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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy focused on environmental issues related to plants and trees. The science educational content includes how to estimate the age of a tree and concerns related to logging. The story line used to present these topics varied from Bill Nye illustrating a tree trunk and counting its rings to stories from loggers explaining their work.
Storyline content, that is the story that presents educational concepts, methods, and messages, can be decomposed into two broad categories—documentary and narrative formats. Fisch et al. (1997) compared the narrative style of Cro with the documentary style of 3-2-1 Contact. They found that, in the narrative format, scientific explanations were broken up and spread among multiple characters in contrast to the more didactic approach of the documentary format. In the narrative format, content was also constrained by the need to fit the setting (e.g., the Ice Age). There are probably learning trade-offs associated with organizing science programming in either a documentary or a narrative fashion. While a documentary format allows for direct explanation of scientific phenomena, a narrative format allows the freedom to break from historical or journalistic commitments. Fisch makes this point by comparing 3-2-1 Contact, an educational program for young adolescents that typically employs a documentary approach, with Cro (pp. 108-109):
Where fairly straightforward demonstrations and explanations could be fit into3-2-1 Contact simply by having characters address the audience or host/interviewers directly, these had to be fit into a fictional narrative in Cro, and the fit had to seem natural. Characters in Cro could not suddenly break the “fourth wall” and interrupt the ongoing story to give a lengthy explanation to viewers; rather, such explanations needed to occur in the course of conversation among characters. To seem natural, this often meant that explanations had to be broken up and spread over the course of the story, rather than taking place in a single, lengthy speech.
For example, the topic of light and refraction was approached in 3-2-1Contact through demonstrations of the effects of different-shaped lenses (with a teenage host speaking directly to camera) and a visit to a lighthouse to learn how beams of light are focused to be visible at greater distances. By contrast, Cro approached light and reflection through a story in which the prehistoric characters discovered some shiny, reflective rocks that they dubbed “see-myselfers” (i.e., natural mirrors).
Another pocket of research attends to the effects of coparticipation in broadcast media (e.g., watching or listening to programming with others). A series of studies examined the influence of children coviewing educational television with parents and peers and compared their outcomes with those of children who viewed programming alone. These studies suggest that the participation of others in consumption of broadcast media may enhance learning (e.g., Fisch, 2004; Haefner and Wartella, 1987; Reiser, Tessmer, and Phelps, 1984; Reiser, Williamson, and Suzuki, 1988; Salomon, 1977).