Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums  A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums  Membership  2008‐2009 

 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐2009 March 2010 Acknowledgements Page: Gyroscope, Inc. Justine Roberts, Principal: Survey Design, Project Management, Analysis and Writing Terah Gonzales, Research Assistant: Survey Design, Implementation, and Data Management Lauren Mercer: Graphs and Charts JFK University Marjorie Schwarzer, Professor, John F. Kennedy University, Department of Museum Studies: Project Advisor Table of Contents Introduction Who Comes to Children’s Museums? Children’s Museums Organizational Structure Partnerships Role of Exhibits in Children’s Museums Types of Play Visitor Participation in Children’s Museums How do you Measure Success? Conducting Research Emerging Trends Final Thoughts List of participating Museums 2 3 7 8 10 11 13 17 20 25 25 28 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 I. Introduction In 2008‐2009 Gyroscope, in partnership with JFK University’s Museum Studies graduate program, launched a survey of Children’s Museums. The survey was designed, in part, to get input from the field on topics we often discuss with our clients. We wondered whether the conversations we were having represented broader concerns that could be found within the field as a whole? Or were they still fairly new and localized? At the same time, we wanted to benchmark some of the standard practices within children’s museums. This would enable us to see emerging opportunities more clearly, and assess what types of visitor experiences most effectively contribute to a unique identity. We sent invitations to all 310 US‐based museums in the Association of Children’s Museum membership, and received 42 completed responses. So we heard from 13.5% of the Children’s Museums in the USA. Participating museums came from 24 different states. We heard from both coasts ‐ Washington state, Northern and Southern California, New England and the Eastern Shore down to Florida – as well as from the Rust Belt, Mid‐West, South, Southwest, and Plains states. The Northwest ‐ Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Minnesota in particular – is, for some reason, not represented in our sample. Here is a map showing where participating museums are from. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 2 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 The survey had 33 questions covering the name and mission of the organization, organizational structure, the visitor experience, research, collaboration, measuring success, and audience demographics. In the following weeks we will post a series focusing on one of these topics at a time and explore the data. We welcome your questions and comments along the way. Were you one of the museums that responded to our survey, and if so, does the analysis make sense to you? Did you not participate but have a point of view that we should incorporate into our findings? Does your museum operate in a way that is similar to, or different from, the majority of children’s museums that took our survey? Are there other issues your organization is exploring which you would like to hear from the field about? II. Who Comes to Children’s Museums? According to our survey of 42 children’s museums, the majorities of visitors are repeat users and live in the community. The largest audience segment is families with children in preschool‐kindergarten (40 museums serve that audience). Grades 1‐3 are also a major audience for children’s museums (38 serve this group). In addition, over half (26) of the museums in our survey say they also serve upper elementary ages all the way through grade 6, and nearly a third of respondents (17) say they serve teenagers. Target Audience We asked the children’s museums to also identify who their target audience is. This pie chart makes it clear that while teens and older children are coming to children’s museums, they are not who the museum is designed for. Looking just at the children who are coming to these museums, they seem to mostly range in age from NB – 8, with somewhat more preschoolers than children in early elementary school. This appears to be consistent with other studies that have been done in the field. The Bay Area Discovery Museum, for example, has done an audience demographic survey and found their average visitor is age 4. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 3 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Target Audience Teachers 2% Parents 2% Early Childhood (Preschool ‐ Kindergarten) 27% Early Elementary (Grades 1‐3) 17% Families 47% Upper Elementary (Grades 4‐6) 5% It should come as no surprise that children’s museums appeal to very young children and their adults. Broadly speaking, children’s museums often describe their audience as Early Childhood, which has been defined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) as NB‐8, exactly the audience we see in this survey. Adults Families appear, in this pie chart, as the single largest audience for children’s museums. I am thrilled to see families identified so clearly as a major audience. Historically, children’s museums were for children and adults were seen as chaperones, but were not the target audience. Over time, some children’s museums added content for adults – labels, and take‐home flyers for example. But the field has changed and there is now widespread recognition that adults are a key part of the visit, as well as an audience in and of themselves. So it is exciting to see children’s museums thinking about serving the whole family. To address family audiences means serving both individuals (kids, adults, seniors) and groups (family units). It means finding ways to tune activities for a range of developmental levels, as well as for intergenerational learning. It is complicated and I am curious about the ways children’s museums address adult learners in particular. Are adults seen as an audience only in relation to their children – as play partners and lab th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 4 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 assistants, coaches and cheerleaders, etc. – or are they understood as having as many needs, and diverse learning styles, as their children? From the responses we got to the survey it looks like most (33) of the museums consider parents an audience and most again (36) serve teachers, but only 7 have any kind of relationship with hobbyists, 8 with researchers, and 11 with other museum professionals. So although almost half of the audience for children’s museums is adults, it seems most children’s museums are considering adults as an audience together with their children, rather than an audience in‐and‐of itself. Subject Experts 2% Researchers 3% Other Museum Professionals 4% Amateurs and Hobbyists 3% Teachers 14% Early Childhood (PreK‐ K) 14% Early Elementary (Grades 1‐3) 15% Upper Elementary (Grades 4‐6) 10% Parents 13% Families 15% Teenagers 7% This is interesting in part because it is happening in other parts of the museum field. For example: •
