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Visitor Research & Evaluation Projects

Visitor Research & Evaluation Projects

The Exploratorium's Visitor Research & Evaluation Department conducts jointly negotiated research and evaluation by working closely with practitioners from across the museum, including exhibit developers, program directors, scientists, artists and learning scientists in other departments. Below are the projects in which VRE has participated:

Cells to Self

The Cells to Self exhibit collection reveals the wondrous variety of human cells and explores how genetic and environmental forces create each uniquely human self.

The research and evaluation projects supporting this collection aim to develop new biology experiences for museum visitors, and evaluate the effectiveness of prototype exhibits to better understand how visitors engage with and learn at these exhibits.

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Seeing Scientifically

Seeing Scientifically is an NSF-funded project that studies how to encourage and support visitors in observing the way scientists do when looking at life through a microscope. The project’s goals are to help museum visitors at an interactive microscope exhibit to:

  • ask questions that will lead to a rich investigation,
  • interpret often complex microscope images, and
  • draw logical conclusions based on what they are seeing.

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Exhibit Design for Girls' Engagement (EDGE)

Exhibit Design for Girls' Engagement is a National Science Foundation research study that identifies the most important exhibit design attributes for engaging girls at STEM exhibits.

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Research on Emerging Adult Learners (REAL)

REAL is a study funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services to explore the impact of a single museum visit on emerging adults’ science self-efficacy—beliefs about their own abilities to learn or do science.

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Human Generosity

This project engages visitors in a resource sharing activity as part of an active research study in social psychology conducted by Exploratorium partners at Arizona State University and Rutgers University. The exhibit produced captures visitors' anonymous responses for inclusion in the study.

Core Experience: Math

These exhibits are designed to engage visitors in mathematical thinking and concepts.

Indoor Positioning System (IPS)

This project was an NSF-funded exploratory research project that sought to generate early knowledge about the capabilities and limitations of an indoor positioning system for the museum field to (1) automate the collection of timing and tracking data for visitor research, and (2) enable location-aware applications designed to enhance museum visitor learning. Tools and techniques developed in this project can be found on bitbucket.

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Living Liquid

Living Liquid is a research and development project to find ways to support visitor inquiry of large scientific data through interactive visualization. It is developing and studying visualizations as tools to actively engage our visitors with three different datasets from current scientific research about marine life.

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Science of Sharing

Science of Sharing is both an exhibition and research project designed to create and study experiences about cooperation, competition, and sharing. Visitors experiment with social interactions, explore strategies for working with others, and learn about the scientific study of human behavior.

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Ciencia Pública

Codeveloped by the Exploratorium’s Studio for Public Spaces and the Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco (BGCSF), the parklet is a culmination of a three-year National Science Foundation project designed to support informal education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the local Latino community.

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Bernard and Barbro Osher West Gallery

The experiences in the Osher West Gallery focus on cognition, emotion, social behavior, and the interplay between science, society, art, and culture.

Bechtel Central Gallery

The primary activities in this gallery focus on experimentation with light, sound, seeing, and auditory perception. Visitors are encouraged to discover things for themselves by engaging with exhibits that offer opportunities for experimenting with different variables and controls. Most important, visitors have a unique opportunity to learn about the scientific process through direct engagement, the power of experimentation in helping in answering questions, and the roles of knowledge and creativity in discovering connections between and among diverse phenomena.

Videotaping Consent Sign

This project designed and tested trilingual signs to effectively inform visitors when video-based research is in progress. Beyond posted signs, we also investigated ways to set up the videotaping area to provide many cues about videotaping.

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East Gallery

The East Gallery fosters an appreciation of the living world and the many ways to explore it. Using authentic scientific methods and tools, visitors learn about living things at different scales, the processes they share, and their ecosystems.

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This project runs continuously to update exhibits throughout the museum, applying evidence-based best practices to improve exhibit usability and visitor learning.

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Revealing Bodies

Revealing Bodies documented how humankind has inspected and depicted our bodies for scientific and medical purposes over the centuries, exploring how these representations of the body have shaped the social, political, and cultural "outcomes" of body images.

