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Forensic Science Exhibition & Web Adventure

[2009]
A summative evaluation with a science and history museum
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, TX

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (FWMSH) contracted with RK&A to evaluate CSI: The Experience—a National Science Foundation- and Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative-funded project focused on forensic science.  The project included a museum exhibition and an online gaming experience (Web Adventure) targeting children ages 9 to 17 and adults.  A summative evaluation explored visitors’ overall experiences, understanding of forensic sciences, and the research question “Does the Web Adventure extend exhibition visitors’ learning of forensic science?”  A process evaluation also explored the effectiveness of the CSI project and collaboration model, involving partners from for-profit and non-profit organizations.  This case study focuses on the research question noted above.

How did we approach this study?

Museums continue to explore how best to use technology to enhance the visitor experience; this exploration includes testing strategies for how to extend visitors’ engagement and learning beyond the exhibition experience.  A primary goal of the CSI project was to explore how (if at all) a Web-based experience extends learning from an exhibition.  To explore the study objectives and research question, RK&A conducted 98 timing and tracking observations and 119 in-depth interviews—50 with exhibition-only visitors, 49 with exhibition & Web visitors, and 20 with Web-only visitors.  Interviews were rubric-scored and analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively.  The process evaluation explored partners’ thoughts and ideas through facilitated group discussion and in-depth interviews.  Data were collected from November 2008 to February 2009.

What did we learn?

The exhibition and Web Adventure were independently successful at engaging visitors and facilitating learning of forensic science concepts.  Exhibition-only and Web-only visitors’ rubric scores suggest an early understanding of forensic science—that point at which a learner experiences an “ah-ha” moment. 

Exhibition-only and Exhibition & Web visitors’ rubric scores demonstrate that the Web Adventure did not extend exhibition visitors’ learning of forensic science.  Findings suggest two reasons: challenges with the Web Adventure’s usability and museum visitors’ low level of interest in an online gaming experience.  

What are the implications of the findings?

Study findings support the notion that giving visitors a familiar way to enter into an exhibition experience can help them more fully engage with that experience.  A purpose-driven design (visitors were given a crime to solve), as well as visitors’ familiarity with the CSI brand, acted as these entry points.  At the same time, findings raise the question of whether individuals who visit a museum’s physical location are interested in extending their experience virtually.  Or, do the two settings each appeal to differing interests and motivations?       

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