A number of science museums, including the Boston Museum of Science have found ways to connect with child development researchers at major universities to conduct original research in their museums •
Some science museums have launched partnerships based on locally relevant citizen science projects that connect them to teen and adult hobbyists, and to amateurs. •
The Seattle Museum of History and Industry held history research and writing workshops designed to train adults in professional techniques, and made room th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 5 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 for those works in their collections. •
Another history museum hosted an “antiques road show” style event at which local adults brought family heirlooms for evaluation. The Mill City Museum is home to a local bread‐baking club. A number of art museums have membership‐based clubs that tour artists’ studios and have exclusive access to curators. Children’s Museums could be serving adults whose children are in the social services system (Providence Children’s Museum does this), they could be the host site for mommy‐and‐me groups, book groups, and museum research departments, they could partner with education schools to provide course credit for time spent working at the museum, etc. I am sure that you all can name many more groups of adults who would have an interest in what your museum does, and could make use of the organization’s expertise. Teens I want to take a moment to focus on the teen audience in children’s museums. The fact that teens show up in this survey as an audience at all, when the target audience is pre‐
school and the majority of the audience is under age 8, is fairly surprising. Are they coming to a children’s museum as part of a family outing with a younger sibling or do they see this as an age‐appropriate outing for themselves? Some of the respondents did address this. One commented that their age range has grown following an expansion and exhibit renewal. So that may represent a spike, rather than a trend. Another is a combination science and children’s museum. It is likely that in this case older kids are coming for the science center and then also checking out the children’s museum. And a third museum in the survey is, in fact, not a children’s museum in the typical sense but an urban museum using technology as a basis for creative project‐based learning. Their average age visitor is 8. Those museums are not the norm for organizations in the ACM membership. More commonly children’s museums find it very challenging to target older kids. The Boston Children’s Museum is one example of an organization that at one time considered 11 year olds part of the core audience. They had a teen clubhouse just for older kids. After evaluating their attendance, BCM realized there were not enough ‘tween and teen visitors to justify dedicated exhibit space. Instead, they decided to focus on programming for older kids, and leave the exhibits for the younger ones. I like the strategy that BCM settled on. I have long believed that children’s museums have the potential to attract older children by creating age appropriate roles for them, •
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 6 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 such as junior staff, or camper. I think it is interesting for children’s museums to find ways to include older children in their audience – just not primarily as visitors. III. Children’s Museums Organizational Structure 35 Number of Respondents 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 None Exhibit Education Visitor Experiences Collections Management Departments It is often the case that our role as exhibit developers and designers lacks clear boundaries. On the one hand, the line between where exhibits stop and the building begins is not fixed. This is especially true given our belief that museums are at their best –for communicating a sense of place, creating a memorable experience, and eliciting playful learning behaviors – when the exhibits and architecture are integrated. On the other hand, exhibits are only fully realized when they are being used. So museum operations and organizational culture, from staffing to risk tolerance, are a necessary part of the exhibit design conversation. In that model, although the physical space of the museum is a design problem, educational questions are at the center of any solution. Yet the traditional organizational chart for a children’s museum distinguishes between exhibits (the physical environment) and education (strategies for delivering on visitor outcome goals). Recently, we have seen a surge in Visitor Experience Departments that th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 7 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 create an umbrella, bringing design and learning together into a single conversation. We wondered how many Visitor Experience departments there are in children’s museums, and whether the balance has tipped in favor of this new model. From the data we collected, it looks like the traditional chart in which an Education and an Exhibit Department work side‐by‐side is still the most common. 33 Museums in our survey have both of these departments. In comparison, only 26 museums in our survey have Visitor Experience departments. Moreover, it appears that some museums have kept their Education and Exhibit departments while adding a Visitor Experience department. This is very interesting. To me, a Visitor Experience department suggests there may be multiple strategies for serving visitors –exhibits is one strategy, educational programs and staff‐facilitated experiences are another, and there may be others as well under the same umbrella. So retaining Education and Exhibits under Visitor Experiences seems to suggest that those two departments are still both delivering discrete services to the museum’s audience. I am curious how that structure functions, and why it was selected in those cases. What role does the Visitor Experience department play when Education and Exhibits both continue to exist as well? Another question that we asked was whether children’s museums have Collections Management departments. Some children’s museums are collecting institutions –think of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Boston Children’s Museum, and Pease Touch, for example. Nonetheless I was surprised to see that 7 of the museums in our survey have Collections Management departments. This is a small number, but larger than I expected. It suggests that collecting may be more widespread than I realized, and that it is not limited to larger, older institutions. Not surprisingly a few museums in our survey are still small enough that they have no departments at all. IV. Partnerships A number of our clients represent a merger of two or more organizations, or strategic