The Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) asked RK&A to examine the impact and effectiveness of Wild Music, a traveling exhibition that focuses on musical sounds as a universal communication medium found in species ranging from insects to mammals. The study was specifically designed to examine visitors’ use of the exhibits, use of listening skills, experience of the environmental soundtrack, the meaning constructed from their experiences, and the degree to which the Museum’s stated learning objectives were met.
How did we approach this study?
RK&A determines which methodologies to employ based on the objectives of the study; because the SMM wanted to explore how visitors behaved and reacted to the exhibition’s components as well as visitors’ perceptions and the meaning they constructed, the study employed observations and interviews. RK&A conducted 173 timing and tracking observations and 76 onsite interviews with a random sample of visitors 9 years and older. Data were collected at two venues: at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in the summer of 2007; and at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the spring of 2008.
What did we learn?
Observed visitors spent considerable time in the exhibition (a median of 19 minutes) and used the exhibition thoroughly. Most observed visitors listened to audio, used interactives, and discussed exhibit content with their companions. Similarly, the majority of interviewees readily connected with the exhibition content, found the content and experiences meaningful, and grasped key messages. For example, many interviewees said the exhibition honed their listening skills and increased their awareness and appreciation of the range of musical sounds. Many also grasped how music connects humans with other animals and the ancient origins of music. In contrast, there were two learning objectives that the exhibition was less successful in achieving, as the majority of interviewees did not use specific terminology to describe musical sounds and did not describe the interdisciplinary sciences involved in the study of biomusic.
What are the implications of the findings?
Both the observations and interviews demonstrated that visitors were actively engaged with the exhibition and that Wild Music provided compelling experiences for visitors. However, the findings also point to the unique challenges traveling exhibitions face: host sites may not arrange exhibits or facilitate experiences as intended by the creator of the exhibition. For instance, at both venues in which data were collected, the introduction panel for Wild Music was separated from the exhibits, and the Discovery Cart was underutilized. Both of these elements would have helped the exhibition achieve its learning objectives as they could frame visitors’ learning experiences.