Cosmic Questions Summative Evaluation Report

August 1st, 2003 | EVALUATION

The first phase of the evaluation, a front-end visitor study, assessing visitors' knowledge of and interest in space science and the cosmos, was conducted in May and June of 2000 at Boston's Museum of Science (MOS). The evaluation's second phase, a formative evaluation of the exhibition prototype, was completed in February of 2001 at the MOS. This summative report represents the third round of the evaluation process conducted by PERG, and is an evaluation of the current Cosmic Questions exhibition and related activities, based on data obtained by evaluators at two sites Boston's Museum of Science and the Midland Center for the Arts (MCFTA) in Midland, Michigan. The summative evaluation was conducted from September of 2002 to May of 2003. PERG's summative evaluation looked at the full 5,000 square foot exhibition at the two locations listed above. In addition to examining visitors' experience in the exhibit galleries, the evaluators also surveyed and interviewed visitors who viewed a related planetarium show, a play called 'Boy Meets Girl' and a demonstration conducted by museum educators. Both the Cosmic Questions exhibit and the related experiences were designed to stimulate visitors' thinking about the following "Big Questions" identified by the project PIs: What is the universe like?, Was there a beginning to time? and, Where do we fit in?. The summative evaluation was both broad and deep. PERG evaluators developed a range of protocols suited to family groups and other museum visitors, as well various project stakeholders including museum staff and volunteers. We interviewed and conducted interactive observations with almost 350 visitors at the two sites, and in addition to collecting data from visitors who attended the related shows and programs, we also interviewed museum administrators, docents and actors. The primary focus of the project was on development of an engaging, stimulating, thought-provoking exhibit. The evaluators found that most visitors did find the exhibit engaging, and that the exhibit encouraged visitors to think about the "big questions" and their place in the universe. According to visitor responses, a majority of those who experienced the exhibition developed new understandings and learned new information about a wide range of topics. This new knowledge included information about the tools of the astronomer. However, visitors were often left unaware of the significance of these tools, or how they were actually used in scientific exploration. It appeared that visitors also needed more help in identifying the methods scientists use in forming their understandings of the universe, but limited data was collected on that topic. The exhibition succeeded in providing multiple pathways for visitors to connect with the experience of space science. Visitors mentioned a variety of components while talking about the exhibition. Each of the related components the play, demonstration, and planetarium show reached different audiences and offered overlapping but unique experiences to visitors. Also, for those who were interested in or who spent enough time at the exhibition to explore it thoroughly, succeeded in conveying a variety of historical, personal, cultural, and artistic perspectives on the universe.



Team Members

Joan Karp, Evaluator, Lesley University
Judah Leblang, Evaluator, Lesley University
Susan Baker Cohen, Evaluator, Lesley University
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Contributor


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 9909705
Funding Amount: 1615668

Related URLs
Cosmic Horizons: Our Place in Space and Time


Audience: Evaluators | Families | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Education and learning science | Geoscience and geography | Space science
Resource Type: Evaluation Reports | Summative
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Media and Technology | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Museum and Science Center Programs | Planetarium and Science on a Sphere | Public Programs | Theater Programs