There is a large body of research that focuses on museum interactive science exhibits as rich places for learning (e.g. Gutwill and Allen, 2010). Some studies have demonstrated increasing efforts to justify the overall value of visitor experiences within U.S. Zoos and Aquariums in particular (e.g. Falk et al. 2007; Fraser & Sickler 2009). Although there is limited research on the impact of live animal encounters, the few studies point out that such exhibits can be rich settings for learning science. Furthermore, there is a general belief that touching and/or interacting with live animals facilitate affective reactions of care, therefore helping create conservation awareness. Conservation then becomes an important topic within science museums, aquariums and other institutions alike. Research shows that AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited venues in North America measurably impact conservation attitudes and understanding of adult visitors. The impact of live animal interactions on visitors’ conservation attitudes has been investigated in many studies with inputs for research in education, psychology, sociology, cultural studies and tourism, most pointing to positive correlations, at least to some degree (e.g. Ballantyne et al., 2007; Falk et al., 2007; Hughes, 2011; Kisiel et al., 2012). In regards to public ocean literacy, aquariums and marine science centers play a pivotal role in education efforts, by offering the public the opportunity to engage in marine science learning and fostering visitor-animal interactions that can promote conservation attitudes. The proposed poster session will illustrate preliminary results from my research project to investigate families’ discourse and action while engaging in activities at the live animal touch-tank at Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) and at the Natural Tidepools at the Oregon coast. The goal is to triangulate inferences about their scientific learning outcomes and examine possible correlations between this type of activity and promotion of conservation dialogue as prompted by the settings’ affordances. The multimodal analysis of families’ engagement will place the activity as the unit of analysis. Mixed methods will be employed, including in-person and video observations, on-site surveys and interviews. Possibly, this project will be replicated during a second phase at a similar informal education setting in Brazil, where touchtanks have increasingly become very popular.

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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 Oregon Sea Grant, United States

Shawn Rowe   Oregon State University - Oregon Sea Grant, United States

There is a large body of research that focuses on museum interactive science exhibits as rich places for learning (e.g. Gutwill and Allen, 2010). Some studies have demonstrated increasing efforts to justify the overall value of visitor experiences within U.S. Zoos and Aquariums in particular (e.g. Falk et al. 2007; Fraser & Sickler 2009). Although there is limited research on the impact of live animal encounters, the few studies point out that such exhibits can be rich settings for learning science. Furthermore, there is a general belief that touching and/or interacting with live animals facilitate affective reactions of care, therefore helping create conservation awareness. Conservation then becomes an important topic within science museums, aquariums and other institutions alike. Research shows that AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited venues in North America measurably impact conservation attitudes and understanding of adult visitors. The impact of live animal interactions on visitors’ conservation attitudes has been investigated in many studies with inputs for research in education, psychology, sociology, cultural studies and tourism, most pointing to positive correlations, at least to some degree (e.g. Ballantyne et al., 2007; Falk et al., 2007; Hughes, 2011; Kisiel et al., 2012). In regards to public ocean literacy, aquariums and marine science centers play a pivotal role in education efforts, by offering the public the opportunity to engage in marine science learning and fostering visitor-animal interactions that can promote conservation attitudes. The proposed poster session will illustrate preliminary results from my research project to investigate families’ discourse and action while engaging in activities at the live animal touch-tank at Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) and at the Natural Tidepools at the Oregon coast. The goal is to triangulate inferences about their scientific learning outcomes and examine possible correlations between this type of activity and promotion of conservation dialogue as prompted by the settings’ affordances. The multimodal analysis of families’ engagement will place the activity as the unit of analysis. Mixed methods will be employed, including in-person and video observations, on-site surveys and interviews. Possibly, this project will be replicated during a second phase at a similar informal education setting in Brazil, where touchtanks have increasingly become very popular.

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

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