166 What do Docents Transfer to their Lives from an Earthquake and Tsunami Exhibit?

Monday, 11 January 2016
Shelley Olds, UNAVCO, Boulder, CO

Handout (16.6 MB)

Many interoperating scientific, technical, and social systems are needed to create communities prepared for natural hazards. Along the Pacific Northwest coast, the tectonic strain to create a tsunamigenic-producing earthquake has been building for the past 300+ years and could be released at any time. Are coastal communities prepared? Natural hazard awareness and preparedness education takes many forms. Strategically placed informational tsunami warning signs and placards help raise awareness of this potentially catastrophic event. Formal education curriculum helps to reach students and, potentially, their families while exhibits at science centers provide museum visitors hands-on informal learning experiences about these hazards.

Installed a year-and-a-half ago, an earthquake- and tsunami-focused exhibit on display at a coastal Pacific Northwest science center has had more than a hundred thousand visitors. Through evaluation of camera footage, we have observed that over 40 percent of the science center visitors interact with the different exhibit elements for up to twenty minutes, indicating interest and possibly learning. While research has shown that museums and science centers are influential in raising science literacy within a community, fewer studies have examined the post-visit transference of visitor learning from an exhibit. In addition to having an impact on visitor learning, science centers also have an impact on the informal educators (docents) who work there. In many ways docents are very similar to museum visitors as they themselves are life-long learners, both learning from the museum content around them and sharing this information with visitors. They are members of a community where they live and through interaction with the public, docents are well positioned to be informants of the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of science center visitors.

To explore the transference of learning from an earthquake and tsunami exhibit to their lives, I conducted in-depth interviews with docents at the same science center as the exhibit. During the individual interviews, the museum docents were asked to describe their awareness (knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs) of natural hazards where they live and work, the feelings evoked as they learned about their hazard vulnerability, the changes to behaviors as a result of learning about earthquakes and tsunamis, and the extent to which they applied this learning and awareness to their lives. This presentation will share the initial findings from this project.

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