3D Visualization Tools for Enhancing Awareness, Understanding and Stewardship of Freshwater Ecosystems: Front-end Evaluation Report

August 19th, 2011 | EVALUATION

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded an Informal Science Education (ISE) grant, since renamed Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) to a group of institutions led by two of the University of California, Davis’s centers: the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and the W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES). The purpose of the evaluation was to gather feedback from museum professionals and the general public about the proposed 3D visualization project and its related components. Additionally, the study aimed to assess the current understanding of visitors around related terms and concepts and examine visitor preferences for certain types of activities and experiences. The main evaluation questions driving the project were the following: 1. What are current technological best practices for ISE institutions communicating STEM content about freshwater ecosystems? Which aspects of the project are ISE professionals most interested in? 2. What are current and potential visitors’ attitudes and knowledge about freshwater ecosystems and habitats? 3. What are the entry points (i.e., activities and content) for engaging audiences in the content? 4. How can the project promote and encourage environmental awareness and stewardship among those who engage in the various components?

METHODS: All data were collected between April through August, 2012 and included a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods: 1) Online surveys with the ISE professional community (n=42), 2) focus groups (n=70 total individuals), and 3) on-­‐site interviews (n=268). Methods 2 and 3 were conducted with the general public at the three partner sites: the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC), the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) and the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center (ECHO).

MAIN FINDINGS: Visitors had basic knowledge of various freshwater ecosystems, although they tended to focus on more common types like rivers, lakes, streams, ponds and wetlands. Given that many of the participants lived near large lakes, it is not surprising that they had personal connections to freshwater ecosystems, through recreation/vacations, living near lakes and being attracted to the wildlife and beauty of these areas. However, when asked to define a watershed only one out of three participants could give a partially correct or correct answer. In terms of the entry points for engaging audiences around freshwater ecosystems, they included the aforementioned personal connections, as well as the ability of the deliverables to show changes over time, provide unique experiences, and perspectives not possible with more traditional approaches. Participants were interested in the technology-related activities, but they were actually more interested in the hands-on experiences. In terms of the kinds of topics they were most interested related to the science around freshwater ecosystems, the most popular choice was the kinds of questions scientists were trying to answer, followed by the tools and technologies they use, and the kinds of data they are collecting. Participants were open to and enthusiastic about the idea of including stewardship messages in the project, and about how humans interact with freshwater ecosystems. However, when asked about positive and negative impacts, participants were much more focused on the negative impacts humans have on these ecosystems, and had difficulty discussing the positive impacts. Even so, the majority of participants could come up with behaviors they were already engaging in that had positive impacts. In terms of adopting new behaviors, visitors were most open to installing rain barrels, volunteering, composing food waste and using phosphorous-free fertilizers; convenience was the most common reason for considering adopting a new behavior. Additional results are included in the report, and these findings were used to inform the design and development of the deliverables.

Includes interview protocol and survey.



Team Members

University of California, Davis, Contributor
Steven Yalowitz, Evaluator, Audience Viewpoints Consulting


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: ISE/AISL
Funding Amount: 2403503

Related URLs

3D Visualization Tools For Enhancing Awareness, Understanding, And Stewardship Of Freshwater Ecosystems


Audience: Adults | Evaluators | Families | General Public | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Geoscience and geography
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Front-End | Interview Protocol | Research and Evaluation Instruments | Survey
Environment Type: Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits | Exhibitions | Games | Simulations | Interactives | Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Websites | Mobile Apps | Online Media