Journal of Interpretation Research
Volume 21, Number 1

Evaluation of New Interpretive Elements in an Aquarium Renovation

Brian Ogle
Canisius College, Buffalo, NY
432 Los Altos Way #303
Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714

Evaluation was completed for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium focusing on the effectiveness of the education media, or interpretive elements, at creating knowledge transfer in adult visitors visiting the recently renovated Scott Aquarium. This exhibit features modern elements, which includes the use of movies, audio soundbites, rotating static graphics on a screen, and permanent static graphics.

This study utilized a participant-oriented evaluation model. Data was collected over a course of eight consecutive days during regular operating hours. Participants were recruited during their visit prior to entering the aquarium. A total of 134 participants fully participated in the study. Sixty-six percent of participants held at least a bachelor’s degree and 61% were female. Fifty percent of participants reported visiting the zoo two times per year and 41% visit monthly or more.

Participants were placed equally into one of two conditions: one that completed a pre- and post-assessment and one that only completed an assessment at the conclusion of their visit. Each assessment contained the same questions, which examined information presented by the interpretive elements within the exhibit space. The initial assessment was completed before entering into the exhibit and consisted of a pre-test and the development of a Personal Meaning Map (PMM). Upon exiting the exhibit area, participants completed a post-test and were allowed to revise their PMM. Some participants were randomly selected to wear a video recording device while in the exhibit space.

Participants self-reported how often they engage with educational components within an exhibit space. Twenty-four percent stated they always look at signage within an exhibit, 23% stated they often or frequently do, and 47% of participants stated they sometimes or infrequently look at signage. When asked how they would prefer to learn about animals, 11% of participants stated educational signage and 15% stated videos. Forty-three percent stated they would prefer to interact with a live person.

Chi-square tests of independence were performed to determine whether the likelihood of engaging with interpretive elements was associated with educational background or frequency of visiting the zoo. Video recording data for individual participants were examined for social interactions and utilization of educational media. Additionally, time spent performing major behaviors, such as looking at animals or looking at the media, was measured in seconds. An activity budget was then developed and used for analysis.

Education level was associated with the likelihood of interacting with educational and interpretive media, χ2(15, N=144) =23.917, p<.05; individuals with baccalaureate-degrees were more likely than expected to engage with the media. There were no associations between frequency of zoo visit and the likelihood of interacting with educational media χ2(15, N=144) =14.282, p>.05. The relation between gender and likelihood of engaging with media was not significant; χ2(3, N=144) =2.341, p>.05.

Static graphics demonstrated a change in visitor knowledge from the pre-test to the post-test that was not significant, t(133)=-1.06, p>0.05. However, movies demonstrated a significant change in visitor knowledge, t(66)=-2.28, p<0.05. When participants were asked to provide a statement about what they learned during their exhibit experience, 38% were able to provide a correct, specific statement, such as “jellyfish populations are increasing due to climate change.” A majority of correct responses were information presented in the movies with audio. Twenty percent of individuals noted that they enjoyed the videos within the building.

Data from the video analysis demonstrated that on average, participants remained in the exhibit area for a total of 21 minutes (range: 12–30 minutes). During their time within the exhibit space, the collective group of participants looked at the educational media, on average, a total of 13 times (SD=7.06) for a total of 125 seconds (SD=109.55). Approximately 10% of the visitor’s time within the exhibit area was spent engaged with the interpretive elements, while a majority (62%) of time was spent looking at animals. Of the 10% of time spent looking at the educational media, roughly 8% of this time was devoted to watching videos. On average, participants engaged in three social interactions as a result of engaging with the interpretive elements. On average, participants were able to hear audio presenting educational messages for approximately 15% of their experience. Two of the three most common locations for stopping in the exhibit space were near videos, both with and without narration.

The inclusion of audio and moving images appears to have increased the likelihood of interacting with interpretive elements compared to static graphics. In addition, the inclusion of videos within the exhibit space helps to promote knowledge transfer in adult visitors. Effectiveness may be attributed to the enclosed space and close proximity visitors to the media as well as the media to animal exhibits.