partnerships that have formed an umbrella operating structure to coordinate activity and public identity. We have also worked on projects where our clients are organizations similar to children’s museums – such as libraries or preschools – which want to either start their own children’s museum‐style facility or incorporate best practices from the field. So we wondered, to what extent are children’s museums intentionally partnering with other organizations? th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 8 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Among the museums that took our survey, partnership with an umbrella organization, a parent organization, or participation in a merger is quite rare. Only 9 of the 42 respondents have such a relationship. Museums that Engage in Partnerships 40 35 30 25 20 Series1 15 10 5 0 Yes No In the past 18 months there has been a lot of talk about mergers, co‐locating, joint building projects, and other creative relationships between non‐profits designed to provide some measure of economic security. We conducted this survey before the implications of the economic crises for the sustainability of small non‐profits became clear. So this may be one area where planning for future projects will change the numbers, and we may see a wave of new partnerships being realized in the next few years. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 9 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 V. What role do exhibits play in Children’s Museums? Role of Exhibits in Children's Museums Drop‐in exhibits 1% 2% 4% 4% Drop‐in self‐directed workshop activities 15% 5% Drop‐in or on‐demand facilitated activities 4% 12% 8% Pre‐scheduled facilitated activities 13% 15% Customized activities 17% Drop‐in activities or projects that require more than one user to create We surveyed 42 children’s museums in the Association of Children’s Museums US membership and found that not all museums even have exhibits. In fact, more museums offer pre‐scheduled facilitated activities (41) than offer drop‐in exhibits (38). Of the 38 Museums that do offer exhibits, 30 also have self‐directed drop‐in workshop activities and 36 have staff‐facilitated drop‐in (or on‐demand) workshop activities available. Clearly, these museums do not see exhibits as the solution to every problem. They are complementing their exploratory environments with programs and activities that help them to meet their visitors’ needs. And in some cases, they may be offering only programming and not be managing a physical plant at all. This may be good news. We know that self‐choice learning is central to the development of inquiry skills, critical thinking, knowledge‐seeking behavior, goal setting, and other fundamental skill sets that contribute to lifelong learning. These are things th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 10 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 that exhibits are particularly good at, especially when the social dimensions of museum‐
based learning are taken into account. However, really having an impact on visitors’ behaviors and attitudes requires sustained relationships and may also be more effective when staff is available to mentor and scaffold. This suggests that programs play a vital role in helping museums fulfill their missions. In addition, many museums are working toward becoming a critical resource in their community by promoting repeat visitation, linking museum experiences to the home and school, and facilitating collaboration. Some of these goals are also better met with staff facilitation, and structured programs. In fact, 13 of the museums in our survey, so nearly 28%, say they have activities that visitors can complete over multiple visits to the museum while 9 offer projects that visitors start at the museum and finish at home, and 5 encourage visitors to start a project at home and complete it in the museum. At the same time, only 6 museums in our survey are using social networking sites or other web resources to create an on‐going dialogue among visitors. And only 5 of the museums in our survey have a way for visitors to email themselves from the museum, creating opportunities to revisit and reflect on their museum experience from home. So it appears that children’s museums are still focusing largely on the visit – on touching visitors directly ‐ whether that is through an exhibit or a workshop, held on‐site or off. Children’s museums, by and large, are not encouraging visitors to use the Internet to post and comment on projects made at the museum, or on museum experiences. They are not seeing a website as another exhibit platform. They are embracing the idea of peer‐to‐peer learning and cooperation by offering activities in their museums that work better when more than one user to work together (20 say they do this). Yet they are not taking advantage of the web to build a community around the museum organization. VI. Types of Play There are many different kinds of play. Broadly speaking we at Gyroscope often talk about the following 10 types of play: Inquiry or Logical thinking, Literacy and Linguistics, Spatial, Kinesthetic/Bodily, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, Music/Sound, Creativity/Art, and Exploring Culture. You can see the influence of Howard Gardner’s Seven Intelligences in this way of organizing visitors’ behavior. And our map has a similar function, perhaps, which is to remind us of the many ways that children and adults can engage with experiences, and the kinds of skills and tools they use to learn. Why? Because we want to design exhibits th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 11 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 that are inclusive, which can be successful for first time users as well as repeat visitors, are for all skill levels, and which appeal to users with diverse interests. A number of our clients are very interested in this perspective, and in particular in the chart that we create as part of planning that shows how each zone will support a range of play and learning styles. For at least three of these museums the primary basis for their visitor plan has been a blending of experiences that allow art and science explorations to bump up against one another, creating multidisciplinary and multi‐
modal exhibit environments for a wide audience. According to our survey, however, most children’s museums focus on fantasy and imaginative play (36). The second and third most common children’s museum activity is physical/active play (23) and making things (22). Types of Play Engage in fantasy/
