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Jun 22, 2016 Commentary
The Cheshire explainer. Musings about the training of explainers

by Antonio Gomes da Costa

The profession of explainer is still pretty much undefined and underrated and the training of explainers is many times deemed to be a luxury. In the following pages we make the argument that three main factors contribute to this state of affairs and, at the same time, we try to show why the training of explainers should really be at the core of any science communication institution. These factors are: an erroneous perception of what a proper scientific training means for explainers; a lack of clear definition of the aptitudes and role of explainers required by institutions that are evolving and diversifying their missions; and an organizational model based on top-down practices of management and activity development which underappreciates the potential of the personnel working directly with the public.

Volume 15 • Issue 04 • 2016

May 26, 2016 Letter
Reflections on ‘Listening and Empowering: children and science communication’ by Matteo Merzagora and Tricia Jenkins

by Frazer Swift

The letter compares and contrasts thinking about making science accessible and relevant to children in science centres and museums with thinking about communication in social history museums.

Volume 15 • Issue 04 • 2016

May 10, 2016 Article
Learning at the Science Museum. A study on the public's experiences with different types of visit at the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci" in Milan, Italy

by Matteo Villa

This study aims to investigate whether different types of museum visits have specific ways to influence the visitors' experience and learning. Three types of museum visits as offered by the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia "Leonardo da Vinci" in Milan, Italy were taken into consideration: free tour, guided tour, and lab. The study involved visitors over 25 years of age. The way visits took place, the visitors' learning and experiences were investigated based on evidence collected using methods such as Personal Meaning Mapping and observation. Our study has revealed that the outcomes of the visits vary in terms of visitor experience and depth of knowledge on the main subject. No significant differences were found as concerns the level of attention (visitors proved to be attentive while at the museum regardless of the type of visit).

Volume 15 • Issue 04 • 2016

Dec 15, 2015 Article
Mathematical thinking skills, self-concept and learning outcomes of 12-year-olds visiting a Mathematics Science Centre Exhibition in Latvia and Sweden

by Hannu Salmi, Helena Thuneberg and Mari-Pauliina Vainikainen

Teaching mathematics in informal settings is a relatively new phenomenon, but it has gained more attention due to the recent changes in the society. The aim of the present quantitative study was to compare the learning outcomes of Latvian and Swedish 12-year-olds when they visited a science centre mathematics-art exhibition originally designed in Estonia. The results showed that in general, prior knowledge of the exhibition contents was the strongest predictor of post-test results in both countries but that mathematical thinking skills and self-concept had a small added value in explaining the post-test results. The results of the study give some of the first pieces of evidence of the effectiveness of out-of-school mathematics teaching in a science exhibition context, providing a good basis for further studies.

Volume 14 • Issue 04 • 2015

Sep 29, 2015 Essay
Highlighting the value of impact evaluation: enhancing informal science learning and public engagement theory and practice

by Eric A. Jensen

King et al. [2015] argue that ‘emphasis on impact is obfuscating the valuable role of evaluation’ in informal science learning and public engagement (p. 1). The article touches on a number of important issues pertaining to the role of evaluation, informal learning, science communication and public engagement practice. In this critical response essay, I highlight the article’s tendency to construct a straw man version of ‘impact evaluation’ that is impossible to achieve, while exaggerating the value of simple forms of feedback-based evaluation exemplified in the article. I also identify a problematic tendency, evident in the article, to view the role of ‘impact evaluation’ in advocacy terms rather than as a means of improving practice. I go through the evaluation example presented in the article to highlight alternative, impact-oriented evaluation strategies, which would have addressed the targeted outcomes more appropriately than the methods used by King et al. [2015]. I conclude that impact evaluation can be much more widely deployed to deliver essential practical insights for informal learning and public engagement practitioners.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Sep 29, 2015 Letter
A response to “Highlighting the value of impact evaluation: enhancing informal science learning and public engagement theory and practice”

by Heather King and Kate Steiner

Whilst welcoming Jensen’s response to our original paper, we suggest that our main argument may have been missed. We agree that there are many methods for conducting impact assessments in informal settings. However, the capacity to use such tools is beyond the scope of many practitioners with limited budgets, time, and appropriate expertise to interpret findings.
More particularly, we reiterate the importance of challenging the prevailing policy discourse in which longitudinal impact studies are regarded as the ‘gold standard’, and instead call for a new discourse that acknowledges what is feasible and useful in informal sector evaluation practice.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

Sep 29, 2015 Commentary
Ships, Clocks & Stars: the quest for impact

by Katherine McAlpine

Between 2010 and July 2015, a group of researchers at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge and the National Maritime Museum were engaged in an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project “The Board of Longitude 1714–1828: Science, innovation and empire in the Georgian world”. The project team included a dedicated Public Engagement Officer whose role was to engage audiences with the outputs of the research project.
The National Maritime Museum celebrated the 300 th anniversary of the 1714 Longitude Act with a major exhibition, Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude, which told the story of the 18th century quest for longitude, alongside a series of longitude-themed events. To commemorate the same anniversary, NESTA launched the 2014 Longitude Prize, a challenge to find a solution to today’s equivalent of the longitude problem, with the problem chosen by a public vote. Using these two examples as a case study, I explore how history of science helps science communication organisations engage people with science, and vice versa.

Volume 14 • Issue 03 • 2015

May 14, 2015 Article
Unfinished Science in Museums: a push for critical science literacy

by Amelia Hine and Fabien Medvecky

Communication of scientific knowledge has been caught up in a pedagogical struggle between science literacy ideologies. The backseat role taken by the teaching of the philosophical and sociological aspects of science has come under fire by those calling for a broader view of science to be made public under the umbrella term “critical science literacy”. In this paper, we argue that the lack of unfinished science in museums — science still in the making or still being debated — is a paradigm case where the richer, fuller view of science is being denied air by the presentation of science as a finished, objective set of facts. We argue that unfinished science offers us the opportunity to present the full complexity of science, including its social and philosophical aspects, and thus enabling the “critical” of critical science literacy.

Volume 14 • Issue 02 • 2015

Apr 28, 2015 Article
Highlighting the value of evidence-based evaluation: pushing back on demands for ‘impact’

by Heather King, Kate Steiner, Marie Hobson, Amelia Robinson and Hannah Clipson

This paper discusses the value and place of evaluation amidst increasing demands for impact. We note that most informal learning institutions do not have the funds, staff or expertise to conduct impact assessments requiring, as they do, the implementation of rigorous research methodologies. However, many museums and science centres do have the experience and capacity to design and conduct site-specific evaluation protocols that result in valuable and useful insights to inform ongoing and future practice. To illustrate our argument, we discuss the evaluation findings from a museum-led teacher professional development programme, Talk Science.

Volume 14 • Issue 02 • 2015

Apr 23, 2015 Article
Explainers of science centres and museums: a study on these stakeholders in the mediation between science and the public in Brazil

by Chrystian Carlétti and Luisa Massarani

In this paper, we investigate who are the explainers who work is Brazilian science centres and museums. We used an online survey, which was answered by 370 people from 73 institutions out of a group of 200 scientific and cultural centres. Our results indicate that most of these professionals are young people between 18 and 25 years old, they hold a high school certificate or are attending university, and they have been working in this field for less than five years. Only a fifth declared that they had done professional training before starting their activities; about 60% said that they are not prepared to attend to disabled visitors. We believe that our study will improve the practice of science communication, contributing to the creation of training and professional courses.

Volume 14 • Issue 02 • 2015