What is the Role of Zoos and Aquariums in Communities?

Session Overview

At the 2022 AZA Annual conference, the Social Science Research and Evaluation Scientific Advisory Group (SSRE SAG) convened a session that delved into one of the five priority research questions of the AZA’s Social Science Research Agenda (SSRA): What is the role of zoos and aquariums in communities? This session brought together professionals who develop, facilitate, evaluate, and research the development, processes, and impacts around the roles of zoos and aquariums in communities, including: community expectations, effective strategies and processes for engagement, and how Z/As (zoos and aquariums) contribute to their communities. Through brief presentations, speakers shared what is currently being done in their communities, and what SSRA sub-questions we have started to answer. Breakout sessions engaged participants in discussion about where community engagement can go, what other research questions we have, and how we can answer them in relation to 1) expectations of communities, 2) effective methods to engage with communities, and 3) contributions of Z/As towards communities. Representatives from the SSRE SAG compiled notes from these breakout sessions and have synthesized them here to make them available to the AZA and greater SSRE community.

Session speakers, facilitators, and note takers used the information provided during the session by program participants in the break out sessions to identify themes across groups.

Continue reading “What is the Role of Zoos and Aquariums in Communities?”

Outcomes from the WZAM Project

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Knology, The Center for Research and Evaluation at COSI, Oregon State University’s Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums collaborated on a research to practice project. The results from the project deepened understanding of how the public situates zoos/aquariums (Z/A) in their broader STEM learning ecosystem, how preconceptions, trust, and conferred authority influence what is learned, what visitors do, and how their experiences are integrated into their lives. Among other findings, these studies demonstrated that trust and authority is topically specific and varies by type of institution, that learning priorities vary based on life stage, and accumulate based on multiple visits over time. The funding also supported a convening of the community of researchers that resulted in the development of a social science research agenda in 2020.

Below are some of the critical deliverables that grew out of the WZAM project.

How the Public Builds Trust in Zoos & Aquariums

New research from Knology explores the ways that members of the US public develop trust in zoos and aquariums. For this study, Knology researchers analyzed data from surveys of the US general public conducted as part of two prior research studies. We hypothesized that the public could be organized into distinct clusters that have different priorities when deciding to trust zoos and aquariums. The groupings that we identified based on the survey data are nicknamed Experiencers, Conservationists, Loyalists, and Environmentalists. Our analysis showed that the groups prioritize some of the same things. For example, individuals in each cluster thought it was important for zoos and aquariums to provide animals, staff, and visitors with proper care, and to share information about their conservation efforts. But they also have unique things that matter to them. Read more about the unique characteristics of each category as well as the implications of these findings for zoo and aquarium leadership on the Knology website. Full details of the study are published in Zoo Biology.

Webinar Follow-Up #2: First Findings

Continuing our webinar series on Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter, on May 2, WZAM3 researchers shared some early results from ongoing studies. This research is exploring people’s interactions with zoos and aquariums in terms of what guests bring, do, and take from their experiences as well as the ways they integrate this information in their daily lives.

There was lots to talk about! Some of the preliminary findings presented during this webinar include details about visitor demographics, supporting evidence for strong public trust in zoos and aquariums, reasons for zoo or aquarium visits and how these change over time, and shifts in visitors’ knowledge after their visit. Researchers also described new ways to think about people’s trust in zoos and aquariums and explained how these were used to group visitors based on their priorities. The team provided an update on the GoPro study which is described in a previous post.

In this post, we share some audience questions and the researchers’ responses from the second webinar. For simplicity, we broke out the questions by study, and we have edited all of the content for clarity. As a quick recap, the WZAM3 research partners are New Knowledge Organization Ltd., COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation, and the Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University. You can watch both webinars on the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education website. You’ll get far more detail on each study’s findings, as well as access the presentation slides and graphics. Also, keep checking this space because we will talk more about some of the results mentioned during the presentation in future posts. We’ve already written about the different places where informal STEM learning takes place including zoos and aquariums. Lastly, you can read our responses to questions from the first webinar here.

On to the questions! Continue reading “Webinar Follow-Up #2: First Findings”

Webinar Follow-Up #1: Behind the Scenes of the WZAM Initiative

On March 20, 2019, the project team from the Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter (WZAM3) initiative led a webinar hosted by the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE). Speaking at the webinar were John Fraser from New Knowledge Organization Ltd., Joe Heimlich from COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation, and Martin Storksdieck from Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University.