imaginative or role play Make things Explore unstructured materials Solve problems Create projects in groups Engage in physical or active play Read Make music and other sounds 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 So we also wanted to find out more specifically what types of exhibits children’s museums are offering, and to what extent they are creating a program that incorporates diverse experiences. We asked whether they had a water table, play store, a dig, or none of those. 31 museums in our survey do have a waterplay exhibit, 25 have a play store, 19 have a play café, and 16 have a dig. A number of these platforms support different types of play – for example a water table is experiential, whole‐body, and multi‐sensory while at the same time supporting inquiry‐based science investigation. Making things incorporates creative problem solving, engineering and goal setting, as well as supporting aesthetics and self‐
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 12 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 expression. Still, the primary approach seems to be scenic environments in which visitors take on roles – archeologist, paleontologist, and cook – and enact a narrative. Two of the visitor experiences we asked about seem underrepresented in children’s museums. One is music and sound. Only one museum said they had an exhibit on this. After the success of Play It By Ear from BADM, as well as the obvious appropriateness of music and sound for the children’s museum audience, this really surprised me. The other was reading. Only 5 of the museums in our survey say they include books in their exhibits and encourage visitors to sit down and read in the museum. To put this in context it is useful to remember that many children’s museums have chosen to focus on playful learning. A quick look at children’s museum mission statements makes this clear. But I wonder whether other types of learning environments and styles may have been left behind. I’m not the only one asking this question. One survey respondent described their museum as a combination of a “traditional collections‐based natural history museum . . .a children’s museum, science center, planetarium, observatory, and zoo,” and recommends an integrated approach to other children’s museums. Another respondent is concerned that exhibits are losing their “socio‐cultural context” and being reduced to “just” hands‐on play experiences. Joan Brooks McLane, from the Erikson Institute, once said: "[W]hat really matters about play is that it both depends on and embodies a particular approach or frame of mind. . . it cannot be defined by its content or subject matter. In other words, what identifies play as play is a particular attitude or approach to materials, behaviors, and ideas and not the materials or activities or ideas themselves; play is a special mode of thinking and doing." So, is this focus on imaginative play something that helps define the brand of Children’s Museums? Or is it limiting the audience? Could children’s museums continue to have the same mission yet offer a more layered, varied, and complex experience? VII. Visitor Participation in Children’s Museums Creating opportunities for visitor participation is an emerging trend in the museum‐field overall. There are many reasons for this: it is aligned with visitor expectations, it helps museums develop relationships, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. So we were curious, how many children’s museums are finding ways to hear from their audience how is that happening, and what happens to visitor input once the museum has it? th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 13 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 What we learned is that just over half (23 of 42) of the children’s museums in our survey solicit visitor feedback. This is largely done through talk back stations (10) and post‐it boards (14). Some museums (10) incorporate visitor‐written labels, and more (20) have a way for visitors to leave projects in the museum for other visitors to encounter and interact with. This last type of visitor participation means that in some portion of these museums, visitor creations are incorporated into the galleries. That could be through hanging of wet paintings ‐ as at the Denver Children's Museum, where the drying artwork creates an inspiring backdrop for new visitors ‐ or as an changing environmental installation ‐ as in Maker Kids at the Austin Children's Museum where throwems enlivened a dark tunnel. Denver Children’s Museum Austin Children’s Museum, Maker Kids So participation is happening, and children's museums seem to be experimenting with how to do it. And I realize that there are many reasons – historical and operational – why museums do not create more participatory models for exhibitions. And yet, this is not a new idea. Some of My Favorite Examples Going back to 1998, Gyroscope designed a temporary exhibit for the Museum of Science, Boston and the Museum of Fine Arts called Virtual Egypt. In it, we featured an artifact that had yet to be identified by archeologists. There were theories about what it was, including a section of a book with illustrations that appeared to be of the same object. But no one could say for certain. We presented the evidence to visitors and invited them to submit their hypotheses to be offered alongside those of the experts. Visitors became a part of the ongoing scientific dialogue and debate – a real one. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 14 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Museum of Science, Virtual Egypt One of my favorite examples of this approach to participation comes from the Brooklyn Museum of Art graffiti exhibit in which visitors were invited to make graffiti art of their own in the exhibit. They were responding to the art through art making of their own, and their work became part of the exhibit. The Eden Project, in Wales, has a talk back interactive. But they have taken it to a whole new level. Here visitors pick a colored ribbon to represent the environmental issue they believe is most critically important. Tying their ribbon onto a giant net, their selection is added to those of other, previous visitors. The resulting iconic sculpture is a snapshot of the community's priorities for the environment. It carries real meaning, is beautiful, and it invites dialogue. The Eden Project Go Big or Go Home From outside the museum field, there have been some really significant experiments in the idea of co‐created, not just participatory, experiences. I am talking about community‐built playgrounds. Here, the community literally has loose parts and th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 15 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 reconfigures them into play spaces. The parts are essentially a platform, or a series of affordances. The making of the space is a learning experience. This reminds me of a visitor experience master plan we once created for a museum that was all about kids reinventing the exhibit environment. Imagination Playground installations On Line I have to mention the Frist which has a muse award winning website where visitors can upload digital pictures of the artworks they make in the museum, and then comment on them. Although the website was created through an IMLS grant which is about adult English language learners, the audience of 6,000 which currently maintain on‐line portfolios includes many types of visitors, and creates a genuinely visitor‐centered way for their audience to participate. I would love to see digital art in the museum curated from the on‐line portfolio, to complete the circle and make it so that visitors could see themselves in the museum during their visit (the Frist could easily find out who is in the museum since all portfolio users have a unique ID card). That kind of circling back between the web and the museum is what the Science Museum of Minnesota has been exploring through Sciencebuzz – although their visitor‐
