Background There seem to be a trend that indicates that many museums and science centres in the western world have a problem attracting youth to come and visit and participate in the activities arranged by their institutions. How can this be better understood? Objectives In my research, I have tried to give voice to teenagers who are reluctant to participate in science centres by allowing their perspective to stand out as much as possible. This in order to better understand why they choose not to engage in the science centre. Methods I provided invited teenagers with video cameras and asked them to film a visit at the local science centre, a film that we later watched together. This way the video films became not only an (non-human) agent through which the teenagers could tell their story, the video films also provided a space where the teenagers could elaborate this story and integrate how it related to their social identity. Results In this session I will elaborate on my findings from a perspective that relates to issues concerning science communication. My results show that in many of the traditional science centre exhibits the teenagers felt unable to participate because they experienced them as representing science and technology as ready-made. In this situation they learn not to participate, and subsequently, that they have nothing to contribute with this matter and that their knowledge is not valued. Conclusions When someone is always producing meanings, as in certain exhibit designs, and the visitors have to always adopt meaning, there is an uneven ownership of meaning. Visitors whose contributions are never adopted may develop an identity of non-participation that progressively marginalizes them until they become uninterested to engage in the science centre setting. This may very well have implications on other similar settings too. Technological artefacts, like the paper mill, once changed the world and opened it towards new possibilities. Paradoxically, science centre representations and communication of the same technological artefact tend to close the object by simply redirecting the visitors’ view of the world into pre-determined directions. How can this paradox be solved? People have always used and developed artefacts and have subsequently learned to do new things. Developing these artefacts has developed new practices and reinforced new forms of learning processes. I suggest that the newborn focus on the visual and audible in the virtual culture and the verbal and narrative in the storytelling culture must be seriously considered as artefacts that influence and develop new forms of learning processes. This study highlights one possible aspect of these processes that seems to be underestimated so far in the science centre exhibits, namely the space of negotiability that provides possibilities to the visitor to contribute to and develop the meaning of theses activities. The discussion about how to develop science communication in future science centres and museums is obviously not only about specific physical features of the exhibits, the discussion have to be keenly aware of what forms of participation and activities should be enabled to fit into a changing society. This is also the starting point of my coming study which includes questions of what the next generation of museums may consist of.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

You cannot contribute to a ready-made world -lessons learnt from a study of teenagers’ use of a science centre

Vaike Fors   Göteborg University

Background There seem to be a trend that indicates that many museums and science centres in the western world have a problem attracting youth to come and visit and participate in the activities arranged by their institutions. How can this be better understood? Objectives In my research, I have tried to give voice to teenagers who are reluctant to participate in science centres by allowing their perspective to stand out as much as possible. This in order to better understand why they choose not to engage in the science centre. Methods I provided invited teenagers with video cameras and asked them to film a visit at the local science centre, a film that we later watched together. This way the video films became not only an (non-human) agent through which the teenagers could tell their story, the video films also provided a space where the teenagers could elaborate this story and integrate how it related to their social identity. Results In this session I will elaborate on my findings from a perspective that relates to issues concerning science communication. My results show that in many of the traditional science centre exhibits the teenagers felt unable to participate because they experienced them as representing science and technology as ready-made. In this situation they learn not to participate, and subsequently, that they have nothing to contribute with this matter and that their knowledge is not valued. Conclusions When someone is always producing meanings, as in certain exhibit designs, and the visitors have to always adopt meaning, there is an uneven ownership of meaning. Visitors whose contributions are never adopted may develop an identity of non-participation that progressively marginalizes them until they become uninterested to engage in the science centre setting. This may very well have implications on other similar settings too. Technological artefacts, like the paper mill, once changed the world and opened it towards new possibilities. Paradoxically, science centre representations and communication of the same technological artefact tend to close the object by simply redirecting the visitors’ view of the world into pre-determined directions. How can this paradox be solved? People have always used and developed artefacts and have subsequently learned to do new things. Developing these artefacts has developed new practices and reinforced new forms of learning processes. I suggest that the newborn focus on the visual and audible in the virtual culture and the verbal and narrative in the storytelling culture must be seriously considered as artefacts that influence and develop new forms of learning processes. This study highlights one possible aspect of these processes that seems to be underestimated so far in the science centre exhibits, namely the space of negotiability that provides possibilities to the visitor to contribute to and develop the meaning of theses activities. The discussion about how to develop science communication in future science centres and museums is obviously not only about specific physical features of the exhibits, the discussion have to be keenly aware of what forms of participation and activities should be enabled to fit into a changing society. This is also the starting point of my coming study which includes questions of what the next generation of museums may consist of.

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