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Community of Learners Impact Study: Mammoth Discovery!

[2011]
An impact study at a children’s museum
Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose, CA

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose (CDM) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to study the professional development component of Mammoth Discovery!, a NSF-funded project. The professional development part of the project convened a group of museum professionals (cohort participants) from select children’s museums to participate in several workshops, developed and conducted by CDM staff, and gatherings at a number of Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) conferences. RK&A conducted the evaluation to measure the impact of these experiences on the professional practice of cohort museum practitioners.

How did we approach this study?

RK&A used three data collection strategies to examine the impact of the professional development component: refection papers, in-depth interviews, and cohort workshop observations. In the reflection papers, cohort participants were asked to write reflections after each workshop, in effect to share insights about their workshop experiences and in the project overall. In-depth interviews were used to examine the effectiveness of the professional development component of the project on cohort participants and elicit information to complement and further contextualize data collected in the reflection papers. In addition, RK&A attended and observed workshops for context and to provide a picture of what participation in this community of learners actually entailed, including how the workshop was structured, what discussions emerged, and what role each participant played in the larger group.

What did we learn?

Findings demonstrate that the professional development component of Mammoth Discovery! was successful in meeting its intended impacts. The workshop program focused on three areas – impact planning, prototyping, and research partnerships – and participants found value in and learned a great deal from all three experiences. All participants were very excited to learn how to write impact statements in accordance to the NSF Impact Framework. They also found value in learning about CDM’s partnership with a local learning researcher. Learning how another museum has managed its partnership over the years helped cohort participants initiate similar partnerships with local learning researchers in their home towns. For the one museum in the cohort that already had a research partnership, the workshop offered suggestions on strengthening the partnership. Participants also viewed the focus on evidence and other science process skills within the Mammoth Discovery! exhibition as quite unique and challenging yet a worthwhile approach. As a result, many participants reported that the workshops taught them useful and innovative ways to approach teaching science skills and presenting science content.

What are the implications of the findings?

Participants’ reflections and experiences showed that museum professionals are life-long learners and this program tapped into the professionals’ innate desire to learn. The positive impact of this professional development program on cohort participants may have resulted in part from the unique structure of the program, which involved the same people meeting repeatedly over a significant period of time and focusing on a single project. Further, findings demonstrate that the program filled a need among museum practitioners: it offered a professional development experience with like-minded individuals who could pursue learning together; it provided face-time with researchers and scientists who were generous with their time following the formal meetings; and it provided a model of how a research-museum partnership functions.

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