inquiry behaviors that support learning in informal environments. Borun et al. (1996) found that asking and answering questions were some of the key behaviors that discriminated among levels of family learning as defined in their study: families that asked and answered questions were more likely to engage in the processes of “describing” (including making connections between an exhibit and their personal experience) rather than the lower level of “identifying.” So it is perhaps surprising that these behaviors, too, appeared relatively infrequently in Randol’s (2005) study. One explanation for this is that the asking and answering of questions may be taking place implicitly, rather than being spoken by participants. For example, if it is true that the most common approach to interactive exhibits is “What can this object do?” this already frames an implicit question that need not be publicly stated. Similarly, visitors’ common expressions of surprise and intrigue (a mainstay of the “counterintuitive” genre of exhibit design) suggest that some form of implicit prediction must have been made to evoke a surprised response. Callanan and Jipson (2001) report that in contrast to other settings explanatory conversations at museum exhibits were started only rarely by a “why” question from a child. The elements of physical interactivity and novel phenomena available in a museum may encourage a form of discourse that is more of an implicit “what if” than a “why.”
Humphrey and Gutwill (2005) showed that the number and kinds of questions visitors ask depends in part on the design of the exhibits they are using. Their team created and studied a class of interactive exhibits that supported active prolonged engagement (APE), a combination of inquiry behaviors that included visitors staying at an exhibit for an extended time, asking and then answering their own questions. These exhibits took several forms, based on the primary form of activity they supported: exploration, investigation, observation, and construction. The APE exhibits were compared with more traditional “planned discovery” exhibits, in which visitors are surprised by a single intriguing phenomenon that is explained in a label. The researchers found that, in interactions with APE exhibits, the number and type of participants’ questions varied. Visitors asked more questions overall, and more of them related to using or understanding the exhibit, rather than questions about the logistical aspects of working the exhibit or about what others were experiencing. Also, the team found that visitors using APE exhibits were more likely to answer their own questions by using or discussing the exhibit rather than reading the label. Related studies by Hein, Kelley, Bailey, and Bronnenkant (1996) showed that a series of open-ended exhibits at the Boston Museum of Science also encouraged visitors to ask questions, although no quantitative comparisons were made with other exhibits on the floor.
Drawing conclusions, generalizing, and argumentation are much less frequently observed inquiry behaviors in designed settings. Randol’s study of eight interactive exhibits found that, although the exhibits were selected