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Visualizing biological data in museums: Visitor learning with an interactive tree of life exhibit

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Author(s)

  • Michael S. Horn
  • Brenda C. Phillips
  • Evelyn Margaret Evans
  • Florian Block
  • Judy Diamond
  • Chia Shen

Department/unit(s)

Publication details

JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Feb 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print - 3 Apr 2016
DatePublished (current) - 1 Aug 2016
Issue number6
Volume53
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)895-918
Early online date3/04/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In this study, we investigate museum visitor learning and engagement at an interactive visualization of an evolutionary tree of life consisting of over 70,000 species. The study was conducted at two natural history museums where visitors collaboratively explored the tree of life using direct touch gestures on a multi-touch tabletop display. In the study, 247 youth, aged 8-15 years, were randomly assigned in pairs to one of four conditions. In two of the conditions, pairs of youth interacted with different versions of the tree of life tabletop exhibit for a fixed duration of 10minutes. In a third condition, pairs watched a 10minute video on a similar topic. Individual responses on a 53-item exit interview were then compared to responses from a fourth, baseline condition. Contrasting with the baseline condition, visitors who interacted with the tabletop exhibits were significantly more likely to reason correctly about core evolutionary concepts, particularly common descent and shared ancestry. They were also more likely to correctly interpret phylogenetic tree diagrams. To investigate the factors influencing these learning outcomes, we used linear mixed models to analyze measures of dyads' verbal engagement and physical interaction with the exhibit. These models indicated that, while our verbal and physical measures were related, they accounted for significant portions of the variance on their own, independent of youth age, prior knowledge, and parental background. Our results provide evidence that multi-touch interactive exhibits that enable visitors to explore large scientific datasets can provide engaging and effective learning opportunities.

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© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details

    Research areas

  • Evolution, Informal science learning, Information visualization, Interactive tabletops, Museums

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