participation is focused on learning visitor preferences for content themes and exhibit emphasis, rather than on co‐creation. What does Participatory mean? But when we talk about participation we often talk about a very limited role for visitors. Not truly co‐creating exhibitions and making knowledge through the making of things and of spaces. We usually talk about talkback boards, as evidenced by the survey results. For museums, the power of participation lies in the ability to customize experiences and extend visitors learning ‐ leading to many more points of entry into the museum th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 16 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 experience and a more durable relationship with visitors. For visitors, participation leads to many benefits including increased relevance and meaningfulness, improved understanding of oneself, and the chance to co‐create knowledge. For both the organization and the visitor this process also establishes a dialogue, giving visitors an opportunity to take charge of their inquiry and providing valuable insight into the audience’s interests and concern. VIII. How do you measure success? Here is a graph showing how the 42 children’s museums in our survey measure the success of their exhibits: Measurements of Exhibit Success Summative evaluation of a big idea or exhibit concept Informal observation of visitor behavior within the exhibit Formal observation of visitor behavior within the exhibit Demographic review of exhibit audience (age, sex, zip code, number of new Summative evaluation of vocabulary used in the exhibit Summative evaluation of subject knowledge Dwell time Total number of visitors attending the exhibit Amount of fundraising associated with exhibit We don’t have resources for evaluation Other 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 Why do the ways in which we measure success matter? What we measure is an indication of what we think museum visits can accomplish. For instance, when we are testing for vocabulary we are looking to see whether visitors will recognize the specific concepts that the museum has identified as the most important. When we measure family interaction we are prioritizing social interaction and dwell time, and hoping to build inquiry skills and family bonds. So what we measure is indicative of the deeper, underlying learning models we are using, and assumptions we are making about what is even possible to achieve. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 17 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 The evaluation model an organization uses also speaks to its relationship with its audience. Does the museum see itself as a teacher, a resource, a mentor, coach, research assistant, partner, activist, other? The roles museums take on turn out to matter a great deal. There are many learning models used in the museum field and many thoughtful people have written about this including Ted Ansbacher and Chantal Barriault. So I will briefly describe the 4 learning models that are most relevant to the evaluation criteria listed by our survey participants. Content Transfer. In an information‐driven model exhibits often demonstrate ideas and provide information. For such exhibits, success can be determined by testing whether visitors learned vocabulary and key ideas. Testing here might also look at whether visitors understand the exhibit to have a big idea, and whether that understanding is consistent with the big idea the planning team had in mind. Buffalo Museum of Science, Main Hall Skill Building. This is more common in museums that encourage inquiry, use a child‐
development framework, and promote risk taking. Testing in this model focuses on things like physical and social competency, creativity and self‐expression, good judgment, and a willingness to ask questions. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 18 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Bay Area Discovery Museum Exploration Place, Inc., Tots’ Spot Lifelong Learning. More and more children’s museums are focused not just on building visitors’ skills, but in igniting a sustained interest in seeking knowledge, setting goals, and active participation in their communities. This concept of lifelong learning is based on problem solving, wonder, and curiosity, but extends it beyond the immediate visit. To determine whether a museum is succeeding at this you might evaluate visitors’ inquiry behaviors, the number of times they touch base with the museum either in person or online, and whether they get more involved in the organization over time. California Science Center, Big Lab Chicago Children’s Museum, Skyline Transforming Attitudes/Changing Behaviors. This is perhaps the most difficult and the most exciting. The Holocaust Museum, for example hopes to convert visitors’ interest into direct civic and political action. Many exhibits on wellness and on the environment have transformative goals – to change the health or environmental habits and outcomes of their visitors. These impacts are seen in day‐to‐day life activities such as meal planning, recycling, philanthropic activities, community activism, etc. making them the most complex to measure and track. We did not hear of any museums that are pursuing longitudinal studies of their affect on visitors. We are seeing many museums interested in the appeal of their exhibits to th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 19 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 diverse audiences. And we are seeing that most museums do formal and informal behavioral evaluation in the exhibit. We have heard a lot about setting goals for changing behavior and we would like to hear from museums about this in particular – has your museum hosted an exhibit designed to change the way visitors act in their day‐
