Accessing Science Museum Educators' Discourse Through Multimodal Narratives

Accessing Science Museum Educators' Discourse Through Multimodal Narratives

Susana Afonso (University of Exeter, UK) and Ana Sofia Afonso (Universidade do Minho, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8570-1.ch017
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Museum educators play an important role in science communication, as they connect elements of an exhibit with visitors through emotion-driven experiences that are meaningful to them. Language is their main modus operandi in face-to-face interactions, but little is known of how they use it to communicate science, in part because little attention has been given to their practices and professional development. Nowadays, museums are changing, and science communication has become more demanding as these institutions exhibit hot themes of science. In this context, it is important that museum educators become aware of how they communicate science with an intended audience and reflect on how their practice can be improved. In this chapter, the authors focus on the way multimodal narratives can be used as a tool to access museum educators' discourse as well as how to promote museum educators' reflection about their practice and their professional development.
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Science museums, initially created to preserve and study collections of objects of scientific interest, have expanded their mission to include an educational purpose that can contribute to supporting the process of adults’ lifelong learning. This has led to the reinvention of the museum space so that exhibitions can be framed around hot scientific themes that are pressing society (e.g. global warming, sustainable development), or around processes of science (e.g. modeling or contemporary scientific research), that attend to the visitors’ needs, interests and motivations (e.g. Dillon et al., 2016), in contrast with traditional exhibitions that provide friendly interpretations of the message and do not encourage visitors to go beyond what they already know. Exhibitions on hot themes cover complex scientific ideas, requiring visitors to think critically about science (Rennie, 2014). As a result, science museums face the challenge of how to represent science in a version that encourages engagement and that is meaningful to an intended audience (Tlili, Cribb, & Gewirtz, 2006). One way to move forward is to present key ideas in a clear and simple story (Rennie, 2013), told mainly through objects and interactive exhibits explicitly linked together. However, because resources do not talk for themselves, front-line museum educators (museum educators, henceforth) may aid visitors to go beyond what they already know, and to create emotional links with what is being presented (Rennie, 2014). Hence, they can impact on visitors’ learning experiences in multiple ways, including inspiration and creativity, attitudes and values, aesthetic appreciation, knowledge and understanding in science, among others, as has been accounted in a diversity of frameworks (see for example the six strands of science learning in Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, and Feder (2009), or the Generic Learning Outcomes in Hooper-Greenhill (2007)).

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