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.

Question: I’m so fascinated by these commercial centers of STEM learning like restaurants, bars, stores, supermarkets, and auto bodies that have a consumer rather than conservation mission. Given the importance of these commercial sites of learning, how can zoos and aquariums think about partnership or competition in way that achieves broader goals of STEM learning without sacrificing conservation goals for consumer goals?

Answer: What our data reveals is that the topics are considered salient in all those settings, These may be partnership opportunities but they are less likely competition. People don’t consider the zoo as a competitor to a restaurant, nor do they think an aquarium is a competitor to an autobody shop. To me, the conservation value is where a lot of STEM topics can be introduced because Z/As have moral purpose as a reason to talk with breadth and depth of the full STEM enterprise. This covers not just science, but the creativity within technology and engineering fields that is necessary to achieve sustainable wildlife.

Question: How did you decide what would be considered a STEM Learning setting? For example, how did you decide places like restaurants would be considered a STEM learning location?

Answer: We did not decide or select the STEM learning locations. NewKnowledge conducted focus groups at six different zoos / aquariums in Year 1 of the project. We asked them to think of and make categories for all the locations they saw as STEM learning settings. These settings were then used in the national survey.

Question: In addition to the focus groups, is the study (and if so how) bringing in research on individuals who are not engaged in Z/As?

Answer: The WZAM study as a whole has used various methods to collect data. The only studies targeting the general public are NewKnowledge’s two national survey studies, one of which was described in the STEM Learning Ecology presentation. Otherwise, although much of the research is focused on the actual Z/A visit, most of the data collection is from Z/A members or visitors. NewKnowledge did focus groups with Z/A members as well as monthly asks of both Z/A staff and visitors. Both OSU and CRE are doing data collection at Z/As through intercepts, surveys, and video data.

Question: Were there any clear discrepancies between what people want to see and what they perceive? I.e. They want to learn about tech at a zoo but that’s not their typical go-to or it’s not offered often.

Answer: We did observe a “trust gap” meaning we observed some items with large discrepancies between perceptions of current performance and expectations for trust. These items tended to address topics related to ethical integrity, which we define as a coherent set of ethical behaviors towards animals, staff, and visitors. In contrast, for items dealing with amenities and operations, perceptions and expectations were well matched.

Question: How do visitors react to seeing STEM in places they were not expecting it?

Answer: NewKnowledge did not study this topic specifically. What emerged both in our focus groups and the national data is that a wide range of topics are considered salient at a zoo or aquarium, many more than tend to be part of the science information and conservation need that we witness in Z/A public media. It appears that more wide-ranging discussions about how innovation (technology and engineering) are attributes that would be considered part of the quiver that Z/As have to work with.

Question: How do you account for the effects of your data collection activities (i.e. demographic survey, wearing gopro cameras) on the behavior of individuals during their visit?

Answer: For the OSU study, we recognize that wearing a GoPro camera likely has some influence on visiting groups’ talk and behavior. However, traditional timing and tracking studies have a similar effect, and so we think that this method might be less invasive than being followed by the researcher. While there is an initial novelty to the GoPro cameras, we were encouraged by evidence in our data that suggested that visitors eventually seemed to forgot about the camera. In fact, we had to remind groups to remove the cameras when stopping for restroom breaks. We will also have a second phase of our study to complement this data where we have cameras unobtrusively capturing visitors’ conversations at an exhibit at two sites.

Question: How did you choose your participating zoos/aquariums/institutions?

Answer: We worked with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to identify and select zoos and aquariums to include in the studies. We selected Z/As so that we had diversity across things like size and geographical area. For the two larger Z/A studies (NKO and CRE), we worked with AZA to send a request to all Z/As for participation. Z/A were asked to complete an IRB training for data collection. NKO accepted all Z/As for participation as long as they completed training.

Question: From what I know, [visitors to] zoo’s and aquariums are expecting more than learning. They want stewardship to help them decide how to act on big issues threatening the animals and the planet. Does that appear [in WZAM’s results]?

Answer: NewKnowledge’s results and those of prior studies (ie: Fraser & Sickler) demonstrate that the public does seek guidance. Our studies show where that guidance might be dismissed if the zoo or aquarium fails to maintain trust across the domains we isolated in this study. The loss of trust directly impacts the degree to which the guidance is considered authoritative.

Question: Is this project cycle graphic published anywhere so we can take a look at it/read more about it?

Answer: We have posted some of our conference presentations and posters on our project page on informalscience.org. We also have a project blog where we share research results and other information including the graphic.

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