exception was visitors’ responses to an audio-based multimedia exhibit of frog calls. After listening, the visitors could record their imitations of the calls. Visitors comments included much commentary on how they did: “You have to do it before the red line disappears or it doesn’t record,” and “This was right, except I made it too long.”
Allen proposed that several features of this particular exhibit probably accounted for the high frequency of evaluative talk: high overall appeal of the exhibit, a challenging interface to work with, and computer-generated graphs that supported visitors’ efforts to visually compare their vocalizations with the standard frog calls.
This kind of talk refers to emotional responses, such as pleasure, displeasure, and intrigue, evoked by an exhibit. Overall, about 40 percent of visitors’ responses were emotional, with the tank of the African clawed frog generating the most frequent expressions of pleasure and a dead frog displayed to show internal organs generating the most frequent expressions of displeasure.
Conversation as a Tool to Understand Learning
This case study presents a snapshot of what people said while exploring the Frogs exhibition and how their conversations were categorized and explained. Allen notes that “hearing or reading visitors’ complete conversations is a vivid experience that brings one right into the arena where real museum learning occurs. The transcripts are detailed, dense, and at times brutally honest, providing readers (be they developers, evaluators, or researchers) with a gritty sense of what engages and what doesn’t. Personally, I found it a striking reminder of the power of choice in informal environments: visitors are choosing where to spend every second of their time, and exhibits that do not engage or sustain them are quickly left behind, however ‘potentially educational’ they may be.”15
Although Allen recognizes the power of this method, she also acknowledges how difficult it is to collect, transcribe, and interpret the data. She concludes, “Analyzing real-time visitor conversations in exhibitions is a fertile but costly complement to more traditional methods. Its strength is in bringing the researcher into the heart of the learning ‘action’ of the museum visit, and emphasizing learning as a process rather than merely an outcome.”15