A Capsule Summary of APE Exhibit Development
The aim of APE exhibits is to shift the role of the visitor from recipient to participant.
The visitor is a participant (with the museum and with other visitors) in the generation of activities, questions, and explanations related to engaging phenomena.
Leading Observational Indicators
- Visitors spend more time at exhibits.
- Visitors ask and pursue questions not mentioned in the label and/or give other indications that they are not fully reliant on the authority of the museum.
- Visitors ask a certain class of questions including "How can I get it to...?" and "What if I...?" as opposed to "Why does it...?"
- Visitors engage in conversations or provide other indications that they are inquiring, exploring, playing, observing, or contemplating.
- Visitors' interaction with phenomena is not halted by requests for authority.
- Visitors leave for extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, reasons.
- Use evidence of formative evaluation.
- Make affordances both transparent and minimal.
- Nail initial engagement.
Specific to APE exhibits:
- Observe visitor behavior through video and interviews.
- Use "Gang of 6" (iterative meetings of developers, scientists, and project staff) to follow and inform exhibit progress.
- Anticipate or discover visitors' questions and provide visitors with the tools to explore their questions without overwhelming them with options.
- Try exhibits that:
||reveal the aesthetics underlying a phenomenon;
||provide opportunities for visitors to enjoy the pleasures of creation;
||present remarkable mechanisms;
||pose challenges or puzzles that are solved by the activity.
- Avoid cognitive conflict and other dead ends.
- Reduce the role of authority by minimizing guidance without introducing frustration — find the balance.
Some Criteria for Selecting Phenomena (Descriptive not Prescriptive)
- Phenomenon interests exhibit developer so that the exhibit developer goes through an exploratory process.
- Phenomenon should be compelling and resetable.
- Is the phenomenon manipulable?
Specific to APE exhibits:
- Look for phenomena with a variety of interactions and results.
- Avoid dead-end phenomena.
- Consider rebuilds — we already have some information.
- Aesthetics may reduce the desire for authoritative explanation.
- Can I imagine multiple intellectual paths of some nature (e.g. branching)?
- Create multiple stations to encourage ownership through visitor control.
- Provide multiple entry points.
- Provide participatory activities for those not directly controlling the exhibit ( "Waiting Area").
- Create conducive environment: walls, benches, lighting, noise control, etc...
- Use graphics to minimize the role of authority and guide visitor to "Part B":
||Utilize challenges and competition;
||Embed part of explanation in hints or suggestions;
||Indicate activity by phrasing of the exhibit title (i.e. Watch Water Freeze);
||Experiment with minimal explanation.
- Use high level of iteration — try, try, and try again.