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Kathryn Owen on New Directions in Audience Research

My name is Kathryn Owen and I am the Education Research Supervisor at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington.  I am also one of the PIs on New Directions in Audience Research.

New Directions is a partnership between the zoo, the University of Washington Museology Graduate Program, and the Learning in Informal and Formal Education Science of Learning Research Center.  The project trains graduate students in audience research and evaluation within informal learning settings through laboratory style coursework that integrates the strengths of mentoring, fieldwork, academics and client-centered experiences.

Students begin with an introductory course in audience research during winter quarter of their first year; in spring, interested students conduct a brief evaluation on questions of their own design at a local museum.  Students who continue into the second year conduct in depth evaluation projects at client museums that span the course of the academic year. Since the project launched in 2009, over 60 students have participated, seven museums have served as project sites, and another 10 museums have been involved in some capacity – such as attending New Directions-sponsored forums with leading figures in evaluation and the learning sciences.

As indicators of the project’s success, we receive a growing number of requests from museums interested in serving as project sites, and local evaluation consultants are hiring our students as data collectors on various projects. Most students who enroll in New Directions do not plan to become full-time evaluators; instead, they want to be able to effectively incorporate outcomes-based planning and research-based practice into their chosen area of the museum world.  But some do develop an interest in audience research as a career, and a few are now working as in-house evaluators.

Hot tip:

  • We’ve found that the museums our students work with often lack grounding in outcomes-based evaluation.  We now require client sites and students to participate in a one-day workshop on outcome development.  This helps clarify evaluation goals for each project and strengthens the student/practitioner relationship.

Hot tip:

  • Second year students are playing a valuable role as mentors who review the first year students’ evaluation plans and provide feedback.  Their advice is valued, and the process of sharing their knowledge enables the second year students to reflect on their own learning.

The New Directions team includes Dr. Kris Morrissey, Museology program director, and Nick Visscher, Project Coordinator.  This project is funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Learn more about New Directions by visiting the project site at: http://depts.washington.edu/uwmuse/about/initiatives/newdirections

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