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Crossroads Gallery

The Crossroads Gallery is a dynamic public space that both orients and welcomes visitors to the Exploratorium experience by enticing and engaging visitors with accessible introductory exhibit experiences, primarily in physics.

Tinkering Studio

This project focused on the question of what people are actually learning while tinkering. Using video of on-floor tinkering sessions, a team of researchers and practitioners developed a Learning Dimensions framework. A library of videos showcases examples of the four categories in the Dimensions framework.

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Group Inquiry by Visitor at Exhibits (GIVE)

This project investigated the effects of "inquiry games" like Juicy Questions on families' and field trip groups' inquiry at interactive exhibits. Groups were taught to collaborate, using two skills that are central to the scientific inquiry processes of science—asking questions and interpreting results.

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Geometry Playground

Geometry Playground produced a 5,000-square-foot geometry-focused traveling exhibition and investigated the roles that geometry, spatial reasoning, and whole-body immersion can play in science center exhibits and programming.

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Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISENet)

NISE Network is a national community of informal educators and scientists dedicated to fostering public awareness, engagement, and understanding of current science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). is an online digital library of public educational products and tools designed for educators and scientists.

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Multilingual Labels

The multilingual labels project developed a mobile application using QR codes to deliver exhibit label content in Spanish, Chinese Traditional, and English for 50 exhibits. Visitors can access the trilingual labels by scanning the QR code on their own device or by borrowing an iPod devices for free at the museum.

Fisher Bay Observatory Gallery

In this gallery visitors learn to uncover the natural and human forces embedded in a place by directly observing the geography, history, and ecology of the San Francisco Bay region.

Outdoor Exploratorium

These interactive exhibits were designed to help visitors notice and investigate the subtle phenomena of the everyday world and explore the complex systems at play in outdoor environments.

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These interactive exhibits were designed to help visitors notice and investigate the subtle phenomena of the everyday world and explore the complex systems at play in outdoor environments.

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Active Prolonged Engagement (APE)

Both an exhibit development endeavor and a visitor research study, the APE project explored strategies and tactics to shift the role of visitors from passive recipients of information to active participants in the STEM learning experience.

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Inspired by influential research in the cognitive sciences, Mind exhibits inspire insights into how you make decisions, the kinds of things you do (or don’t) pay attention to, and the changing landscapes and intriguing effects of your own emotions.

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Finding Significance

To encourage visitors to make more personal meaning from exhibits, we created video enhancements for exhibits that incorporated either storytelling narratives or inquiries. A research study investigated the effects of narrative on visitors' engagement, meaning-making, and learning.

Electronic Guidebook

The Electronic Guidebook is an Exploratorium research project investigating the use of handheld computing devices and wireless networks to support a richer learning experience for science museum visitors.

Sound and Hearing

Sound and Hearing is a laboratory for investigating sound and how we perceive it. The combination of physics (in the world) and perception (in our heads) is a signature of the Exploratorium's approach to learning.

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Microscope Imaging Station

The Microscope Imaging Station gives visitors the ability to image living specimens while controlling the microscopes. A primary goal of the Exploratorium is to open a door to the wonder of the microscopic world and allow visitors to explore it.

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Seeing represents a major modernization of one of the Exploratorium’s oldest and best-known exhibit collections and illustrates the fundamental power of visual images across times and cultures. The collection’s exhibits are informed by the work of dedicated researchers to suggest how vision works, but the visual experiences they provide also demonstrate why humans have been fascinated with sight for centuries.

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Traits of Life

While there are many characteristics that distinguish living from inanimate matter, the exhibits in the Traits of Life collection focus on four defining features: all life is made of cells and DNA, life makes more of its own kind, life evolves over time, and life uses energy.

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Through extensive formative evaluation, the Exploratorium refurbished much of its physics exhibit collection. Opportunistic research studies were also conducted.

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Audio Tours

This project investigated visitors' experiences with an audio tour specifically tailored for a hands-on science museum.