This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the September/October 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.
I worry that we are not confident enough about our place in the science learning ecosystem, with the result that we try to do more than we need to. We may be less good at delivering information to people than the web or schools, but we are much better at instilling curiosity, providing context and providing a social environment where people can learn together and see each other learn. We don’t set exit tests for our visitors, so we shouldn’t feel like we have to include lots of testable information just to fit with a stereotype of being “educational.”
Andy Lloyd, head of special projects, International Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
I would better align incentives, financial and otherwise, with evidence-based impact of informal learning experiences.
David Ucko, president, Museums + More, Washington, D.C.
I would change the fact that on the whole, science centers and museums are able to offer so few free admission days, and therefore continue to be out of the reach of many families and schools. Harnessing community and national support to make more free access would be a worthy effort across the board.
Deborah Lee Rose, science center communications, Walnut Creek, California
While keeping the informal character of science centers intact, a mandatory link with formal science teaching institutions could be put in place requiring all students to visit science centers as a part of their science curriculum. This would help the spread of science centers throughout the world with government and private funding and public support.
Ingit Kumar Mukhopadhyay, former director general, National Council of Science Museums, Kolkata, India
I wish for science centers and museums to be more participative for all visitors, to allow them to create new experiences and bring their own projects into our exhibit and public spaces.
Brigitte Belleville, project leader, Montréal Science Centre, Quebec, Canada
For the United Kingdom, I would change funding structures. We do not have the tax breaks or the traditions of corporate or personal philanthropy that the United States has, and nothing like the National Science Foundation to provide funding support. There are three government departments that could potentially support science centers—the departments responsible for Culture, Education, and Science—and each feels that science centers should be supported by one of the other two.
Worldwide, I would change the perception that we are about educating children about science so that they will become scientists. Art galleries aren’t about getting children to become artists—they are about the cultural appreciation of art by all ages, and we are doing the same for science, or should be.
Ian Simmons, science communication director, International Centre for Life, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom
I would change the field’s focus on one audience segment. Once science centers go beyond the myths that “we can’t be everything to everyone” and that every activity has to be hands-on, free-choice learning, new models of engagement will evolve fast enough to meet the needs of current and future audiences.
Eli Kuslansky, chief strategist and partner, Unified Field, Inc., New York City
I would like to see all science centers refer to our onsite audiences as “guests” rather than “visitors.” This change would help us to remember that our primary focus should be on providing friendly, informative, and memorable experiences in a clean, safe, and accessible setting.
Charlie Trautmann, executive director, Sciencenter, Ithaca, New York
I’d change the perception that there’s nothing there for adults, it’s all just for kids.
Regan Forrest (@interactivate), director, Interactivate, Adelaide, Australia
Cross-institutional collaboration! It would be great if more science centers collaborated/worked with art/history museums.
Cynthia Brown (@missthiabrown), traveling exhibits manager, Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul
The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their institutions or of ASTC.