Evaluation of informal science education in designed environments, such as at a zoo, aquarium or museum, includes the study of visitor knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. A part of zoo education focuses on conservation education. The question that arises from informal education in these spaces is whether the conservation education in these spaces is making an impact on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of the visitors in their currant format or if changes need to be made to exhibits for improved impact.
This study, at Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, IL, an AZA-accredited facility, collected data at the four most modern exhibits (Elephant, Giraffe, Australia, and Gibbon) to address these topics. Two methods were used: tracking and observing visitor behavior and a post-visit survey. Variables in the observational study included dwell time in an exhibit, number of visitors reading signs, and the number of visitors interacting with interpretives. The survey documented reasons for visiting the zoo, previous experience at a zoo, familiarity with conservation terms, opinions about Society’s role in seven important conservation issues, and reported the favorite exhibit at the zoo.
Visitors reported reading at least one sign significantly more often than they were observed reading a sign. Therefore, using self-report data is misleading for visitor research. As exhibit walkway length can affect the visitor’s dwell time, dividing the time spent in an exhibit by the walkway length created the adjusted dwell time. Adjusted dwell spent was not dependent on the number of signs in the exhibit; however adjusted dwell time was significantly longer when more interactives were resent. Although respondents generally reported conservation issues were important worldwide, they often reported they were not important locally or relevant in their own lives. Visitors were also often misinformed on essential key conservation topics.
This study is an example of how museums may better target visitors to make a more substantial impact. Although, the project needs to be expanded further it provides the basis of how to communicate our conservation goals to better sustain our educational programs. Recommendations to improve informal science education for Niabi Zoo and generally for all zoos include a substantial change to format in which essential messages are delivered to all visitors.
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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Evaluating the engagement of the public in nature conservation in a zoo setting

Monae Verbeke   University of Warwick

Evaluation of informal science education in designed environments, such as at a zoo, aquarium or museum, includes the study of visitor knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. A part of zoo education focuses on conservation education. The question that arises from informal education in these spaces is whether the conservation education in these spaces is making an impact on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of the visitors in their currant format or if changes need to be made to exhibits for improved impact.
This study, at Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, IL, an AZA-accredited facility, collected data at the four most modern exhibits (Elephant, Giraffe, Australia, and Gibbon) to address these topics. Two methods were used: tracking and observing visitor behavior and a post-visit survey. Variables in the observational study included dwell time in an exhibit, number of visitors reading signs, and the number of visitors interacting with interpretives. The survey documented reasons for visiting the zoo, previous experience at a zoo, familiarity with conservation terms, opinions about Society’s role in seven important conservation issues, and reported the favorite exhibit at the zoo.
Visitors reported reading at least one sign significantly more often than they were observed reading a sign. Therefore, using self-report data is misleading for visitor research. As exhibit walkway length can affect the visitor’s dwell time, dividing the time spent in an exhibit by the walkway length created the adjusted dwell time. Adjusted dwell spent was not dependent on the number of signs in the exhibit; however adjusted dwell time was significantly longer when more interactives were resent. Although respondents generally reported conservation issues were important worldwide, they often reported they were not important locally or relevant in their own lives. Visitors were also often misinformed on essential key conservation topics.
This study is an example of how museums may better target visitors to make a more substantial impact. Although, the project needs to be expanded further it provides the basis of how to communicate our conservation goals to better sustain our educational programs. Recommendations to improve informal science education for Niabi Zoo and generally for all zoos include a substantial change to format in which essential messages are delivered to all visitors.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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