Learning science in interactive exhibitions. Frameworks for design and evaluation of material for exploratory learning experiences
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This study addresses utilization of interactive science exhibitions as resources that support students’ progress towards conceptual understanding of science. Informed by previous empirical studies related to our area of research, we conduct a review, presented in the current study, titled “Exhibitions as learning environments: a review of empirical research on students’ science learning at Natural History Museums, Science Museums and Science Centres” (Hauan & Kolstø, 2014). By the review, we identified two research areas which inspired the two other studies in this thesis: 1) Exploration of the effects of different designs for guided exploratory learning, 2) and evaluation of the effectiveness of educational activities by studying the presence and quality of the learning processes visitors are engaged in.
The identified research areas related to evaluation are considered in “Proposing an evaluation framework for interventions: focusing on students’ behaviours in interactive science exhibitions” (Hauan, DeWitt, & Kolstø, 2015), included in the current study. To find expedient ways to evaluate exhibition-based programmes, we designed paper-based material for self-guided exploration. Eleven to thirteen-year-old students participated in the study. The programme design is based on a conceptual framework developed with the aim of creating a learning environment which embeds kinaesthetic, text-based, verbal, and social experiences to facilitate progress towards conceptual understanding, via the use of group assignments through which students experience phenomena corresponding to particular scientific concepts. The programme consisted of six tasks, five customised for energy-related exhibits, and one which gave teachers the opportunity to support students in understanding the relationship between the concepts they encountered. The evaluative approach focused on students’ verbal and non-verbal behaviours and related identified behaviour categories to learning theory. Video recordings were transcribed and analysed, investigating the quality of the intervention based on both verbal and non-verbal behaviours during the six tasks. The proposed evaluation framework consisted of two identified overarching learning related behavioural categories. One behaviour category reflects general overall engagement in the learning environment and the second, designated as Multi-Modal Discussions, is indicative of deeper engagement and, in turn, the possibility of conceptual learning outcomes.
Applications of the evaluative framework are investigated by a third study, presented in the current paper, “Comparing resources for self-guided learning in interactive science exhibitions: evaluations based on students' behaviour” (Hauan & Hällman, submitted 2016). For this study, we incorporated behaviours categorized with the evaluative framework proposed in Hauan et al. (2015) into evaluation software designed to code video recordings. This software configuration rationalizes the process of analysis. For this research, we investigated four designs for self-guided exploration of the same five exhibits as in the previous study. Two designs can be described as low in terms of sophistication: one encourages open exploration while the other involved a “classical” worksheet. The third design was identical to the paper-based material design developed in Hauan et al. (2015). The final design involved digital, multimedia tablets and included all the features of the paper-based version. Moreover, this design encouraged photography of relevant objects and phenomena and allowed for feedback and score-based responses. The findings suggest that designs for self-guidance can indeed influence students' behaviours and that an application of the evaluative framework results in data which can be used to compare and discuss differences in the educational quality of the designed materials. Additionally, the research suggests that the group behaviour of students is greatly influenced by the design of the materials. This influence resulted in the inclusion of group behaviour as an additional category in the evaluative framework. Our experience analysing extensive data from 14 visits also suggests that the applied software is an expedient tool for evaluations of educational quality.
A conceptual framework for designing material for Guided Exploratory Learning experiences is presented by Hauan et al. (2015) and also applied in the design of the digital version, presented by Hauan and Hällman (sub. 2016). The theoretical foundation for the conceptual framework, discussed in detail in chapter four, presents a theoretical rationale for the design of learning activities that facilitate Guided Exploratory Learning. The design aims to guide students in the reading of texts which present focal concepts, multisensory observations of related focal phenomena and objects, and linking concepts to previous experiences. These experiences result in joint, explorative task-solving; reflective exploration by scaffolding students’ thinking, and they provides guidelines that aim to facilitate students’ personal engagement. The result of comparing programme designs by applying the developed evaluation framework (Hauan & Hällman, sub. 2016) suggests that the design of Guided Exploratory Learning significantly enhances the educational quality of visits. As we worked with the design concept of the current study, we developed a perspective that considers the users of programmes as educational resources. Furthermore, these resources ought to be given the same weight as resources provided by the venue. This perspective has led to the design framework I have termed Embedded Learning Environment. The idea implies a shift from focusing on what an exhibition has to offer to how an exhibition and visiting teachers’ and students’ resources can be embedded in a holistic learning environment. An Embedded Learning Environment requires that designers cull knowledge concerning visitors and, in particular, gather information about students’ prior knowledge and experience with relevant concepts, in addition to information about school curricula and textbooks.
The current study suggests that the evaluative framework proposed, based on students’ behaviours, can be expedient for the evaluation of the educational quality of material designed for self-guided, exploratory, learning experiences in interactive science exhibitions. The study also suggests that the design of self-guided learning experiences can result in structures which embed the educational resources of teachers and students and can indeed lead to experiences that support students’ progress towards conceptual understanding.