Expanding a Model for Interactive Social Science Exhibits Presented in Outdoor Public Spaces

September 1st, 2021 - August 31st, 2025 | PROJECT

Public outdoor spaces present opportunities for social experiences and learning. This Broader Implementation project will expand and evaluate a model that transforms urban public spaces into accessible and engaging environments for learning social science in outdoor public spaces. The model combines social science inquiry exhibits, place making and human facilitation of learning experiences in outdoor public areas. Project exhibits use the facilitated social interactions as both the content of and medium for the experiences. This project will adapt the existing exhibits and add new exhibits and facilitation techniques for testing in three different urban environments. Project research will explore the efficacy of these adaptations and revised facilitation techniques for the different settings in collaboration with civic partners at each site. The project will share the model and research findings widely through the Exploratorium website and publications for researchers, developers, and educators.

The team’s prior research showed that facilitators improved multiple learning outcomes with the current exhibits. Visitors acquired new social observation skills, reflected on their own experiences, perceptions, and actions, and increased their awareness for how social behavior, cognition, and emotion can be studied scientifically. Building on the prior research, the project will install the exhibition and test its efficacy in three different urban environments and explore the adaptations that are required for different settings with different civic partners. The project will use design-based research to develop a new theoretical model of facilitation strategies for supporting science learning in outdoor public spaces. For evaluation, the project will use mixed methods, including observations, interviews, surveys, and document review. Evaluation will assess success in attracting and engaging visitors; conveying social science concepts; prompting self-reflection of judgments and actions; and fostering empathy among those with different social identities. The project will assess the extent to which participants, particularly those from marginalized communities, experience feelings of belonging and inclusion. The project will be presented in three sites which represent the significant diversity, income levels, and urban environments of San Francisco. Facilitation strategies are being co-developed with Urban Alchemy, an organization that works within distressed urban communities in San Francisco. Project site partners and collaborators include the San Francisco Public Library, the Port of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation. The project will also measure partnership outcomes, through surveys and interviews, to look at the extent and ways the project integrates a co-creation model and develops an authentic, mutually beneficial, sustainable partnership. The project will generate and disseminate generalizable knowledge about the affordances of combining informal science learning, placemaking, and facilitation in a variety of free, outdoor STEM learning spaces in collaboration with local community groups. The project will also advance public understanding of the social and behavioral sciences.

This research project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to (a) advance new approaches to and evidence-based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; (b) provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; (c) advance innovative research on and sssessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and (d) engage the public of all ages in learning STEM in informal environments.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2021 Poster - Middle Ground Expanded

Team Members

Shawn Lani, Principal Investigator, Exploratorium
Josh Gutwill, Co-Principal Investigator, Exploratorium


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2116110
Funding Amount: $1,269,326.00


Access and Inclusion: Low Socioeconomic Status | Urban
Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: General STEM
Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: Exhibitions | Parks | Outdoor | Garden Exhibits

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This material is supported by National Science Foundation award DRL-2229061, with previous support under DRL-1612739, DRL-1842633, DRL-1212803, and DRL-0638981. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations contained within InformalScience.org are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NSF.

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