Nan Renner, Cecilia Garibay, Carlos Plaza, and Steven Yalowitz describe the Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative, a National Science Foundation Pathways Exploratory Research Project
Does your institution create multilingual exhibits? Do you wonder about how multilingual exhibits may influence engagement and learning?
The Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative (BERI), NSF DRL#1010666, strives to address professionals’ questions and build our collective knowledge related to:
• How informal science institutions create bilingual exhibits;
• How Spanish-speaking and bilingual visitors use bilingual exhibits; and
• How bilingual exhibits can support engagement with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among Latinos in the US.
Bilingual Exhibits—Professional Practices
The BERI team conducted interviews with professionals at 22 U.S. informal science education (ISE) institutions to document current bilingual exhibit practices.
This effort builds on a survey conducted by ASTC and the Exploratorium in 2011.
Research questions focus on staff knowledge, beliefs, and practices:
• Who is the audience for bilingual exhibits?
• What is the form and content of bilingual exhibits?
• What is the process for creating bilingual exhibits?
• How do visitors interact with bilingual exhibits? (as observed and hypothesized)
Publication of these research results is in progress.
Many institutions believe that providing Spanish text increases engagement among Spanish-speakers, although we have very little information about how visitors actually use bilingual exhibits and the resulting benefits.
ISE professionals’ questions about audiences and bilingual exhibits have helped to shape the research agenda with visitors, e.g., Who uses bilingual exhibits, and how? Do bilingual exhibits create visual or mental overload? How much Spanish text is enough? Will bilingual exhibits encourage attendance?
Bilingual Exhibits—Visitor Uses and Benefits
Observations and interviews with Spanish-speaking visitors in social groups will document how visitors use exhibit resources and how they perceive the benefits of bilingual exhibits.
Research questions focus on social activity involving language (speaking and reading):
• How do individuals and groups engage with text in bilingual exhibits?
• What indicators of learning can be observed?
• How do patterns of engagement and learning correspond with exhibit features?
• How do visitors perceive the benefits of bilingual exhibits?
You can participate! Help create an online archive of bilingual exhibits by adding your reviews, case studies, and “bits” to ExhibitFiles. Don’t forget to tag your post with “bilingual.”
Post a comment! What are your questions, concerns, and conundrums related to bilingual exhibits? What have you learned about creating bilingual exhibits? Are you engaged in cross cultural visitor studies in museums?
Research sites include:
San Diego Natural History Museum, the Miami Science Museum, and two other ISE institutions chosen to represent diversity of content, geographic region, and Latino cultural groups. We began data collection in June 2012 and will complete in fall 2012. This Pathways research project will be completed in June 2013.
This exploratory research, funded by NSF’s Division of Research on Learning, will build knowledge about how informal science institutions create bilingual exhibits, how visitors use bilingual exhibits, and how bilingual exhibits may expand access to science learning for Latinos in U.S. science centers and museums.
Top: Bilingual study participants look at and point to a map within a bilingual exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Photo shot with a SenseCam worn by a study participant.
Center: A bilingual visitor group interacts with geology exhibits while researchers record observations. Low resolution photo shot with a SenseCam worn by a researcher.
Bottom: Bilingual visitor groups use both languages when reading and speaking. Photographic data from a SenseCam worm by a study participant shows a rock with an embedded fossil, multi-party touching, and pointing to English text (left) and Spanish text (right). In analysis, the research team will integrate data fro audio recordings, live observations, SenseCam images, and activity-in-context photographs.