Written by Lesley Markham
What does the science center experience look like through the eyes of a child or teen visitor? Do we, as museum professionals, really know how our young visitors use the science center? What can we learn from them? An international group of museum professionals were challenged by Walter Staveloz of ASTC to find some answers to these questions by challenging young people to make a short video of their experience at a science center. They were provided with GoPro video cameras to wear as they navigated their way around the exhibit floor. Each science center had a slightly different take on how they approached the challenge, and they all came up with interesting thoughts and ideas about the results, which they presented at the Sunday ASTC 2015 session “Worldwide Science Center GoPro Challenge.”
Stéphane Vakoula from the Montreal Science Centre, Quebec, Canada, advertised through Facebook for youth to participate in the challenge in return for free entry and a chance to win a prize. Despite a Facebook following of 30,000, only four youth took up the challenge. Those that did participate made excellent videos and showed how they used the activities in the science center. The tinkering experiments were clearly the favorites.
Mikko Myllykoski from Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre, Vantaa, gave the challenge to a 15-year-old girl who spent a week at the science center on a work-life project. She spent time getting to know the science center and then made a video describing what she had observed. She pointed out the lack of signage from the train station, that many of the exhibits were designed for groups rather than people visiting the museum on their own, and how a first impression was so important. As she talked about the exhibits and live shows, it was clear that she loved her time there! Myllykoski described how the feedback has been valuable and well received by the museum staff. They are planning to use the technique again.
Robert Firmhofer from Copernicus Science Centre, Warsaw, Poland, used the challenge as a research project. A 4-year-old girl who was playing in an exhibit with her mother used the GoPro cam. Firmhofer was particularly interested in looking at the parenting style of the mother as she interacted with her child and how that affected the child’s experience. Following success with the initial video, Firmhofer recruited 100 parents through Facebook to study the relationships in a broader population. The results of the sample showed that the children of parents who were excessively protective stayed longer at each exhibit. Parents who were disengaged had less engaged children. Firmhofer posted the results on Facebook to feed back to the community.
Sheena Laursen from Experimentarium, Hellerup, Denmark, provided the GoPro cam to a 13-year-old boy. The video showed him racing around the science center with a friend, clearly enjoying himself. The subtleties of the video showed how he wanted to share his experiences of surprise and wonder with his friend. As he moved between exhibits, he was drawn to those where he could get personally involved. Laursen believed there was potential to do more of this type of easy and simple research with valuable feedback.
Patricia Verheyden from Technopolis, the Flemish Science Centre, Mechelen, Belgium, decided to use a family group. She approached many families entering the science center and found that most refused the challenge or didn’t capture sufficient video footage. After a disappointing start, Verheyden challenged a brother (11 years old) and sister (15 years old) who were regular attendees at the science center. The boy only spent time at the more traditional exhibits that were part of the original museum. In contrast, the girl visited newer exhibits focusing on creativity rather than science.
Nohora Elizabeth Hoyos from Maloka, Centro Interactivo de Ciencia y Technologia, Bogota, Columbia, focused on an 11-year-old child interacting with his family. The video revealed the benefit of family interaction and engagement. It was clear that the parents were also learning in a non-threatening environment.
The panel concluded that the challenge has been helpful in revealing how children and youth feedback can be obtained using a simple and effective method. Not only was the information gathered from the videos useful for the museum professionals, it also opened up questions for further research into child and parent behavior.