Science museum explainer training: Exploring factors that influence visitor-explainer interactions
There is currently minimal understanding as to how explainer training in Informal Science Institutions (ISIs) incorporates socio-cultural contexts. This thesis investigates this gap in the literature by examining the role of socio-cultural context in explainer training programmes within Informal Science Institutions, through the examination of three research questions. The research employs a mixed methods approach comprising 21 interviews, three international case studies, a questionnaire survey of 600 visitors and 41 explainers, in addition to observations of explainer-visitor interaction. \ud From the international perspective, fifteen experts from 13 countries were interviewed. From the international experts’ viewpoint it was found that socio-cultural context influences the main roles of ISI explainers, and the knowledge and skills associated to success (knowledge of visitor, communication skills and knowledge of scientific content). Additionally, training programmes that provide opportunities for explainers’ active participation and collaboration were highlighted as important. \ud The three case studies incorporated observation of eleven types of training session and questionnaires for explainers (n=55) over three ISIs: the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) in the USA, Petrosains – the Discovery Centre (Petrosains), in Malaysia and the Natural History Museum (NHM) in the UK. The three case studies reveal detailed information on how socio-cultural context can support explainers’ active participation and collaboration within a training context, as well as the role of techniques such as exploring theory, being an observer, practicing communication, being observed and feedback, and coaching by others within training settings. The case studies also expose the multiple participants who may be involved in training; educators, experienced explainers, peers and visitors, as well as the role of training delivery through discussion and interaction. \ud In the specific context of Thailand 600 visitors and 41 explainers completed questionnaires, six Thai educators were interviewed, and ten explainer-visitor interactions were observed. The Thai educators indicated the role, knowledge and skills required of explainers in the Thai socio-cultural context, and how training supports the personal skill development of explainers. The Thai interview and explainer data also highlights some gaps in Thai explainer training at present, whereby interaction appears mainly between educators and explainers, overlooking the role of experienced explainers or peers. Additionally, organisational policy support directed at ongoing training more strongly featuring social interaction is discussed in terms of its potential shortcomings. \ud At the specific at level of explainer-visitor interaction, visitors are evidenced to have positive attitudes towards explainers in general, though the social interaction between explainer and visitors suggest multiple perceptions of the explainers’ role; activities that are seen to be more likely to generate interaction and that the explainer-visitor relationship is developed through local activities and tools which could be more widely considered in the context of all explainer training. \ud The thesis concludes that socio-cultural context shapes the explainers’ role, the conception of knowledge and skills required for explainers, and the design and delivery of training programmes for explainers in ISIs. The research contributes new knowledge in analysing a range of training practices for explainers in international ISI settings, and how these may be relevant to and potentially include a socio-cultural perspective. It is argued that the role of socio-cultural context in explainer training programmes raised by this thesis should be further explored by ISI educators, in order to divert from a set of practices that may be unduly influenced by a transmission approach.
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