to‐day lives? What strategies have you used? And how is it working? IX. Conducting Research Research Partners Other 7% Funders 9% Universities 37% Professional association 16% Private nonpro`it research orgs 9% Consultants 22% We asked museums whether they conduct research in their museum. The answer seems to be that about half of children’s museums do some kind of research. Of the museums that took our survey, 20 said they do, while 22 responded that they do not. Of those that do some kind of research, 17 partner with universities, 10 with research consultants, 7 with professional associations, 4 with funders and with private nonprofit research organizations, and 3 with other. The research they are doing is primarily audience research, and is focused on whether exhibits are meeting their goals. They are using research to inform exhibition themes (14), influence how they approach exhibits (16), and to edit signage to make it more effective (10). Only a few museums th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 20 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 explicitly tell their visitors about the research, their findings, and why it matters – 5 do so in their newsletter and 2 host lectures. What emerges from this answer is that most children’s museums are not conducting research into new scientific questions about child development, or informal learning, for example. A number of science museums do host university research departments in exactly this way – for example, the Museum of Science in Boston has a space set aside for graduate students at local universities to run studies, and places where visitors can interact with that research (see following 4 photographs). As I was working on this report I happened to spend a day at the Museum of Science, Boston at a workshop on cognitive research in museums. What I learned there was that the Boston Children's Museum, and The Discovery Museums in Acton are working with MOS on research initiatives. In fact, the Living Laboratory at MOS is serving as a mentor and model for the other two museums. BCM has structured their partnerships with researchers on the MOS model, and the Discovery Museums is using three of the exhibit components from Living Labs (seen in the images above) as prototypes for experiences at their own museum. Yet, what struck me most about the conversation was the range of ways each of these museums thought about the role of research in their museum, the goals for that th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 21 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 research, and the way the research could and should influence their visitor experiences. How are they different? The Museum of Science has a science literacy goal ‐ they want adults to be interested in science, to feel like science is something they can understand, see it as relevant to their lives, and to have the tools to decode science information that they get through the media and other popular sources. Children are something adults are interested in, and therefore a natural subject for engaging adults. The Children's Museum is also interested in helping adults feel comfortable with science; in particular with child development research, and with analyzing information. They are also interested in building strong learning relationships between adults and children and see research as one way to help adults understand what children's play is all about and how children learn. BCM also has a parent education program, Families First, and is not afraid to give parents information about parenting. The Discovery Museums have similar goals of helping parents learn about children, and about themselves. At the moment, they do not have a lot of information for adults either as graphics, handouts or on line. A recent survey strongly suggests that they should move in this direction. But as a small museum (140,000 annual attendance and $1MM operating budget), they are not in a position to run a research lab ‐ at least not until they expand. Instead, they are focused on installing some small exhibit components, and on parent communication strategies. The big contrast here is that MOS does not believe that exhibit experiences can change visitor behavior and so does not see its cognitive science research program as telling adults how to best help their children's development. It is about science process and information analysis. For the Children's Museum, being a resource for adults on child development, answering questions and supporting parents, is a key part of their work. And this is the direction the Discovery Museums is heading as well. BCM goes even further ‐ taking this to a level of advocacy. They want parents to know that school readiness begins at birth, and how to help their children be successful. Who benefits? Visitors are an audience for the research at MOS. Not the kids really ‐ they are the subjects ‐ but the adults get debriefed and this information is intended to help them learn a little about science, and a little about their kids. The researchers, it turns out, get many benefits from these partnerships. They get experience in an informal learning setting, and they have access to many possible participants. New research questions arise out of conversations with parents. They also th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 22 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 receive extensive training in science communication with the general public. All of this helps them find funding. Museum educators are also seen as an audience for this work. They interact with the researchers through briefings, workshops, and on the floor. So the research program adds a dimension to their professional development. Resources to run program? MOS has had NSF funding for the last 3 years but it ends in June. In addition they have had a fellow position funded by a private donor. Someone asked if researchers weren't expected to use their grant funding to help pay for the use of the museum. MOS is planning to do this moving forward. BCM's current research lab was paid for by MIT, which also outfitted it with all the equipment. Because of this other researchers who use the space work out the details with MIT. This arrangement has been very successful for BCM. BCM shares the responsibility for this work among a few staffers. Moving forward their vision is to organize all Research and Evaluation under on fellow, and coordinate those activities throughout the museum. The Discovery Museums has one staffer working on this project, among the many other things that she does. In addition, to do human subject studies the museums also need to have an IRB in place. This is something that these museums have asked their research partners to help with because it can be pretty complicated and involved. Partners? This list is not comprehensive, and it does not include the possible partners who have approached one of these three museums about future studies. But it gives you a sense of departments (and the range of disciplines) that are doing work that relates to the museum audience and which can be conducted in that setting. • Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University • Social Psychology Laboratory at Harvard University • Paul Harris Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education • Cognitive Evolution Laboratory at Harvard University • Arts and Mind Laboratory at Boston College • MIT Early Childhood Cognition Lab • Kanwisher Lab at MIT • Wheelock College • Emotion Development Laboratory at Boston College th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 23 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 •
