Hi! I’m Carey Tisdal, Director of Tisdal Consulting, an independent firm that evaluates informal learning environments. Informal learning environments include museums (art, history, science, and children’s museums), science-technology centers, zoos, aquaria, parks, television, and radio. I worked as an internal evaluator for nine years and for six as an external evaluator. Recently, field-building and professional developments have been a focus of several projects funded by the National Science Foundation. I am evaluating one of these projects, ExhibitFiles. ExhibitFiles is an online community for exhibit designers and exhibition developers. One goal of the site is to provide a place where exhibition developers find out about each other’s work. Members can upload case studies, reviews of exhibits they have visited, and useful “bits” about the exhibit design processes and materials. Evaluation reports may be attached to case studies. A related goal is the development professional networks for the sharing of expertise. Registered members post profiles and contact information. My Visitor Studies Week blog for AEA365 shares an important insight about continuing to learn as we do our work.
Lessons Learned: Actually, lessons re-learned! In this project, the client and I have found formal theory very helpful in thinking about the site and understanding how people use it. I was reminded of Kurt Lewin’s wonderful 1951 pronouncement that “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” We found theories comparing and contrasting communities of practice and communities of interest using of digital information (Hoadley & Kilner, 2005) especially helpful in understanding how exhibition developers incorporated the site experience into their work. For example, specific reviews are sometimes serving as boundary objects for people working in different disciplinary areas and with different training and experiences to develop a common language about a design topic. Since this site is only one element in a range of professional development activities, we have used concepts about the ecology of learning (Brown, 1999) to start understanding the role of ExhibitFiles as one among a set of professional development activities in which exhibition developer participate. Using a theoretical lens as part of the evaluation has helped the project team (clients) and the evaluators develop a common language and set of ideas to support their decisions about updating site and planning its future. Formal theory can sometimes be a boundary object for evaluators and clients.
Brown, J.S. (1999). Presentation at the Conference on Higher Education of the American Association for Higher Education. Retrieve August 15, 2010 from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_edu/seelybrown/.
Hoadley, C.M. & Kilner, P.G. (2005). Using technology to transform communities of practice into knowledge-building communities. SIGGROUP Bulletin, 25(31).
This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. We are pleased to welcome colleagues from the Visitor Studies Association – many of whom are also members of AEA – as guest contributors this week. Look for contributions preceded by “VSA Week” here and on AEA’s weekly headlines and resources list.