Nan Renner

  • What I do, where I work

  • Cognitive Science PhD Candidate
    University of California, San Diego

    Learning Research Scientist
    San Diego Natural History Museum

    Vision & Strategy Team
    Balboa Park Learning Institute

    (aka Nancy Owens Renner)


  • Exhibit developer, evaluation coordinator at San Diego Natural History Museum

  • Graphic designer at San Diego Museum of Art

  • Set designer, scenic painter at Sea World of California


  • More about me

  • Nan Renner investigates relationships between learning processes and the design of learning environments. She envisions a vibrant center for learning research and development in San Diego’s Balboa Park, involving various museums and cultural institutions.

    She draws on two decades of experience in design, development, and action research in exhibits and curriculum. As a PhD student in Cognitive Science at the University of California San Diego, she is applying and unifying theory from multiple disciplines (anthropology, linguistics, psychology, cognitive neuroscience) to develop new research methods to describe and understand learning in informal environments.

    Using multiple methods of behavioral observation, and analysis at multiple time scales, she is interested in these fundamental questions:
    What and how do children learn through social embodied interaction with objects in a science museum?
    How do children integrate action and perception in science learning?

    As an affiliate of the Balboa Park Learning Institute, Nan participates as teacher and learner with projects focused on museum visitor studies and integrating the arts, sciences, and mathematics with interactive experiences.

    As a learning research scientist at the San Diego Natural History Museum, Nan is conducting audience research, and working with the Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative, funded by NSF, to explore current professional practices and future potential to engage bilingual Latino audiences in science learning.

    Recent publications:

    Renner, N. In press. Embracing the Physical in Museums, a review of Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations. In Mind, Culture and Activity: An International Journal.

    Hutchins, E. & Renner, N. 2012. Situated and Embodied Learning in the Field. GSA Special Paper 486, Earth and Mind II: A Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences.

    Renner, N. 2011. Multisensory sensemaking: Children’s exploratory behavior has organizing structure at micro- and macro-scales. Paper presented at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Boston, MA.

    Recent presentations:

    Renner, N. 2011. Multisensory Sensemaking: How Children Explore Objects and Ideas. Chicago, IL: Visitor Studies Association.

    Renner, N. 2011. Moments of Discovery: Active Perception for Scientific Thinking. San Diego, CA.: International Mind, Brain, and Education Society Annual Meeting.

    Renner, N.O., Chiba, A., Núñez, R., Spock, D., Gabriel, P. 2009. Learning Brains, Learning Bodies: Cognitive Science Informs Museum Practice. San Diego, CA: Western Museums Association Annual Meeting.

    Renner, N.O., Garfinkle, R., Jennings, G. and Jennings, P. 2008. The Power and Pitfalls of Collaboration in Exhibit Planning. Denver, CO: American Association of Museums Annual Meeting.

Recent publications & presentations

  • "Exhibit Planners: Collaborate, Communicate, Create."   Western Museums Association Annual Meeting


  • "Planning Exhibits for Learning Accessibility: Visitors with Learning Differences Challenge Us To Do Better."   California Association of Museums Annual Meeting


  • "What’s Really Important? Curiosity, Creativity, and Skepticism at a Natural History Museum."   WestMuse


  • "Isn’t That Someone Else’s Job? Integrating Evaluation in Museum Practice."   American Association of Museums Annual Meeting


  • "Museums as Community Healing Space."   Western Museum Association Annual Meeting


  • "The Bilingual Museum: Serving Latino Audiences."   American Association of Museums Annual Meeting


  • ". Learning by Doing: Visitor Studies at the San Diego Natural History Museum."   Visitor Studies Today


  • "The Bilingual Dilemma, Taking the Bilingual Leap."   The Exhibitionist


  • "The Power and Pitfalls of Collaboration in Exhibit Planning."   American Association of Museums Annual Meeting


  • "How and What Do Visitors Learn? ."   American Association of Museums Annual Meeting.


  • Fossil Mysteries / Misterios fósiles

    Fossil Mysteries / Misterios fósiles

    Case Study

    by Nan Renner Published June 21 2012

    Fossil Mysteries is about… The changing life and landscapes of one place through time— southern California and Baja California— from dinosaur times to the Ice Ages. Science is a process of asking questions and looking for answers. Look...