Cultural Studies of Science Education

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 791–820 | Cite as

Communication about science in a traditional museum: visitors’ and staff’s perceptions

FORUM

Abstract

This study investigated visitors’ and staff’s perceptions about the communication of science in a traditional natural history museum. The research examined the science-related outcomes for adult visitors and explored visitors’ and staff’s ideas of science and how it is portrayed at the museum. Data were collected by questionnaire and interview from 84 staff and 102 visitors. Both groups held positive views about science, its importance and the need for everyone to understand it. Comparison of visitors’ pretest and posttest scores on the questionnaire revealed some significant changes, several suggesting a change to views about science that were less “scientific.” Most visitors thought that their ideas about science had not changed as a result of their visit, but they were positive about the museum as a place for learning science. Staff held more “scientific” views about the nature of science than did visitors; they recognized the potential of the museum to educate people about science, but felt it needed to be presented as more relevant and accessible, particularly in terms of science as a cultural practice. Neither staff nor visitors perceived that the museum stimulated visitors to think critically about science. While acknowledging that interpreting complex scientific knowledge into exhibits readily understood by lay visitors and displaying controversy are difficult, these challenges must be addressed if visitors are to be encouraged to think about science and the social, cultural and political contexts which shape it.

Keywords

Museum education Scientific literacy Science communication 

References

  1. American Association of Museums. (1992). Excellence and equity: Education and the public dimension of museums. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar
  2. Baldock, J. (1995). Science is... at the Birmingham museum of science and technology. Public Understanding of Science, 4, 285–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bradbourne, J. M. (2001). A new strategic approach to the museum and its relationship to society. Museum Management and Curatorship, 19, 75–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Caro, P. (1997). Tensions between science and education in museums, elsewhere. In G. Farmelo & J. Carding (Eds.), Here and now: Contemporary science and technology in museums and science centers (pp. 219–225). London: Science Museum.Google Scholar
  5. Dierking, L. D., Falk, J. H., Rennie, L., Anderson, D., & Ellenbogen, K. (2003). Policy statement of the “Informal Science Education” ad hoc committee. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40, 108–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Durant, J. (1993). Rising to the challenge. Museums Journal, 93(10), 26–27.Google Scholar
  7. Endersby, J. (1997). The evolving museum. Public Understanding of Science, 6, 185–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Falk, J. H. (1991). Analysis of the behavior of family visitors in a natural history museum: The national museum of natural history. Curator, 34, 44–50.Google Scholar
  9. Falk, J. H. (Ed.), (2001). Free-choice science education: How we learn science outside of school. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  10. Falk, J. H., & Dierking, L. D. (1992). The museum experience. Washington, DC: Whalesback Books.Google Scholar
  11. Falk, J. H., & Dierking, L. D. (2000). Learning from museums: Visitor experiences and the making of meaning. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.Google Scholar
  12. Fitzgerald, A., Yezril, A., & Dial, M. (1997). Commentary: Three perspectives on science exhibits in the Museum of Science and Industry, Franklin Institute, and National Zoo. Science Communication, 19, 62–80.Google Scholar
  13. Friedman, A. J. (1995). Exhibits and expectations. Public Understanding of Science, 4, 305–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hawkey, R. (2001). The science of nature and the nature of science: Natural history museums on-line. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 5(4). (http://unr.edu/homepage/crowther/ejse/hawkey.html).Google Scholar
  15. Henriksen, E. K. (1998). Environmental issues in the museum: Applying public perceptions in exhibition development. Curator, 41, 90–105.Google Scholar
  16. Henriksen, E. K., & Frøyland, M. (2000). The contribution of museums to scientific literacy: Views from audience and museum professionals. Public Understanding of Science, 9, 393–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Korn, R. (1995). An analysis of differences between visitors at natural history museums and science centers. Curator, 38(3), 150–160.Google Scholar
  18. Lucas, A. M. (1983). Scientific literacy and informal learning. Studies in Science Education, 10, 1–36.Google Scholar
  19. Macdonald, S., & Silverstone, R. (1992). Science on display: The representation of scientific controversy in museum exhibitions. Public Understanding of Science, 1, 69–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McManus, P. M. (1991). Making sense of exhibits. In G. Kavanagh (Ed.), Museum languages: Objects and texts (pp. 35–46). Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Miles, R. S. (1986). Museum audiences. The International Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, 5, 73–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miles, R. S., & Tout, A. F. (1991). Impact of research on the approach to the visiting public at the Natural history Museum, London. International Journal of Science Education, 13, 543–549.Google Scholar
  23. Molella, A. P. (1999). Science in American Life, national identity and the science wars: A curator’s view. Curator, 42, 108–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pedretti, E. (2004). Perspectives on learning through critical issued-based science center exhibits. Science Education, 88(Suppl. 1), S34–S47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rennie, L. J., & Johnston, D. J. (2004). The nature of learning and its implications for research on learning from museums. Science Education, 88(Suppl. 1), S4–S16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rennie, L. J., & Williams, G. F. (2002). Science centers and scientific literacy: Promoting a relationship with science. Science Education, 86, 706–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Shamos, B. M. H. (1995). The myth of scientific literacy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Shen, B. S. P. (1975). Science literacy and the public understanding of science. In S. B. Day (Ed.), Communication of scientific information (pp. 44–52). Basel: Karger.Google Scholar
  29. Smith, M. U., & Scharmann, L. C. (1999). Defining versus describing the nature of science: A pragmatic analysis for classroom teachers and science educators. Science Education, 83, 493–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. St. John, M., & Perry, D. (1993). A framework for evaluation and research: Science, infrastructure and relationships. In S. Bicknell, & G. Farmelo (Eds.), Museums visitor studies in the 90s (pp. 59–66). London: Science Museum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Curtin University of TechnologyPerthAustralia

Personalised recommendations