Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:00 PM
LET’S TALK ABOUT REX, BABY: COMMUNICATING SCIENCE AND THE MYTH OF DUMBING DOWN
With the average American spending less than five percent of his or her life in the classroom, informal education venues represent a prominent and critical venue for public science learning. Museums in particular promote lifelong, free-choice learning, and they are perceived and accepted as an authoritative, trusted voice based whole or in part on the authenticity of the objects they display. As such, museums possess the incredible potential to educate and expand the public’s perception of science. Of course, the challenges of communicating science and its abstract concepts within informal venues are many. First, there is no ‘typical’ museum visitor; each guest is unique, bringing his or her own experiences, knowledge, and identity-related motivation into the museum. Recognition of this diversity is critical for establishing hierarchical arrangement—and delivery—of content. Also at the core of effective exhibition development is the recognition that the museum-going experience is not strictly one of learning. Studies demonstrate that museums represent the intersection of learning and leisure; experience and entertainment matter. Visitors to museums are not passive recipients of knowledge, and consideration of guests and their needs is critical to any discussion of successful science education within museums. Finally, as topics of biodiversity loss, energy, nutrition, and climate change increasingly dominate conversation, museums find themselves in a position of responsibility to foster a scientifically literate voting public. To this end, simply presenting content is perhaps not enough, and exhibition developers are effectively embracing inquiry-driven displays and those concepts associated with the Nature of Science. These displays reinforce not only content but also the rigorous process that is science, fostering an even heightened understanding of the world and the methods by which we understand it.