[ASC-list] Motivational features of science shows - thesis online

Graham Walker g.walker at anu.edu.au
Fri Jan 31 03:06:17 UTC 2014

hi folks

Practitioners and researchers working with science shows and similar informal learning / science centre formats (or those with far too much time on their hands!) might be interested in my PhD thesis:

Motivational features of science shows

In a nutshell, it looks at how features of a science show - mainly emotional aspects - are related to audience motivation. Motivation included everything from influencing attitudes to science and promoting careers and further study, through to intentions and behaviour related to HIV AIDS or climate change.

The research provides evidence that science shows positively influence attitudes and motivation (though didn't get as far as seeing if this was sustained over time). It's a small piece of the puzzle in convincing people that science shows and centres do engage audiences and have a measurable impact.

Always happy to discuss the contents and, if there are groups interested, I have a hybrid academic talk / science show that brings the research to life with exciting demonstrations. I'll be previewing a little at the ASC conference so maybe see you there.



This thesis investigates how science shows affect audience motivation. Science shows - sometimes termed science theatre or lecture-demonstrations - are a form of informal science learning, often performed in science centres, museums and schools. Despite their wide use, little research has been conducted on science shows, and less still on their use as motivational tools. This lack of knowledge hinders development of motivational science shows and hence restricts impacts they have on audiences - especially in addressing societal problems where motivating people is part of the solution, such as with health and environmental issues.

This research identified potential motivational features, and then tested whether they were associated with short-term motivation from a science show. Quantitative data were collected from eight different shows which had varying motivational aims: broadly improving attitudes to science, inspiring future study and careers, and influencing behaviours related to climate change and HIV AIDS. The motivational features investigated were mainly associated with situational interest and intrinsic motivation theories, including value/relevance, curiosity, immediacy (enthusiasm, humour and interaction), and the emotions of interest, enjoyment and surprise. Prior experience and prior knowledge, and cognitive learning were of secondary importance. Scales were developed to measure these motivational features. Regression analyses identified relationships between the motivational features and motivation, and between the motivational features themselves.

Results demonstrate that science shows are effective motivational tools for a range of outcomes. Hence, informal science learning providers should consider their wider use, especially in addressing important societal issues. The key feature of a motivational science show is value, i.e. linking content to real-world contexts that are personally meaningful to audiences. Other audience characteristics also affected motivation: participants with lower prior motivation and/or younger ages reported greater motivation. The motivational impacts of other features depended on show content, desired outcomes, age and other factors. Immediacy and interest-enjoyment were particularly associated with motivation in youth, whereas curiosity was a more effective motivator in older age groups. The research highlights how curiosity and interest differ, the associated role of surprise, and proposes models of how such constructs and discrepant events operate. Recommendations for science show practice are given.

Dr Graham Walker
Research Fellow
Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science<http://cpas.anu.edu.au/research/projects/science-shows-and-theatre>
Australian National University

Science ShowOffs<http://www.scienceshowoffs.net>
Science shows for schools and the community
Science Communication consultancy
p. +61 (0)438 640 733
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