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Visitor Studies
  A visitor to the Maryland Science Center tries out an exhibit prototype

A visitor tries out an exhibit prototype at the Maryland Science Center.
Photo courtesy Maryland Science Center

Evaluation is a bold undertaking. It can conjure up feelings of amazement, humility, power, enlightenment, and an appreciation for how hard visitors try to understand exhibits.
Samuel Taylor and Beverly Serrell
Try It! Improving Exhibits Through Formative Evaluation

Why Do Visitor Studies?
Front-end, formative, and summative studies in museums are tools for improving design of exhibits and programs. Front-end studies, which focus on visitors' interests and understandings, can be seen as the beginning of a continuing conversation among museum staff and advisors, visitors, and the subject matter. During design and prototyping, formative evaluation helps us to work toward clarity, comprehension, accessibility, and ease of use. When the exhibit or program is complete, summative evaluation can document its value to supporters and the community, and contribute to future planning.

Readings About Visitor Studies
Abstracts of Front-End Studies
More Resources

Readings About Visitor Studies

Face to Face: Examining Educational Staff's Impact on Visitors, by Margie Marino and Judy Koke, ASTC Dimensions, January/February 2003

Go Figure! Evaluating a Math Exhibition, by Randi Korn and Johanna Jones, ASTC Dimensions, March/April 2001

How Do Visitors Understand the Universe?, by Mary Dussault, ASTC Newsletter, May/June 1999.

Front-End Studies: Where the Museum and the Community Meet, by Lynn D. Dierking and Wendy Pollock, ASTC Newsletter, July/August 1998.

ASTC Publications sells books on research and evaluation, including Questioning Assumptions: An Introduction to Front-End Studies in Museums; Try It!: Improving Exhibits Through Formative Evaluation; and the two-volume set What Research Says About Learning in Science Museums.

AAM BookstoreVisitor Surveys: A User's Manual, by Randi Korn and Laurie Sowd, American Association of Museums, 1990
This Resource Report from AAM is an easy-to-understand guide to designing and conducting your own visitor survey from start to finish. Check the "Audience" section of the
AAM Bookstore.

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Abstracts of Front-End Studies

Astronomy front-end studies

Biology front-end studies

Chemistry front-end studies
Chemistry by Julie O'Brien, 1997

The Chemistry of Living Things by Science Learning, Inc.
for New York Hall of Science, 1997

Chemistry and the Periodic Table by Becky Wynne, OMSI, 1997

Molecular Lego Exhibit by Mike Coles, The Exploratory, 1997

States of Matter by Maryann McDermott Jones and Lisa McQuail,
Capital Children's Museum, 1997

Earth Sciences front-end studies

Health and Medicine front-end studies

Physics front-end studies

Scientific Method and Process front-end studies

Social Science front-end studies

Technology front-end studies

Marketing and Planning front-end studies

Other topics

Sources: Unless otherwise indicated, abstracts came from the ASTC publication Questioning Assumptions: An Introduction to Front-End Studies in Museums, by Lynn D. Dierking and Wendy Pollock (1998).

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More Resources

AAMAssessment Tools in Informal Science
Designed to help practitioners, evaluators, researchers, and policymakers select instruments to assess science learning and child outcomes in out-of-school programs, this web site features a searchable database of assessment tools for evaluating program quality and outcomes. Developed by Harvard University–McLean Hospital's Program in Education, Afterschool and Resiliency (PEAR).

AAMCommittee on Audience Research and Evaluation (CARE)
A Standing Professional Committee of the American Association of Museums,CARE provides a forum for museum professionals who believe that understanding the visitor is an essential part of museum planning and operation and disseminates information about systematic research and evaluation pertaining to museum audiences. Also a source for names of evaluators.

Begun as a project of the Museum Learning Collaborative with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, this site includes tools for evaluators working in informal settings as well as a database of abstracts, citations, and reviews.

Visitor Studies AssociationVisitor Studies Association
VSA provides a forum for exchange of information in the field of visitor studies, including organizing an annual conference.

AAMMedia Evaluation and Visitor Research
A National Park Service site, Media Evaluation and Visitor Research is a source for front-end, formative, and summative evaluation reports and other resources about visitor studies.

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