Laboratories for Cognitive Neuroscience at Children's Hospital Boston Types of studies? Again, I am not trying to be comprehensive so much as give you a sense of the incredible range of research questions that can connect with a museum. All of these topics have been avenues of research at either MOS or BCM: • Mathematical cognition ‐ such as estimating large numbers • Stereotyping • Causal learning through play • How does competition affect learning? • How do kids conceptualize art and music? For instance, if you play 2 kinds of music and say each is the favorite piece of another child, which child does the subject want to be friends with? • How does art‐making affect mood? • Autism and play Where is this Going? One important issue here is the way these museums have chosen what research to share with their publics, and in what ways. The Museum of Science and Children’s Museum both have research labs. At MOS, the lab is out on the floor and open to the public. The Children’s Museum has had theirs behind a door for logistical reasons but is likely to change that when they redo their early childhood gallery. All of these museums see research as having an impact on the visitor experience and those seem to take the form of demonstrations of research that visitors can try themselves. They do not put researchers, developers and designers together when working out new exhibits. As of yet there is also little web presence for the research work that these museums are doing. MOS has some information on line and links to their partners. The Discovery Museums is working with Boston University students to produce some original videos about child development for their website. And the Children’s Museum is redoing their web presence globally to have more content, and less of a marketing focus. So this may be changing quickly. These three organizations offer a point of reference for the answers to our survey questions, and help to explain what scientific research happeninginchildren’s museums lookslike. I recently saw that the Minnesota Children’s Museum is launching a new initiative withauniversityresearchpartner,andProvidenceCMisthinkingaboutitalso.So
additional strategiesandmodelsmaybedeveloping. My Questions th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 24 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 One reason we asked this question is that we are interested in howresearch can inform the visitor experience. We are all used to working with evaluation reports that look at how visitors actually use, and act in exhibits. And in children's museums we are also working with a developmental framework when we develop exhibits. But aside from re‐
enacting research experiments, aren't there other ways that research can influence how we design and plan our exhibits, our graphics, and maybe most importantly, our expectations about visitor outcomes? When we were working on Skyline one of the major goals was to design an exhibit that could be used to research how design could encourage adult participation with their children. In other words – we were using an informal, social, learning environment to study social dynamics in informal learning. It was meant to be iterative so that the exhibit would lead to new insights and those could in turn be tested directly in the exhibit. This is a little different from what MOS, BCM, and the Discovery Museums are doing. Children’s Museums strike me as a perfect place to push forward our collective understanding of self‐choice, informal, and social learning. It will be interesting to see if this opportunity is embraced by more museums in the future. X. Emerging Trends When asked what trends they were seeing, or emerging areas of interest, respondents identified eight issues that they believe will continue to grow in importance for the children’s museum community in the near future. They are: 1. Outdoor exhibits 2. Green/sustainable practices 3. Technology 4. Appropriate corporate engagement 5. Accessibility for people with disabilities 6. Academic‐museum partnerships 7. Addressing critical social issues and taking a position on issues of concern early (e.g. obesity) 8. Inspiring creativity XI. Final Thoughts I am intrigued by the picture of the Children’s Museum community painted by this survey. It has left me with a sense that children’s museums are in a period of change. They are grappling with fundamental questions including: who is the target audience, what services do we deliver and what tools do we use to fulfill our mission, what skills th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 25 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 do we need on staff and how should we be organized, what are the best ways to measure success and communicate the value we add to our communities? At the same time, children’s museums are dealing with some profound questions that are shaping their future: what should the guidelines be for accepting funding, how can we attract diverse audiences, how do we keep pace with changing technologies and visitor expectations, what should our role be in policy and public health discussions, what contributions can we make to the field of informal learning more generally? In addition to the issues identified by survey takers about emerging trends, I have identified a few directions that I think will become increasingly important for children’s museums in the near future: Advocacy: The data in our survey suggests that children’s museums see themselves as much more than just visitor centers with exhibits. But the data also indicates that museums do not link their on‐site and off‐site activities, or use their physical plants to promote on‐going conversations with their constituents. They are focusing exhibits on traditional themes and activities rather than leveraging the complex roles they play into new types of experiences. In short, there is a greater opportunity to connect advocacy work to the visitor experience, and to position exhibits as part of a larger social change effort. Multi‐Touch Relationships: At this time, we aren’t seeing widespread use of the web as an exhibit platform or extension. We do see a few children’s museums that support multi‐step exhibits – visitors can start a project at home and finish it at the museum, or vice versa. But it isn’t a robust part of the way these museums function, and the web isn’t a key piece of creating an on‐going relationship with visitors. Why bother? The data in our survey suggests that children’s museums are interested in learning, more than in teaching. They evaluate visitors’ behaviors, not their vocabulary. They want visitors to be creative, have positive experiences that strengthen social bonds, and to see themselves as lifelong learners. These are skills, aptitudes and attitudes. It is probably unrealistic to change behavior with a single