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Research on Visitor Conversations as
Indicators of Learning In Science Exhibitions

This research project, a component of a larger national exhibit design and fabrication project led by Montshire Museum, provided for research into how science exhibit design can enhance or inhibit visitor conversations and learning. Various iterations of exhibits were constructed and visitors were video-taped for analysis. Working in close collaboration, project researchers and museum exhibit designers reviewed and discussed the video data and determined strategies for exhibit modifications for re-testing. Detailed coding of the recorded visitor conversations led to deeper analysis of how visitor learning responded to the exhibit environment. Papers resulting from this work are indicated below.

Project principals:

Scientific P.I.: Kevin Dunbar
Professor of Psychology and Brain Science, Dartmouth College
Current: Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto at Scarbrough

Leslie Atkins
Post-doctoral student, Dartmouth College
Current: Assistant Professor of Physics, California State University at Chico

Museum P.I.: David Goudy
Director, Montshire Museum of Science

Exhibition Design: Joan Waltermire
Curator of Exhibits, Montshire Museum of Science

Exhibition Design: Bob Raiselis
Exhibit Developer, Montshire Museum of Science

Project dates:

10/1/04 - 9/30/06

Program funding:

Source: National Science Foundation
Grant Recipient: Montshire Museum
Research budget: Sub-award to Dartmouth College of $179,000 over two-year period

Related materials:

In process or under review:

Atkins, L.J., Bishop, N., Chin, E., Wearn, C. and Dunbar, K.D. Multiple perspectives on visitor conversations in the science museum: Structure, participation, and engagement.

Dunbar, K. and Atkins, L.J. Thin slicing science: Understanding and affecting visitor conversations in the science museum.

Atkins, L.J. and Dunbar, K. Science conversations as templates for science understanding: Discourse genres in the science museum.

Atkins, L.J., Velez, L., Goudy, W.D. and Dunbar, K.N. The unintended effects of labels in the science museum: How design influences the visitor experience.

Atkins, L.J., Dunbar, K., and Goudy, W.D. Integrating Research and Practice in the Museum: Design Based Research.


Atkins, L.J., Epistemic games, epistemic frames: Understanding visitor behavior in a science museum. International Conference on the Learning Sciences, June 2006

     PDF download [537kB]


For project information, contact: David Goudy, david.goudy@montshire.org


Dartmouth-Montshire Institute for Science Education