NISE Network Research on How Visitors Find and Discuss Relevance in the Nano Exhibition
Over the final five years of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE Net), the “Research on Public Learning and Decision-Making” (PLDM) team studied how visitors make decisions and learn about nanotechnologies through a variety of NISE Network educational products. The focus of this report is an exploratory study conducted on the Nano exhibition in order to answer the research question: How do visitors use, interact with, and talk about the exhibit components within the Nano exhibition to learn about the relevance of nano to their lives? To answer this question, PLDM team members video- and audio-recorded 33 groups of visitors that used and had conversations in the Nano exhibition. They then conducted a reflective interview with these groups to further understand what visitors were doing and thinking as they used the exhibition. Researchers analyzed the data beginning with a framework from Kember, Ho, and Hong (2008) who define four types of personal and career relevance: applying theory to practice, relevance to local issues, relevance to everyday applications, and relevance to current topics. This starting framework was used to understand the kinds of relevance that visitors found within the exhibition. However, a post hoc coding scheme was also added to understand how visitors were making connections to nano: whether it was directly through exhibition content (internal relevance connections) or by adding examples from their own lives and experiences (external relevance connections). Findings from this study indicate that visitor groups found relevance predominantly at the exhibition panels where most of the content about applications and societal issues was contained. Many visitor groups also found relevance at the interactive “Balance Your Nano Future.” In finding relevance, visitor groups’ discussions touched on all of the different kinds of relevance described by Kember, Ho, and Hong (2008). However, most commonly, these conversations were about relevance to current topics and relevance to everyday applications. It appeared that visitors tended to rely on content contained within the exhibition components (internal relevance connections) for their conversations of relevance to current topics. However, they often extended the component content to include examples from their own lives (external relevance connections) as a part of conversations about relevance to everyday applications. These findings may have implications for future exhibit and program design as it appears that purposefully adding content about applications and societal issues will lead visitors to find the relevance of a STEM topic. However, it appears important to provide a variety of examples of societal issues for visitors to draw upon to be able to discuss relevance to current topics. It may not be as important to provide a variety of examples related to the relevance of everyday applications because in these cases it appears that visitors are more easily able to draw on examples from their own lives and experiences.