Signs of Change

Previously we talked about the innovative way WZAM3 researchers are using GoPro cameras to learn more about what visitors do during their visits to Zoos and Aquariums (Z/As) and how they make these decisions. Well, our GoPros are back and better than ever! These versatile, portable recorders have allowed researchers to gather even more data to help us understand Z/A visitors as part of their research on the role of Z/As in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.

In this most recent phase of their work, researchers Martin Storksdieck, Kelly Riedinger, Victoria Bonebrake, and Kimberley Preston from the STEM Research Center at Oregon State University investigated the influence of interpretive signs on visitors’ talk and behaviors at exhibits. How much do visitors engage with the signs? How much do the signs influence the way visitors think and talk about their visit and the wildlife they are seeing? Would changing the framing of the message on the sign change how visitors processed the exhibit?

A sign on a giraffe exhibit reads: What kind of things do you notice about the giraffe that would help it live in the wild? A sign on a giraffe exhibit reads: How could we make changes to limit our impact on giraffes in the wild?
Researchers are studying visitor reactions to species-focused signage (left) and conservation-focused signage (right).

To try to get some answers to these questions, the research team set up GoPros at exhibits in three different locations: the Nashville Zoo, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the Oregon Zoo. They recorded visitors walking through the exhibits to see what kinds of conversations and behaviors people had at the exhibits. They then swapped out the original signs with boards that had a conservation focus to see if this would change people’s reactions and conversations.

This information is important because it could help researchers to elaborate on the findings from the first-phase of the GoPro study and will help Z/As in designing exhibit signs to promote conservation.

Stay tuned for more updates and results of the GoPro camera study!

What’s in a Word?

Are zoo animals looked after by “keepers” or “caregivers”? Do aquarium animals live in “exhibits” or in “enclosures”? Should these institutions  focus on “maximizing safety” or “minimizing risk”? Do these words feel interchangeable? Or do they make you think differently about zoos and aquariums (Z/As)?

The way we talk about Z/As shapes how people view these institutions. It seems obvious that the language Z/As use to describe their work in exhibitions, marketing, and the media influences the public’s perception. Continue reading “What’s in a Word?”

Getting Inside Of (Or On Top Of) Your Head

When you think of GoPro cameras, you might think of backcountry snowboarding expeditions, or underwater cave diving. But GoPro cameras have also become a tool for researchers to learn about how people make their decisions when they visit zoos and aquariums (Z/As). Thanks to these small recorders, researchers can get more details, more perspective, and just plain more data to help them understand visitors.

WZAM3 researchers are studying the role of Z/As in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning in the US. But before we can determine the role of Z/As in STEM learning, we need to figure out what visitors even do at Z/As. And more importantly, what makes them do it? Usually, researchers collect this kind of data by tracking individuals and groups during their visits. Martin Storksdieck, Kelly Riedinger, and their team from the Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University have updated and enhanced this methodology by equipping visitors at six Z/As across the US with GoPro cameras that record every aspect of their visit.

The OSU team asked visitors to wear a camera mounted on a hat during their visit, which would record everything they did, including their conversations. Researchers also interviewed visitors before and after their visit. The videos helped the researchers understand visitors’ behaviors: how groups made decisions about where to go and what to do during their visit, and how they made meaning of the experience. For instance, in groups with young children, do parents primarily make the decisions or children? If there are multiple children in the group, is it primarily the younger child or the older child driving decision-making in the group? The OSU team is also asking questions about where learning and meaning-making happen during the visit. For example, do visitors talk about what they learned only at exhibits or do they engage in conversations even as they are walking throughout the Z/A or when they stop to eat lunch? Or in another way?

The information helps determine how entry characteristics influence behaviors and the extent to which visitors’ agendas align with those of the Z/As they’re visiting. Plus, who doesn’t love an excuse to strap a GoPro to their noggin?

Stay tuned for the results of the GoPro camera study — we’ll talk about the highlights here on the blog soon.

Measuring Favorability of Zoos & Aquariums: Getting It Right

At the outset of the WZAM3 initiative, the research team wanted to find out how favorably the public views zoos and aquariums. We anticipated that this study would help us understand how much the public trusts Z/As as authorities on STEM topics. Favorability research has been done before, and we hoped to update it. Sounds simple, right?

But how does one accurately measure how much a visitor likes an aquarium? Or how much they trust a zoo? Or how they feel about the different reasons animals may live in these institutions? Part of understanding how visitors place Z/As in society — and particularly as places where STEM learning occurs — is about uncovering the most successful (and least successful) ways to ask people questions about their perceptions of these places.

Previously collected data suggests that the public’s opinion of Z/As is decreasing. But after a close look at previous approaches to favorability research, there are aspects of the surveys that need to be reconsidered before accepting this conclusion. Continue reading “Measuring Favorability of Zoos & Aquariums: Getting It Right”