Development and Testing of a Tool for Judging Excellence in Science Museum Exhibitions
Serrell and Associates requests an 18-month grant to conduct research that seeks a valid and reliable way for museum professionals to judge the excellence of science exhibitions in museums from a visitor-experience point of view. This is a novel and untested idea for practitioners of exhibition development in science museums. The need for this research arises from a lack of agreed-upon standards of excellence (or even competence) for science museum exhibitions. Museums that receive funding from the National Science Foundation are called upon to document the effectiveness and merit of their exhibit projects, yet they have few shared, standardized methods to help them do so. This grant would allow Serrell and Associates to conduct a series of meetings with local (Chicago) museum professionals and a national advisory panel to facilitate the development and testing of an audience-based, peer-reviewed criteria for recognizing excellence through empirical definition and exemplars. The research question for this project is: If different museum officials used the same set of standards to visit, review and judge the same group of exhibitions, would their ratings agree on the degree of excellence for each of the exhibitions? The proposed research methods will be informed by the science education research of John R. Frederiksen (University of California at Berkeley and the Educational Testing Service, California) who has developed techniques and criteria for performance evaluation of science teaching. His scoring methods incorporate direct and positive ways in which assessment can be used to improve science teaching. There are very clear parallels between Frederiksen's assessment techniques for science educators and the goals of this project for science museum exhibit developers. These include, but are not limited to: practitioner-developed and practitioner-trained criteria; criteria based upon a combination of ground-up and top-down theories; content-free, intention-free criteria; and criteria that benefit the process, the product and measurement of the impacts. The long-term goal of this research is to improve the quality of visitors' experiences in science museum exhibitions.