Exploring Life’s Origins Project Summative Evaluation
Exploring Life's Origins is a project funded by the National Science Foundation through the Discovery Corps Postdoctoral Fellowship. Janet Iwasa was the recipient of this grant, and her goals were to help the public understand research on the origins of life conducted in the labs of Dr. Jack Szostak from Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital and the Center for Origins Research by creating molecular visualizations based on the research and communicating to the public scientific research concepts related to the origins of life. The science communication portion of this project was delivered at the Museum of Science, using a series of live presentations, a multimedia computer kiosk, and a website. This summative evaluation aimed to understand how successfully each of the three delivery methods conveyed the intended educational content as well as how visitors felt about their experiences. Another purpose of the evaluation was to better understand how, if at all, the three different delivery methods differed in their ability to convey the intended messages. For this reason, the evaluation sought to compare visitor learning across the three delivery methods. Findings revealed that visitor learning related closely to the intended main messages of the experiences. These messages were: Life may have formed spontaneously from simple compounds. RNA is thought to be important to early life. Life started with a simple cell. The first cells were thought to be composed of two parts: RNA and a membrane. Visitors had generally positive reactions to all three of the Exploring Life's Origins experiences. This was true for both men and women, as well as for visitors with and without formal education in the sciences, suggesting that the project deliverables were received similarly regardless of gender or science background. Visitors did respond to the content differently based on the delivery method experienced and educational background. Visitors to the website rated the content and vocabulary as too simple which contrasts with visitors to the live presentation and computer kiosk, who found the content and vocabulary to be at an appropriate level. In addition, visitors to the website felt there was too little information, again contrasting with the visitors to the kiosk, who felt there was an appropriate amount of information, and visitors to the live presentations, some of whom felt there was too much information or that the content needed to be simplified. The appendix of this report includes the surveys used in the study.