Active and Engaged: Science Centers and Informal Learning

November 15th, 2005 - Posted in 2005, Dimensions by Christina Jones

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November/December 2005

Research into informal learning, like other types of scientific investigation, is incremental and self-referential. The process may seem opaque to observers; yet over time, consensus emerges and points to promising new avenues of exploration. The content of this issue was informed by three recent initiatives: the October 2004 commissioning by ASTC of a “brief but penetrating summary of the current status of learning in science centers and museums,” resulting in Colin Johnson’s article on page3; the November 2004 “In Principle, In Practice” conference in Annapolis, where museum directors, educators, exhibit designers, and others examined the future of museums through the lens of learning research; and the May 2005 symposium convened by the National Academies’ Board on Science Education to assess “The Status of Research on Learning Science within Informal Education Settings.” The articles here, although only a sampling of the many topics raised and discussed in these forums, offer some key insights into what we currently know about learning in museums and how that knowledge might inform our future work.

• Science Centers as Learning Environments: Defining Our Impact, by Colin Johnson
• Initial and Prolonged Engagement: Resolving the Tensions, by Joshua P. Gutwill and Erik Thogersen
• Factors That Shape Vivid Long-Term Memories: Issues for Science Centers to Ponder, by David Anderson
• Informal Science Learning Resources
The Search for Learning Outcomes: Beyond the Deficit Model, by Richard Toon
• Outside the Walls: New Directions in Family Learning Research, by Kirsten Ellenbogen and Kevin Crowley
• ‘Measuring the Immeasurable’: Museums and Educational Accountability, by Alan Friedman

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Engaging Citizens: Science Centers and Social Responsibility

September 15th, 2005 - Posted in 2005, Dimensions by Christine Ruffo

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September/October 2005

At the 4th Science Centre World Congress, held April 11—15, in Rio de Janeiro, attendees considered how science centers might succeed in “breaking barriers [and] engaging citizens” by providing the public with interactive, informal, capacity-building access to science and technology education. In this issue, we have chosen to continue some of the conversations begun in Brazil. Articles here highlight the work that a number of science centers worldwide are doing to overcome the social inequities inherent in an era of rapid economic globalization—inequities that separate rich from poor, skilled from unskilled, educated from illiterate. Much has already been achieved, and much remains to be done.

• Science Centers and Social Transformation: The Challenge in South Africa, by Mike Bruton
• Going Glocal: UNAM’s Local Approach to Global Issues, by Elaine Reynoso Haynes
• Shared Resources: Building Capacity in Rural Mexico, by Lorena Baca
• Malaysians Can Do It: Supporting a National Vision, by Harison Yusoff
• Fostering Deliberative Democracy: Europe’s DeCiDe Project, by Andrea Bandelli
• Paying a Social Debt: Brazil’s Museu de Ciencias e Technologia, by Getulio P. Carvalho
The Abbott Partnership Program: Addressing Equity in New Jersey’s Schools, by Ellen Wahl

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Mission Based, Market Savvy

July 15th, 2005 - Posted in 2005, Dimensions by Christina Jones

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July/August 2005

When we market science centers, what are we selling? A fun day for the family? Startling and weird phenomena? Meaningful encounters with principles that affect people’s lives? An introduction to the scientific method itself? For nonprofit museums, marketing is more complex than the classic “four P’s” of product, place (i.e. distribution), promotion, and price. We look to develop long-term relationships with current and potential audiences and funders, and that means addressing the expectations and needs of widely varying groups.

Today’s museum marketing professionals, in tandem with evaluators, have increasingly sophisticated tools to do just that. Yet in how many institutions is their knowledge shared consistently, and early on, with planners? At a recent AAM conference, a show of hands at a session on “hot topics in exhibit development” revealed many designers and builders, program staff, and administrators, but no one from marketing. That may have been due to a competing session down the hall, but it was also indicative of a cultural gap. If science centers are to remain successful, both planners and promoters must be aware of, and take into account, each other’s primary duties, concerns, and challenges. In this issue, we learn how some institutions are bridging that gap.

Beyond the Battlefield: Finding Common Ground for Developers and Marketers, by Jane Eastwood
• Better Than Anyone: Taking a Chance on In-House Marketing, by Elizabeth Romanaux
• The Science of Marketing and the Marketing of Science, by Kathleen McLean
• Marketing’s Ally: Measuring the Impact of Public Relations, by Shanon Michael Larimer
• Marketing and Exhibits: Working Together to Understand our Audiences, by Steven S. Yalowitz
• What Works for Us: Marketing Pointers from the Field, contributed by participants in the ASTC RAP
• Resources for Marketing
• How Far Do They Travel: Implications of Zip Code Attendance, by Charlie Trautmann

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Closing the Gap: Reaching Female Audiences in Science Centers

May 15th, 2005 - Posted in 2005, Dimensions by Christina Jones

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May/June 2005

This issue was already planned when Harvard University president Lawrence Summers, addressing a January National Bureau of Economic Research conference on diversity in the science and engineering (S&E) workforce, set off a media storm. Speculating on why so few women hold high-level academic positions in S&E, Summers cited, in this order, the time commitment required in top jobs, different “availability of aptitude at the high end,” and “different socialization and patterns of discrimination.” Female attendees took offense, and Summers later apologized. Ironically, other presenters at the same NBER conference offered not only strong arguments for female intellectual ability in and commitment to science, but also suggestive evidence about gender bias and the challenges of S&E careers. What does all this have to do with science centers? Awareness of barriers is a first step toward changing a system that is insufficiently female-friendly. Next comes understanding of what does work for girls and women, and why. In this issue, we learn how museum professionals are addressing bias and developing programs that help female audiences make a positive connection with science.

A Bridge to Technology: Designing a Program That Attracts Girls, by Linda Kekelis, Etta Heber and Jeri Countryman
• Barriers to Choice: How Adolescent Girls View Science Centers, by Jody Koke
• Building Girls: The Science of Home Improvement, by Kristie Maher
• A Welcoming Committee: Engaging Adult Females in Informal Science, by Dale McCreedy
• A Scientist and a Scholar, by Kristine Molina
• Social Science: Observing Women and Girls in the Museum, by Dave Taylor
• Women’s Workshops at Miraikan, by Satoko Inoue
• A Richer Version: Broadening Women’s View of Technology, by Lena Embertson
• The Universe of Making Things: Toward a Female-Friendly Technology, by Cornelia Brunner
• Women Guiding Women, by Traudel Weber

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The Art of Advocacy: Winning Public Support

March 15th, 2005 - Posted in 2005, Dimensions by Christine Ruffo

Dimensions coverMarch/April 2005

Strong public support for science centers and museums should be a given. With science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) high on government priority lists, and legislators worldwide eager to improve STEM education, strengthen science and technology workforces, and boost national economies, it seems logical that ASTC members would receive a goodly share of public monies. But how do we get our message across in the face of large and powerful competitors? In this issue, for which ASTC government and public relations director Sean Smith served as co-editor, we look at advocacy strategies that have proved effective at local, state, and national levels; examine the risks and rewards of taking one’s case directly to the voters; and consider our larger role in the public forum as proponents of lifelong science learning.


• A Gleaming Tower on a Mountain: Developing a Legislative Agenda and Making It Happen, by Greg Andorfer
Working with Lawmakers: Lessons from the Grassroots, by Tom Krakauer
• What Your Legislator Wants from You, by Bill Gilmartin
• Growing Toward a Science Center: The Flanders Model, by Erik Jacquemyn
• On the Ballot: Letting the People Decide
• ECSITE-UK: Britain’s Science Center Advocate
• Thoughts on Representing the Field

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