Travels in the Great Tree of Life: A Summative Evaluation
This summative evaluation report aims to examine the impact of Travels in the Great Tree of Life, a temporary exhibition at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The 1000-square-foot exhibition seeks to convey concepts of phylogenetic relationships based on recency of common ancestry. In addition, its goal is for visitors to come away with an understanding of the vast scope and complexity of the Tree of Life (herein referred to as ToL) and some practical applications of ToL research. Data collection employed a mixed methods approach. Structured exit interviews were conducted with 102 randomly selected museum visitors throughout June 2008. An additional 74 visitors were observed unobtrusively as they toured the exhibition during the same time period. Tracked visitors stopped at an average of 33% of the 18 exhibit elements. By far the most popular exhibit, the elephant shrews, attracted 82% of visitors. Visitors' time in the exhibition ranged from more than 50 minutes to less than 2 minutes, averaging 10 minutes. Half the visitors stayed for less than 10 minutes, but half stayed longer and some considerably longer. When compared to other exhibitions of similar size and content, 10 minutes average time is quite respectable. Visitors came away from the exhibition recognizing the ToL as current, ongoing research. Visitors who had seen the exhibition demonstrated ability to read Trees. The majority of interview respondents (57%) defined the ToL as showing relationships between organisms or evolution. This is a tremendous increase from front-end findings where only 29% of the potential exhibition audience demonstrated understanding of scientific Trees. When describing something new they learned in the exhibition, 41% of visitors cited the interrelationships of organisms. Many visitors noted surprising relationships cat and mushroom (in the computer game) and poison ivy and mango were particularly noteworthy. The practical applications of the ToL were not communicated to visitors as effectively as they might have been. The appendix of this report includes the data collection instruments used in the study including the exit interview protocol and tracking form.