Summative Evaluation Water: H20 = Life

June 1st, 2009 | EVALUATION

The purpose of this study was to assess visitors' use and perceptions of several dimensions of visitors' reactions to the Water' exhibition as an informal science experience. Visitors were asked about their overall opinions, the highlights, the messages learned and perceptions about recognizing presentations of scientific data, environmental issues and visually memorable exhibits. SMM staff conducted 399 interviews with visitors as they exited the Water exhibition. In addition, 50 visitors were intercepted at each of four specific exhibits (Rain Table, Science On a Sphere, Three tubes and Geo Wall) and invited to use and give their opinions about those exhibits. Overall interest in the Water exhibition was moderate, with interest somewhat higher among older visitors and those with an existing involvement in environmental organizations. In spite of the moderate overall interest, almost all visitors were able to identify exhibits that were highlights of the exhibition (especially Science On a Sphere). Most visitors were engaged by many of the specific exhibits. After exiting the Water exhibition, visitors were shown 18 images of specific, usually prominent, exhibit areas and asked which they stopped at long enough to figure out what it was about. About four-fifths of these visitors self-reported stopping at seven or more of the 18 exhibits shown in the images. While these exhibits reflected a wide range of attraction, the Dam Interactive, Science On a Sphere, Three States of Water, and Aquifer Interactive apparently attracted a substantial number of visitors. Upon exiting, visitors mentioned several things that they learned along these lines: how little fresh water is available, amount of water used in the U.S. and elsewhere, cost and wastefulness of bottled water and the agricultural use of water. When asked which of the 18 images changed how they think about water, four of the five most frequently chosen (Water Bottles, Three Tubes, Agricultural Products and Science On a Sphere) are at least in part about how fresh water is wasted or used inefficiently. The exhibition contains many unique visual elements that visitors found memorable. Among the most memorable visuals were Science On a Sphere, Mono Lake, the mist curtain, wall of water bottles, three states of water and the dam interactive. These choices reflect varied types of visual elements that visitors found to be memorable. The Water exhibition also helped visitors visualize or understand something about environmental issues. Foremost among these were Water Bottles, Agricultural Products, Three Gorges Dam and the Dam Interactive. One objective of the Water exhibition was to present data in a visual manner that visitors would recognize as being based on scientific research. Agricultural Products and the Three Tubes exhibits were most often cited as presenting data gathered by scientists, but many other exhibits were also mentioned by a substantial proportion of visitors. Three exhibits were intended to give visitors a unique or novel experience as a way of teaching Earth science visually. These three were technologically sophisticated and presented dynamic visual depictions of water processes. The findings suggest that these exhibits are attractive to visitors and successful in imparting factual information and memorable visualizations. Science On a Sphere: Visitors who were invited to stop at Science On a Sphere spent an average of five minutes watching the program and reported moderate to high interest. In addition to enjoying the program, most were able to identify something they learned from the program (most frequently that 3% of Earth's water is fresh water and/or 1% of Earth's water is available fresh water). The program included many visual images and visitors found several of them memorable: boxes representing fresh water, the perspective from space, night skies and population. It is worth noting that the most memorable visual image is a relatively spare graphic rather than a realistic image of the Earth. It seems to come as a surprise to visitors. Rain table: Visitors who were invited to use the Rain table spent an average of two and a half minutes there and gave it mostly moderate to low ratings. Most visitors understood the exhibit to be about the flow of water generally and some caught on to the idea that landforms and contours determine the flow of rainwater. Some visitors gained misconceptions (it's about weather patterns, erosion, snow melt, rivers flow to the South) from the Rain Table. Confusion over the location and What is this about? were eliminated after a title and explanatory panel were incorporated halfway through this evaluation. Geo Wall: Visitors who were invited to use the Geo Wall spent about three minutes watching the program and reported moderate to low interest. Almost all of these visitors were able to give an accurate statement about the content from the program. The 3-D aspect of the program received mixed reviews from visitors: some thought it was better than regular video, some thought it worse and some thought it comparable to regular video. A title panel was added halfway through the data collection period, but it seems to have had no noticeable impact on visitor understanding of this exhibit. While not compelling, this exhibit successfully conveyed accurate information to visitors.



Team Members

Jeff Hayward, Evaluator, People, Places, and Design Research
Brian Werner, Evaluator, People, Places & Design Research
Science Museum of Minnesota, Contributor
Gary Woodard, Co-Principal Investigator, University of Arizona
Paul Morin, Co-Principal Investigator, University of Minnesota


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 0515599
Funding Amount: 2399989

Related URLs

Water: H20 = Life


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