Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Science museums conduct presentations for their audiences to attract and educate visitors, yet research on presentations has primarily concentrated on whether individual presentations were effective. This mixed-methods, quasi-experimental study looks at how the presenter’s mental and physical engagements within a presentation affects audience members by altering sociocultural context of the presentation.

Physical engagements involve asking audience members to physically participate, while mental engagements involved asking audience members to make predictions prior to observing a demonstration. Audiences were given presentations containing: 1) Both mental and physical engagements, 2) Physical engagements only, 3) Mental engagements only or 4) No engagements (control).

This study utilizes Falk and colleagues’ (Falk & Dierking, 2000, 2016; Falk & Storksdieck, 2005) contextual model or learning framework to explore how changes in engagement effect the sociocultural context of the presentation. Shifts in sociocultural context potentially change the resulting interpretations and understanding of the presentation by shifting the roles of audience members from those of observers to participants.

Audience members were interviewed and given pre/posttests that measured science interest, content retention and interpretation. Evidence suggests that audience members were more likely to view presentations without engagements as entertaining shows, and those with engagements as science activities. These results suggest that engaging the audience physically and mentally may help audiences identify with doing science, as opposed to simply observing science. xi

Science interest and content learning were similar for all presentations.; however, audience members attending multiple shows exhibited chains of causal reasoning when explaining what interviewed. This suggests that a carefully planned series of shows, or collaboration with local school systems could serve to increase the depth of understanding.

The order of demonstrations was a found to be a factor that could cause misconceptions. When presentations were ordered from simpler to more complex demonstrations, audience members developed a misconception. Presentations starting with a complex demonstration, that then used simpler demonstrations to explore potential misconceptions no longer generated misconceptions at a significant level. The results suggest that misconception generating demonstrations should occur at the beginning of the presentation, followed by demonstrations exploring potential misconceptions.



Committee Chair

Ricks, Thomas