A large number of museum visitor studies have focused on interactive science exhibits as rich places for learning. Some have demonstrated the overall value of live animal encounters and animal touch experiences. Although few studies have examined visitor engagement in such live animal exhibits, the same are thought to promote public conservation awareness. This paper reports preliminary findings from a larger research project comparing families’ engagement in activities at a live animal touch-tank and at nearby natural tidepools. The larger study makes inferences about learning affordances provided by the features of each settings and family group social interaction, and it investigates possible links to conservation values. Mixed methods include in-person and video observations, on-site surveys, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and a quasi-experimental component. The entire research process is driven by experiences co-constructed with participating families, taking a true reflective approach to design and implementation of methods as well as the interpretation of results. Preliminary results from observation and interviews demonstrate good evidence for the larger study of indicators of group dynamics, potential indicators of learning affordances, and potential indicators of values affordances.

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Family engagement in live animal touch-tanks and natural tidepools
Links to learning and conservation dialogue

Susan O’Brien   Oregon State University

Shawn Rowe   Oregon State University

Mark Farley   Oregon State University

A large number of museum visitor studies have focused on interactive science exhibits as rich places for learning. Some have demonstrated the overall value of live animal encounters and animal touch experiences. Although few studies have examined visitor engagement in such live animal exhibits, the same are thought to promote public conservation awareness. This paper reports preliminary findings from a larger research project comparing families’ engagement in activities at a live animal touch-tank and at nearby natural tidepools. The larger study makes inferences about learning affordances provided by the features of each settings and family group social interaction, and it investigates possible links to conservation values. Mixed methods include in-person and video observations, on-site surveys, semi-structured interviews, focus groups and a quasi-experimental component. The entire research process is driven by experiences co-constructed with participating families, taking a true reflective approach to design and implementation of methods as well as the interpretation of results. Preliminary results from observation and interviews demonstrate good evidence for the larger study of indicators of group dynamics, potential indicators of learning affordances, and potential indicators of values affordances.

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