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!

COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation’s Study

Question: What theoretical framework are you using when analysing your results?

Answer: It depends on the scale and question. Underlying it all is a life stage social role, and that brings in the demographics around the person. We are focusing on the person as a whole entity, not as a blank slate.

Question: How did [your study] address any ceiling effects with visitors?

Answer: We understand that zoo and aquarium visitors have a strong positive feeling toward zoos. To minimize a ceiling effect we used scale structures and tested items to determine which items had a wider distribution. We used more sensitive scales that were found to be reliable and valid, and added more scale points to increase sensitivity. This is less pertinent for the NewKnowledge study as they were looking at the general public and were using the central responses. This eliminates zoo and aquarium supporters, which is what we tend to get as visitors.

Question: [How can we] access your work?

Answer: We have a project blog . We have just submitted an article to the AZA  Conservation Education Committee newsletter, and we hope to be presenting at conferences this fall and next year.

Question: Did your demographics include race/ethnicity and is there research being done regarding the experience of communities of color?

Answer: After a discussion with the project advisors (who represent zoo and aquarium practitioners as well as social scientists and STEM educators) we did not include race/ethnicity as that is a complex question that goes beyond the census breakdown.

Center for Research on Lifelong STEM Learning at Oregon State University’s Study

Question: In your analysis, did you consider that some visitors were tourists? Could you tell from your observations?

Answer: We did consider that some visitors were tourists or visiting from out of town. This is not something we assumed from the visual observations using the cameras. Instead, we asked visitors in the tracking study interviews if they were local or visiting as well as questions related to their prior experience with the particular zoo/aquarium where we were collecting data (e.g., Have you visited this Z/A before? Are you a member of this Z/A? How often do you visit this Z/A? Other Z/As?)

Question: Will you [eventually] publish some transcripts of the visitor conversations?

Answer: We anticipate that we would share portions of the transcripts (with pseudonyms) as evidence for claims when we share findings in presentations and publications.

Question: Maybe it was mentioned at the presentation, but were exit interview visitors given the GoPro cameras?

Answer: There were two aspects of this study: 1) we mounted GoPros at the entrance of 6 Z/As and this is where we observed and coded for all incoming groups to understand group characteristics on the days when we collected data; and 2) the tracking study where we recruited participants to wear GoPro cameras throughout their visit to the Z/A. As part of this study , we also engaged these groups in entry and exit interviews.

Question: How did [your] study address any ceiling effects with visitors?

Answer: For the questions in the interviews that were about the perceived mission of zoos and aquariums in our (OSU) study, we asked a series of three questions, anticipating that there could be a ceiling effect on the rating question where we asked visitors to indicate how important various statements were to the mission of Z/As. For the final question in the set of mission-related questions, we asked participating groups to rank which statements they felt were most important to the mission, even though they agreed all were important when we asked them to rate the statements.

New Knowledge Organization’s Study

Question: Was there any attention to what communication channels visitors were using/exposed to? I’m thinking explanatory signs, docents, newsletters to members or other–did the vehicle for communication matter?

Answer: For building trust, all types of communication are important. We did not see any meaningful differences between types of communication.

Question: How did [your study] address any ceiling effects with visitors?

Answer: For NKO,  we did not look at individuals that loved/ hated zoos and aquariums. We are interested in exploring a more moderate public. This allowed for sufficient variability to see differences between judgements of current performance and expectations for building trust. Even the study that included people with very high and very low opinions of Z/As, there was sufficient variability to find groups of people with different priorities for trusting Z/As.

Question: Can you please explain a bit more about why you created new trust categories for Z/A instead of using the categories already developed? What was the reasoning for not using the already established categories?

Answer: The original trust dimensions were developed for business purposes. Using prior research, the dimensions were populated with items that focus on the Z/A context. After analyzing the data, we found that responses to items grouped across the original dimensions in different ways. This meant that people were responding to those items using different unifying conceptualizations. Further analysis of the data revealed those unifying conceptual dimensions and allowed us to identify a new dimension associated with  trust in Z/As that emphasizes ethical integrity.

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