The authors of this article used various novel computer-based exhibits from the Energy Gallery at the London Science Museum to explore how the visitors (both alone and with others), interact with and around the exhibit installations. By focusing on the problems of educating visitors about complex scientific phenomena, the researchers asked: “What are the appropriate media to convey complex concepts in an engaging manner?” and “What are the desired behaviours to encourage involvement with the exhibits?” They conducted video-based field studies to capture visitors’ performance activity (verbal and bodily conduct) to examine the social organization of their ‘performances’.
Methodologically, they used ethnomethodology (a perspective that focuses on the way people make sense of their everyday world) and conversation analysis to gain insights of the various visitor interactions. Wall-mounted cameras or un-personned camera on tripods were used to capture, while minimizing the possible feeling of being observed of the participants, over a 20-hours . The authors’ recordings were scrutinized to uncover how action and interaction emerged during the context. Here, the context not only refers to the physical environment but to the unfolding nature, or moment-by-moment production of the activity that arises. The analysis involved the detailed transcription of short fragments of video – single instances of discrete phenomena and and the aforementioned ‘performances’ of visitors’ talk and and bodily actions.
The studies find that visitors may exploit certain design features such as multiple interfaces (i.e large screens and other various components) to configure their actions to elaborate and embellish in various ways to attract and hold attention. Hence, certain talking points may emerge which is necessary as it contains verbals forms of social interaction that inevitably shapes their experience of learning from the exhibit.
The authors reflect upon the extent to which the design of exhibits enables particular forms of co-participation or shared experiences and to develop sensitivities that exhibition designers may consider for computer-based exhibits. Additionally, the authors argue that by focusing on performances such as a particular kind of communication may improve the overall creation of shared experiences by a larger group of visitors of an exhibit. The study ends with with a conflict between wanting visitors to be deeply engaged with an exhibit versus actively conversing with one another. It might be that shared experiences, including and not limited to conversations, allow visitors to create a more memorable experience upon which to build both in the moments and also in the future.
Robin Meisner, Dirk com Lehn, Christian Heath, Alex Burch, Ben Gammon, & Molly Reisman (2007). Exhibiting performance: Co-participation in science centres and mueums, International Journal of Science Education