Reconceiving Exhibit Design for Public Engagement with Science
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The theme of this conference project by the New York Hall of Science will be exploring how to better design exhibits to promote "public engagement with science." Here, "public engagement with science" refers to opportunities that go beyond traditional approaches to the public understanding of science. The event will invite professionals to consider how to shift exhibit designs toward engaging visitors with STEM in ways that emphasize the intersection of STEM innovation with visitors' daily lives, their personal agency, and their interdependence with their personal social networks and the institutions that advance STEM knowledge and innovation. The conference and its pre- and post-conference activities will bring together curators, exhibition developers, community outreach professionals, museum administrators, and learning scientists from the United States and Canada. They will work together to identify design principles and key obstacles to designing exhibits that can better help science museums achieve two goals: 1) making visitors' diverse and personal questions, concerns, and perspectives central to their experience of the exhibits; and 2) engaging visitors as contributors to the exhibit experience in ways that make their contributions visible and consequential. During this two-day event attendees will consider how exhibits can support broader and more diverse public participation in critical debates about the roles of STEM discovery and innovation in society. The effort is grounded in recent work on public engagement with science; on reorganizing museums to become sites for participation and contribution by visitors, and particularly by institutions' local communities; and on making and engineering design programming within museums. The goal is to chart a course toward a vision of the future of science museums in which they maintain their status as sources of trusted information, while also fulfilling their potential as sites of genuine participation and social interaction, in which visitors make meaningful contributions to the substance and workings of the museum floor while also engaging with, learning about and holding themselves accountable to the core concepts and practices of the STEM disciplines. The conference will build the capacity and collaborative engagement of a network of science centers whose work is central to achieving the museum field's ultimate goal of engaging the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments. The conference and associated activities will be evaluated by staff at the New York Hall of Science, with oversight by an external advisory committee of research and development professionals. 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.