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Research Brief

Identifying, Perceiving, and Understanding Sound: What We Learned From Participants in Sound Circles Discussions

August 31, 2023 | Exhibitions

In collaboration with TERC and informal learning organizations across the United States, COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation (CRE) is part of an NSF-funded project, Research to Understand and Inform the Impacts of Ambient and Designed Sound on Informal STEM Learning. Known informally as Sound Travels, the project brings together a collaboration of informal STEM learning (ISL) researchers, designers, and educators to 1) broaden the research foundation for sound design in informal science learning (ISL) experiences, and 2) develop design recommendations for informal learning institutions. 

Along with other project research partners, CRE is working to address the following research questions over the course of the four-year project:

R1: How are soundscapes used by ISL practitioners?

R2: What are the qualities of soundscapes at different ISL sites?

R3: How do informal learners at ISL sites experience sound? To what extent does sound impact attention attraction, dwell time, and shared learning in these learners?

R4: How do qualities of the soundscape correlate with indicators of learning: attraction, attention maintenance, and shared learning?

As part of this research, the research team designed and facilitated three virtual 90-minute Sound Circles group discussions in Spring 2023 that included representatives from the project’s Columbus-based research sites (i.e., Center of Science and Industry (COSI), Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and Columbus & Franklin County Metro Parks), and representatives from programmatic sites (i.e., North Park Villege Nature Center in Chicago and Wild Indigo in Detroit), as well as the project’s PI and co-PIs, the project evaluator, and two project advisors.

The purpose of the Sound Circles was to engage project partners in learning about each other, to think about sounds and soundscapes in their work environment, to explore ways of thinking about sound, and to think about connecting sound to how visitors to their organization learn. In addition, the Sound Circles intended to help prepare project partners to visit in person four informal learning environment sites in Columbus, Ohio, to explore soundscapes at these sites, and to consider how sound may increase learning. 

CRE research team members took notes on the discussions that occurred during the Sound Circles meetings. The project evaluator solicited thoughts and reflections from participants following each Sound Circles discussion. 


Recommended Citation:

Timko, G., Heimlich, J.E., Weiss, L., Meyer, J.R., & Hayde, D. (2023). Identifying, Perceiving, and Understanding Sound: What We Learned From Participants in Sound Circles Discussions. COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation. 


  • Gary Timko
    Center for Research and Evaluation COSI
  • REVISE logo
    Center for Research and Evaluation COSI
  • REVISE logo
    Center for Research and Evaluation COSI
  • Justin Reeves Meyer
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Center for Research and Evaluation COSI
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    Center for Research and Evaluation COSI
  • Citation


    Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
    Award Number: 2215101
    Resource Type: Research Products | Research Brief
    Discipline: Education and learning science | General STEM | Social science and psychology
    Audience: Adults | Educators/Teachers | General Public | Learning Researchers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists
    Environment Type: Exhibitions | Aquarium and Zoo Exhibits | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Parks, Outdoor, and Garden Exhibits

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