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Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits
have also been conducted to demonstrate differences between viewers and nonviewers’ abilities to make observations and comparisons (Rockman Et Al, 1996). Studies like these suggest ways to assess whether informal media can model scientific processes for learners.
Some media are clearly well suited for engaging learners in the process of science (Strand 3). Computer- and web-based environments can present facts along with simulations that allow people to generate and test hypotheses. In some cases, learners become immersed in science and engineering by designing their own materials. For example, Resnick, Berg, and Eisenberg’s (2000) Beyond Black Boxes project used small, programmable computers called Crickets to allow students to develop monitoring instruments to study scientific problems that interested them (e.g., how many birds visit a backyard bird feeder each day). A growing number of game environments or engines allow users to customize their gaming experiences by building and expanding game behavior. Some studies have found a range of skills that can be learned through this customization, including computer programming, software engineering, and mathematics (Harel, 1991; Hooper, 1998; Kafai, 1994; Seif El-Nasr and Smith, 2006; Seif El-Nasr et al., 2007).
Museum exhibits that incorporate media can also be created that focus on the process of science (Strand 3) rather than its findings, such as the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük exhibition at the Science Museum of Minnesota (Pohlman, 2004). Many of the media associated with programs, such as citizen science programs, are also focused on process rather than scientific fact (Bonney, 2004).
Longitudinal and Cross-Media Studies
Many studies of learning science in informal environments look at single or a small number of exposures to a medium. These studies provide information about the effects of particular media instances, but there is a lack of research dealing with repeated exposures to programs over long periods of time. For example, how do people come to appreciate science after watching NOVA for 1, 3, or 12 months?
Little is known about how people learn about a single content or domain area across different media formats. To illustrate this, consider a child reading a book about dinosaurs at age 3. She may like the book and ask to read it many times. Sensing her excitement for dinosaurs, her parents may take her to a museum to see an exhibit on her fourth birthday. The parents may have also bought her several dinosaur models from a local toy store during that period. A television program on dinosaurs may air after the museum visit, providing more information. And, in the era of networked computing, the family may seek dinosaur information together on the Internet.
Crowley and Jacobs refer to the repeated exposure to a single topic across multiple media as an island of expertise (Crowley and Jacobs, 2002).