Summative Evaluation of "PlanetMania" Mobile App in Maryland Science Center's "Life Beyond Earth" Exhibit
PlanetMania is an iOS and Android mobile app game produced by Maryland Science Center and Eduweb, Inc. in 2012 to accompany the Center's latest permanent exhibit, entitled Life Beyond Earth. Multimedia Research carried out a summative evaluation of the PlanetMania app, focusing on the app's usage in the exhibit, appeal, value and learning outcomes. The evaluation is a pre-post quasi-experimental study in which a sample of 24 9-11 year olds were interviewed prior to and after experiencing the app and exhibit as well as observed during their exposure to the app and exhibit. The app game combines an interactive quiz and card game designed to be used in the exhibit area. One barrier to developing a game app for a museum setting is the fear that young visitors will become immersed in the game and miss the museum exhibits themselves. Of our participants, only 17% ignored the exhibit and focused only on the app, and three-quarters of the app users interacted physically with hands-on exhibit components that were not directly related to game play. PlanetMania's design encouraged interaction with the Life Beyond Earth exhibit. The PlanetMania version tested in the evaluation was for the most part a user-friendly game. Although two-thirds of players noted difficulty at some point in the playing the game, relatively minor screen design revisions can address the usability issues, and revisions to clarify game rules at key points will improve playability and player effort. [The game was revised subsequent to the summative evaluation.] PlanetMania is an engaging game: Children played multiple rounds of the game, liked exploring the exhibit with the app, looking for answers to the multiple-choice content questions and playing the subsequent card game in each round. Two-thirds of users thought that using the app made their experience in the exhibit more enjoyable. PlanetMania is an educational game: Almost all players felt that using the app helped them learn more from the exhibit than they would without the app, pointing to the quiz and activity of matching cards to message statements. Interviews before and after exposure to the combination of the app and exhibit revealed that almost all of the participants acquired some new or more sophisticated understanding about astrobiology. Moreover, children frequently specified the game as the source of their new knowledge. Finally, PlanetMania adds value to the museum in that three-quarters of families involved in the evaluation used astrobucks earned through app play to make a purchase at the science center store. The interactive quiz and card game format of PlanetMania successfully met its goal to make the Life Beyond Earth exhibit more accessible, engaging and understandable for upper elementary school visitors. The design of PlanetMania is such that the game can be applied to an entirely different exhibit by populating the game with different card content and questions. In this way, PlanetMania creates a new opportunity for youth to engage with a variety of museum exhibits, adding value both in terms of deepening exhibit engagement and increasing knowledge.