How much is too much technology in a science center or museum, or is the sky the limit? Does it engage or distract?

December 19th, 2013 - Posted in 2014, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the January/February 2014 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Good examples of technology gone bad can often be traced to poor design. Does the design of an interactive cause visitors to isolate from others, or does it support social engagement? Does the design of a mobile app focus visitors’ attention away from an exhibit, or does it deepen the awesome moment of that particular time and place? We can never escape the potential for digital media to engage or distract. That struggle is unavoidable, especially when visitors can carry in their own devices. But we can support visitors to develop an intentionality in their use of technology and support them to mediate their visit in ways that connect them with the exhibits and the social and physical spaces around them.

Barry Joseph, associate director for digital learning, American Museum of Natural History, New York City

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When are evaluation and other visitor feedback strategies the most useful for helping advance a science center’s mission? When are such strategies less successful?

August 25th, 2013 - Posted in 2013, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the September/October 2013 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Evaluation is a powerful tool for providing visitors with a voice, which then enables us to stay relevant to their needs and motivations. The goal of any exhibit or program is to engage visitors, perhaps challenging them to think critically about a concept or topic or to reflect on their own understanding. To do this, we need to understand who our visitors are and what knowledge and attitudes they may be bringing to an experience, as well as what would most likely pique their interest and keep them engaged. This strategy is only ineffective if the institution is not ready or willing to hear and act upon that voice.

Joy Kubarek-Sandor, director, learning planning and evaluation
John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago
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Should science centers prioritize adult-oriented programs? What are the benefits and challenges of such programs?

April 22nd, 2013 - Posted in 2013, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the May/June 2013 issue of Dimensions magazine.

Scitech has been running adults-only nights twice a year since 2009, the year we turned 21. We started doing these evenings as we realized that there must be an increasing number of young people who had experienced Scitech as children, but most likely hadn’t returned as they were either not yet parents, or felt that the center was just for kids, and they wouldn’t feel comfortable visiting during normal opening hours where they would be bumping shoulders with 5- to 12-year-olds. These nights have been a marked success with an average of 800 people visiting during the Saturday night opening from 6 to 10 p.m., and with regular inquiries about the date of the next event. Even though families with young children will continue to be our primary target market, we believe it’s still valuable to engage young adults at our center, as it helps foster an increasing appreciation of the value and impact of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the Western Australian community, regardless of whether these young people work in a STEM field.

Kate Elder, director of communications and marketing
Scitech, Perth, Australia

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Should science centers and museums spend resources on hosting blockbuster exhibitions? Why or why not?

January 3rd, 2013 - Posted in 2013, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the January/February 2013 issue of Dimensions magazine.


“If they had more special exhibitions, then we’d get a membership and come more often.”
Science Museum of Minnesota visitor, August 2011

Our most recent audience survey, conducted in 2011 (n=830), suggests that there are factors beyond immediate attendance to blockbuster exhibitions to consider. For instance, 85% of visitors responded that they would be more likely to visit the museum more frequently if they knew something was different or had changed. While visitors’ intentions do not necessarily lead to actions, blockbuster exhibitions may inform visitors’ perceptions of change at the museum and encourage repeat visits and new memberships.

Gayra Ostgaard, museum evaluator 2
Gretchen Haupt, museum evaluator 1
Al Onkka, museum evaluator 2
Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul

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In your opinion, what should every museum be able to provide for the “ideal” museum experience?

October 29th, 2012 - Posted in 2012, Dimensions, Viewpoints by Emily Schuster

This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the November/December 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.

My ideal museum experience is memorable. It requires only one cool exhibit experience where I spend significant time, engaged in a way that taps into previous interests and expands my thinking. It makes me wonder about something and allows me to explore an idea viscerally, using my hands—even my full body. Connecting with others (family, friends, or a museum educator) around the phenomenon is important, too, as it shapes and grows my own perspective. Yet I have to own the activity, by directing next steps and reflecting on what I did and learned. Ideally, I’ve embodied a concept, had my interest piqued, and am primed to explore further. In fact, my ideal museum experience is more than memorable. I’ve come to care.

Tracey Wright, senior researcher and developer, TERC, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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