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Who's Out There? A Pilot User Study of Educational Web Resources by the Science Learning Network (SLN)

Robert J. Semper, The Exploratorium, USA
Noel Wanner, The Exploratorium, USA
Roland Jackson, Science Museum, United Kingdom
Martin Bazley, Science Museum, UK

Session: Evaluation

Museums are investing more and more time and effort into the creation of web resources. These resources are aimed at educating and entertaining each museum's audience, ranging from school children to adults, teachers, and parents. However, very little research exists into how these resources are actually being used, and who is using them. This paper will look at the intent, design, and results of a pilot effort to gather just such information about the use and effectiveness of a set of science education web resources.

As part of the international Science Learning Network, a collaborative group of science centers, The Exploratorium and the Science Museum of London undertook to track and detail the use of two of our existing science resources:

The Science of Cycling:

Flights of Inspiration:

These resources were chosen as both fairly representative, since they are aimed at both general and school audiences, and fairly different in their design and content.

Over a three month period in late 1999 and early 2000, we implemented a study to look at how these sites being used, who is using them, and how they are being used on-line (i.e., pathway analysis and questionnaires) and in the classroom (i.e., through classroom observation). We performed both independent analysis of individual resources and some comparative analysis how uses differed between the UK and the US.

The study consisted of:

  • collecting and analyzing general numeric use data of SLN resource activity on the two institution's Web sites;

  • periodic detailed log analysis of two specific SLN resources on the two institutions Web sites;

  • the creation and review of online use questionnaires linked with these two specific SLN resources;

  • evaluation interviews with teachers who have used the resources; and

  • in-class observations of resource use.

The results of this study will help individual museums to develop better resources and to understand the impact of web resources in schools, homes, and other educational environments. The study has also provided valuable experience with these various evaluation techniques to help other museums conduct their own use evaluations.