Connecting Visitors to Data: Exploring Tools for Mediating Learning Talk at an Interactive Museum Exhibit
Roberts, Jessica A
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As museum educators and designers seek ways to present complex data to visitors through interactive technologies, research efforts need to address the challenges unique to this emerging problem space. Past work on learner interpretation of data visualizations has primarily been limited to formal classroom settings. Research on learning in museums and with interactive technologies has not yet attended to the specific needs of learners for understanding complex data visualizations in a social, free-choice learning setting. The research presented here merges these disciplines by investigating two cultural tools mediating visitors’ learning talk as they explore United States census data through an interactive exhibit. This study builds on pilot work indicating that embodied interaction design for multiple simultaneous users can impact dialogue. Single-user technologies are suspected of being more isolating than multi-user systems, and theories of embodied cognition suggest that a highly embodied interaction may have unique affordances for learning. However, we do not yet understand how these aspects of interaction design work in combination to support learning talk. This research addresses this knowledge gap by investigating the physical tool of the controller: how the means of control (full-body or handheld tablet controller) and the distribution of control (single-user or multi-user) impact visitors’ learning talk, via a 2x2 experimental study conducted in situ in a museum. Furthermore, this research views perspective taking–how learners position themselves with respect to the visualized data–as a psychological tool upon which visitors can draw to help make sense of new information. Prior work shows first-person actor perspective taking (APT) can have affordances for cognition and learning for both individuals and groups. This dissertation analyzes visitors’ spontaneous APT use to investigate its role in dialogue as visitors make sense of the visualized data. These two kinds of cultural tools are investigated via their mediation of group learning dialogue in unstructured exhibit interactions. Full-body interaction and multi-input control were hypothesized to support productive learning talk, but the surprising results revealed important nuances for designing interactive data exploration tools in informal environments. APT was found to correlate with learning talk, and multiple unique applications of APT were found.