Summative Evaluation of Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination
Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination is a National Science Foundation funded project which developed a national traveling exhibition on science and technology themes depicted in the Star Wars movies. The Museum of Science, Boston (MOS) developed the exhibition in collaboration with Lucasfilm Ltd. and Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative (SMEC). The exhibition will travel to members of the SMEC in Los Angeles, Portland, Fort Worth, St. Paul, Columbus, Philadelphia, and Boston. Other venues will display the exhibition after the Collaborative tour. Tisdal Consulting was contracted to conduct remedial and summative evaluation studies to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the exhibition at its first two venues: the Museum of Science (MOS), Boston, and the Columbus Ohio Science Center (COSI). The exhibition opened at MOS on October 27, 2005. A remedial evaluation report was submitted on February 1, 2006 based on data collected between November 4 and 20, 2005. The purpose of this summative study is to provide information to allow the exhibition team, SMEC, and funders to decide if the exhibition accomplished its intended outcomes. Findings will also be useful to other institutions hosting the traveling exhibition. We used a naturalistic methodology to conduct the study using both qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data at MOS between April 1 and April 13, 2006 and at COSI between July 8 and July 22, 2006. Two popular culture terms best describe what we learned about the overall effectiveness of the Star Wars exhibition, state-of-the-art and pushing-the-envelope. State-of-the-art encapsulates the success of the exhibition in providing a highly satisfying experience for many visitors. It also captures well the success in providing many rich informal learning experiences with evidence that many visitors accomplished intended goals. We also found evidence of potential impact beyond the visiting experience. State-of-the-art also describes how the exhibition was created. At its inception the exhibition was connected to important national issues in technology literacy. Based on the informal science education field's success in making learning fun and relevant, a popular theme was selected to attract new and infrequent visitors to informal science learning institutions. Front-end analysis and evaluation was conducted to understand what visitors found attractive and relevant. The design team developed an explicit learning rationale based on theory with clear strategies, well-stated goals, and clear messages. Types of exhibit experiences were carefully considered based on previous research and evaluation and best practices. Pushing-the-envelope describes taking on a complex process such as engineering design and carefully designing and prototyping multi-station areas. At this point in time, this exhibition is highly effective, state-of-the-art, and pushing-the-envelope in our understanding of what can be accomplished in prolonged deeply engaging exhibits. Among respondents who had access to this experience, primarily children and a few adults, we found clear connections to engineering and age-appropriate articulations of the process. The EDLs pushed the envelope and the challenge was largely met. Another way the exhibition pushes the envelope is by using universal design features to make the experience more accessible to people with disabilities. Using these two overarching measures and based on the findings of this study, Star War: Where Science Meets Imagination is a highly successful exhibition. To a great extent and for many people theexhibition accomplished many of the intended outcomes and impacts. These two terms also encapsulate the exhibition's limitations. In this study, the experience in Star Wars was state-of-the-art in that, like other popular exhibitions, its ability to attract visitors and the levels of crowding resulted, at times, in overwhelming the capacity for rich, satisfying learning. The exhibition is also state-of-art in terms of the limited range of the audience it attracts and serves. Over the past 25 to 30 years, many museums have become fee-based institutions. We concluded that the demographics of the Star Wars audience were largelyinfluenced by the ticket price. Interviews with people with disabilities provided evidence that ticket prices are a barrier to this group. Providing opportunities for learning and enjoyment within the same time and space for both adults and children is a major challenge among science museums and science centers. The field as a whole needs to continue to find ways to serve both audiences. It may or may not be possible to do this in the same space at the same time. Finally, the efforts to attract visitors to the exhibition were state-of-the art. We heard numerous mentions from visitors of media sources including television, radio, newspapers, websites, and travel magazines. The distances respondents traveled indicated the broad reach of these methods, and the crowds proved their effectiveness. But we did find some disconnect between the expectations of the respondents and the experience they found. The degree of disconnect we identified affected satisfaction to some extent and may have influenced engagement, particularly among some infrequent and new visitors. In summary, given what we know about informal science learning and the tools we have right now, Star Wars was a highly successful product which combined knowledge and expertise into a highly satisfying and rich learning experience. As the informal science education field progresses, learning from important exhibitions such as this will further our understanding of creating enjoyable and deeply meaningful learning experiences. The appendix of this document includes a tracking & timing instrument, survey script, and interview protocols.