Building from this pre-piloting phase, the team will conduct four mini-studies that will iteratively refine measures towards enhanced validity and parsimony while gathering data to test the investigators' hypothesized model of design, identity, appraisal, and engagement. The evidence from testing this model through the four mini-studies will lay the foundation for larger-scale research that intends to explore causal relationships among intersectional identities, science identities, appraisal, and visitor engagement.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Team Members

Katie ToddKatie ToddPrincipal Investigator
Christine ReichChristine ReichCo-Principal Investigator
Gabrielle SchlichtmannGabrielle SchlichtmannCo-Principal Investigator
Elizabeth KollmannCo-Principal Investigator

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