STEM Matters: Investigating the Confluence of Visitor and Institutional Learning Agendas

September 15th, 2016 - August 31st, 2020 | PROJECT

The project will conduct a nation wide study to address three broad questions:

(1) How does the public view zoos and aquariums and how do these institutions affect STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) learning outside their walls?

(2) How do visitors experience zoos at different stages in their lives and how do zoo visits affect their knowledge and perspectives concerning environmental issues and conservation?

(3) What are the entry characteristics of visitors and how do those characteristics play out in behaviors during a visit?

The project is designed to advance understanding of how informal STEM learning emerges through the intersection of institutional pedagogy and learning goals and the characteristics of individuals and their social and cultural backgrounds. As the first institutional study that advances a field-wide research agenda, the project will map how to implement a national collaborative effort that can help refine program delivery and cooperation between zoos, aquariums and other STEM learning institutions.

The study will describe zoo and aquarium visitors based on a broad understanding of demographics, group, and individual perspectives to expand understanding of how these factors influence visitor learning and how they view the relevance of educational messages presented by zoos and aquariums. The project will result in reports, workshops and a handbook presenting findings of practical value for educators, a research platform and research tools, online discussion forums, and directions for future research. The project, led by New Knowledge Organization (NKO), will be carried out through the collaboration of NKO with other informal research organizations and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) with its 230 informal science learning institutional members. This project is supported by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds research and innovative resources for use in a variety of settings, as a part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments.

Project Website(s)

(no project website provided)

Project Products

2019 AISL PI Meeting Poster: Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter (WZAM3)
Aligning Your Agendas with Those of Your Visitors: Lessons Learned from Zoos and Aquariums
Reframing Conversations Through Signage: Using Video-Based Data Collection to Capture Visitor Talk at Zoo and Aquarium Exhibits
Collecting Demographic and Behavioral Data through Stationary and Hat-Mounted Cameras
A Webinar Series with Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter
WZAM3 Method and Instrumentation
Social Science Research Collaboration: Advance the field and your Organization

Team Members

Joe E Heimlich, Principal Investigator, Franklin County Historical Society
John Fraser, Principal Investigator, New Knowledge Organization Ltd.
Martin Storksdieck, Co-Principal Investigator, Oregon State University
Cecilia Garibay, Evaluator, Garibay Group
Kelly Riedinger, Project Staff


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1612699
Funding Amount: $113,791.00

Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL
Award Number: 1612729
Funding Amount: $432,945.00


Audience: Evaluators | General Public | Museum | ISE Professionals
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | General STEM | Life science
Resource Type: Project Descriptions
Environment Type: Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits | Aquarium and Zoo Programs | Exhibitions | Professional Development | Conferences | Networks | Professional Development and Workshops | Public Programs