Concept Testing for the Cenozoic/Age of Mammals Hall

May 1st, 2008 | EVALUATION

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to conduct concept testing to inform the reinstallation of the Cenozoic/Age of Mammals Hall. The study was designed to examine visitors' perceptions and understanding of potential content, including their engagement with and knowledge of fossils, in general, and fossil mammals, in particular, and their familiarity with climate change. Open-ended, in-depth interviews were conducted with a random sample of English- and Spanish-speaking drop-in Museum visitors as they entered the existing Cenozoic/Age of Mammals Hall. Forty groups of visitors, including 45 adults and 16 children, were interviewed. Data for the study were collected in March 2008. Findings: (1) Although interviewees expressed curiosity about the fossils, their observations were often cursory and limited to the specimens' prominent physical characteristics. As interviewees talked about the specimens, it became clear that they did not know how to glean information from the fossils that is, how to read them. (2) Nearly all interviewees were unable to accurately describe what a mammal is, and most did not know how to describe the characteristics of a fossil. (3) When asked what they knew about global climate change in the present, one-half of interviewees said they had little or no understanding of the topic. The other one-half said they had some familiarity with the topic but often expressed misconceptions. (4) Regardless of how interviewees responded to the question about current global climate change, two-thirds accepted that the Earth's climate changed in the distant past. They either noted that climate change in the past was slower than today, cited the dinosaur extinction and ice ages as examples, or referenced Biblical examples. The other one-third did not know anything about climate change in the past. (5) As interviewees talked about global climate change, none made a connection between this topic and fossil mammals. Implications: These findings indicate that the reinstallation affords the Museum a unique opportunity to craft interpretation that incites visitors' visual literacy skills, enabling them to "read" fossils. The findings also indicate that the reinstallation will need to clearly define mammals, fossils, fossil mammals, and global climate change, and to forge connections between these concepts.



Team Members

Randi Korn & Associates, Inc., Evaluator, Randi Korn & Associates, Inc.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Contributor


Audience: Adults | Elementary School Children (6-10) | Evaluators | General Public | Middle School Children (11-13) | Museum | ISE Professionals | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Climate | Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Geoscience and geography | Life science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports
Environment Type: Museum and Science Center Exhibits