|dc.description.abstract||Free-choice learning provides the majority of human learning over the course of a lifetime. Since interactivity developed in science centres fifty years ago, hands-on learning has been spreading itself all around the world, with a current estimated visitation of 300 million people each year. This research investigated the impact of visiting a science centre on three aspects of scientific literacy: scientific knowledge, self-beliefs in science, and science engagement. While there is research around these constructs, the literature investigating the effect of a single visit on them using matched measurements before and after that visit is sparse. Data were collected with mixed methods, including pre-post surveys, interviews, and focus groups at the Otago Museum’s science centre. The science centre is located in Dunedin, New Zealand, and recently underwent a major renovation. Before the redevelopment, 224 respondents filled out a pre-post survey. After the redevelopment, three more surveys were administered, collecting another 1,099 paired responses.
A brief ‘formal’ multiple-choice test proved to be useful in assessing knowledge without alienating visitors. A new self-reporting instrument was developed, called fluency in scientific concepts; results were closely related to scientific knowledge. Both constructs increased steeply with age from eight years old to early twenties and then changed only moderately. Also, both scientific knowledge and fluency increased significantly after one visit to the science centre, irrespective of age. Interviews with museum staff and two focus groups with children contributed to the research by identifying specific science exhibit characteristics that relate to visitor engagement and learning in all generations.
Self-efficacy and self-concept are related self-beliefs that behave differently. Self-reported self-efficacy increased dramatically with visiting the science centre, while self-concept remained stable. Although expected, these results have rarely been tested. Given its stability, self-concept was used to test a new alternative to Likert-type scales. A Visual Discrete Scale was developed for this research; it is characterized by being completely visual, with no labels. The Visual Discrete Scale proved to be a viable alternative to Likert-type scales with potentially more sensitivity to small changes in self-beliefs. A gender gap was detected in knowledge and self-beliefs. Evidence in this study did not support the idea of the gap being related to females’ low-confidence. Instead, this study’s results suggest that science engagement was originally low for female respondents, perhaps related to this study’s focus on physics.||