As the first public webinar in a series organized for the WZAM3 initiative, researchers shared their vision for the project and described findings from a representative study that asked participants to talk about places where they learned STEM disciplines and topics within their communities. We’ll be exploring those findings in detail in the next few posts — or you can listen to the webinar recording for a sneak-peek! In this post, we’ll be answering the questions that webinar attendees raised. Both the questions and responses have been edited for clarity.

We are planning a second webinar for May 2, 2019 at 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT. This time, project researchers will expand on some themes from the first webinar. Specifically, the discussion will cover some factors affecting public perceptions of and trust in zoos and aquariums. It will also include preliminary results from a survey of Z/A visits as well as an update on how GoPros are helping to clarify visitors’ interests. You can register for the second WZAM3 webinar here.

Let’s dive into Q&A from the first webinar. Continue reading “Webinar Follow-Up #1: Behind the Scenes of the WZAM Initiative”

The WZAM Team Comes to NAAEE in Spokane!

Once we start talking about STEM learning at informal learning centers, we just can’t stop!

Join WZAM researchers Rupu Gupta (NewKnowledge), Kelly Riedinger (Oregon State University) Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning) and Mary Ann Wojton (Lifelong Learning Group/COSI) in Spokane, WA this week at the North American Association of Environmental Education Research Symposium as they continue the discussion about public perceptions of the STEM Learning Ecology and where zoos and aquariums are situated within that landscape.

They will offer insight to some surprising survey results from visitors at zoos and aquariums around the country that expose the public’s views on where and when they encounter STEM topics. In particular, they’ll discuss how environmental educators and their institutions can promote both STEM and environmental learning for their audiences. This research provokes new thinking on E-STEM, or using the environment as a pathway to STEM learning.

To learn more about how the public’s expectations about STEM learning at informal science learning centers match the educational mission of these institutions, join our researchers for a facilitated discussion, Investigating The Confluence Of Visitor And Institutional Conservation Learning Agendas, on Tuesday, October 9 from 10:45am to 11:15am in 201A at the Spokane Convention Center.

To learn more specifically about how environmental educators can best equip themselves for STEM learning, join Rupu in her presentation, Bring, Do, Take: Useful Tools for Practitioners, on Thursday October 11 from 2:30 PM to 4 PM at the Spokane Convention Center in meeting room 206A.

We’re Coming to ASTC in Hartford

From backyards, to restaurants, to science centers, to public schools, there is a wide range of places STEM learning can occur. Join NewKnowledge researcher John Voiklis and Oregon State University’s Martin Storksdieck this October at the Association of Science-Technology Centers annual conference to learn what 1,462 survey takers from across the United States told us about the STEM Learning Ecology. John and Martin will explore public perceptions of the STEM Learning Ecology, and where zoos and aquariums are situated within that landscape.

They’ll give attendees a sneak peak into survey results showing the public’s view on where and when they encounter STEM topics (hint: the answer may surprise professionals in the informal STEM learning field). Moreover, they’ll show how zoos and aquariums are THE place for certain types of learning, and how the informal science learning centers can use the results of this study to increase STEM learning among the public.

To find out more, join John Voiklis and Martin Storksdieck in their discussion on Aligning Your Agendas with Those of Your Visitors: Lessons Learned from Zoos and Aquariums, on October 1 from 2:30 PM to 3:45 PM at the Connecticut Convention Center in meeting room 13.

Here We Come! 2018 AZA Annual Meeting

Fall is approaching. Visits to Z/As are getting replaced with Saturday morning soccer games and afterschool clubs. As this seasonal shift happens, how do visitors’ perceptions of zoos and aquariums change when they aren’t visiting as frequently? NewKnowledge researchers Shuli Rank and Dr. John Fraser will tackle this question on a panel at the Association of Zoos and Aquarium Annual Conference in Seattle, WA this September. This discussion on Evolving Perceptions of Zoos and Aquariums and What to Do about Them will address where perceptions of zoos and aquariums exceed, meet, or fall below what the public expects of these institutions.

With members of the panel, WZAM3 researchers will talk about how information collected from previous visitor surveys can help Z/As better address questions asked by the general public and visitors. Transparency about these questions can improve understanding, dispel misconceptions, and assure the public and visitors that AZA accredited facilities work hard to ensure the best care for their animals.

Join us in Room 608 on September 26 from 4:00 – 5:30 PM to learn why researchers need to interrogate the public’s perception and expectations of Z/As in general when they aren’t currently attending one to determine the role that Z/As have in the ecology of STEM learning.