visit. And as we have seen, children’s museums are not only, or even always, a visitor center. So we know that it is possible to touch visitors’ lives, and to be a resource and touchstone, in many ways. Why not embrace this one? There is a terrific research opportunity around the question of what a “critical dose” looks like – how many museum experiences, and what type or mixture, is necessary to have the desired impact on visitors? In the meantime, we should experiment. Inclusive Design: In the survey data we see that children’s museums are interested in accessibility, and in cultural diversity. They want to appeal to a broad audience, and for all visitors to be successful. But the discussion is atomized – socio‐economics are the th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 26 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 purview of marketing departments while accessibility falls under the universal design conversation. We are missing the opportunity to wrap that all together into a coherent picture of inclusive design. Creative Problem Solving: As I noted above, I think the focus on play is masking an even more powerful message about creativity and problem solving. I know why children’s museums have focused on it, and I realize that staking out a strong position on play has served some children’s museums well. At the same time, play is a complex word with many connotations and children’s museums spend a lot of time, money and energy defending it, and themselves. We know that there are many types of play in addition to the role‐play, gross motor, and art making that children’s museums appear to be offering. Children’s museums have the potential to incorporate a broader range of experiences. I believe that doing so would open up new funding opportunities, allow children’s museums to talk from a position of strength, help organizations differentiate themselves and be more regionally diverse, and further their goals of being inclusive. Being an Expert: There is a little children’s museum in Santa Fe that has an outdoor exhibit area. There they grow food, and at harvest time they have a community party to cook the food and eat it together. Their expertise has become so central to the community that the public schools have asked them to help design the elementary school playgrounds. This small, shoestring museum is doing things that make them a critical resource to their community. Their culture is to be locally relevant, entrepreneurial, and open‐minded. They are not worried about whether what they are doing fits the “model” of a children’s museum. New ideas do often come from the margins. Although in my analysis I focused on where the majority of museums are, my interest lies equally in what museums are doing differently ‐ in the outliers. We should take a close look at these organizations and see what new influences might help make the community of children’s museums stronger and more sustainable. Visitor’s needs are constantly changing. What we provide should continue to change too. th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 27 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Participating Museums Amazement Square, Lynchburg, VA Rebecca Grawl, Director of Education Arizona Museum for Youth, Mesa, AZ Beth Bartholow, Senior Business Manager Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito, CA Richard Winefield, Executive Director Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Dayton, OH Mark Meister, President & CEO Boston Children's Museum, Boston, MA Neil Gordon, EVP/COO Brooklyn Children's Museum, Brooklyn, NY Kayla Dove, Director of Education Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago, IL Jennifer Farrington, President and CEO Children's Discovery Museum, Normal, IL Shari Buckellew, Museum Manager Parks and Recreation Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose, San Jose, CA Marilee Jennings, Executive Director Children's Hands‐On Museum, Tuscaloosa, AL Charlotte A. Gibson, Executive Director The Children's Museum of Denver, Denver, CO Dennis Meyer, Director of Exhibits and Facilities Children's Museum of Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI Suzie Slota, executive director Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN Jeffrey Patchen, President & CEO Admin The Children's Museum of Memphis, Memphis, TN Emily Cutliff, Education Manager th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 28 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Children's Museum of Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge, TN Mary Ann Damos, Executive Director Children's Museum of Richmond, Richmond, VA Karen Coltrane, President and CEO Children's Science Explorium, Boca Raton, FL Jennifer Yates, Science Center Coordinator Discovery Center Museum, Rockford, IL Sarah Wolf, Executive Director Don Harrington Discovery Center, Amarillo, TX Joe Hastings, Executive Director EdVenture Children's Museum, Columbia, SC Susan Bonk, Director of Education and Exhibits Escondido Children's Museum, Escondido, CA Steve Kildoo, Executive Director Exploration Station . . .A Children's Museum, Bourbonnais, IL Sarah Winkel, Museum General Manager Explorations V Children's Museum, Lakeland, FL Georgann Carlton, CEO Flint Children's Museum, Flint, MI Kim Yecke, Executive Director Gertrude Salzer Gordon Children's Museum of LaCrosse, Inc., LaCrosse, WI Anne Steuer, Executive Director Habitot Children's Museum, Berkeley, CA Gina Moreland, Executive Director Imagine Children's Museum, Everett, WA Linda Dixon, Director of Operations Imagination Workshop, The Temecula Children's Museum, Temecula, CA Robin Gilliland, Museum Services Manager Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 29 Emerging Trends in Children’s Museums: A Survey of the Association of Children’s Museums Membership 2008‐1009 Karen Kelly, Director of Exhibits and Education ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center, Charlotte, NC Melanie Baron, Exhibitions Coordinator Kidspace Museum, Pasadena, CA Valerie Oguss, Education Director Kidzu Children's Museum, Chapel Hill, NC Cathy Maris, Executive Director Kohl Children's Museum of Greater Chicago, Glenview, IL Dave Judy, Communications Director Long Island Children's Museum, Garden City, NY Hillary Olson, Director of Education Omaha Children's Museum, Omaha, NE Jan McKenzie, Director of Museum Services Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA Laura Foster, Executive Director Providence Children's Museum, Providence, RI Janice O'Donnell, Executive Director Sciencenter, Ithaca, NY Rae Ostman, Director of Education Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, Winchester, VA Peggy McKee, executive director Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk, CT Rhonda Kiest, Executive Director The Woodlands Children's Museum, Woodlands, TX Angela Colton, Executive Director Zeum, San Francisco, CA Audrey Yamamoto, Executive Director th
Gyroscope, Inc. 283 4 Street Suite 201, Oakland, CA 94607 p. 30