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URPP Language and Space Language and Space Lab

Interactive discoveries: A video and eye-tracking based study of knowledge construction in science centres


Science centres are museums of natural sciences and technology which invite their visitors to discover scientific phenomena with the help of experimental stations. The project examines visitor interactions at the science centre in order to understand the fundamental mechanisms behind the collaborative acquisition of knowledge.

Whereas traditional natural science museums show their visitors the knowledge acquired in the relevant disciplines directly, science centres choose a different approach: they provide their visitors with experimental stations in order to enable them to discover those natural phenomena themselves. In this project, we investigate how pairs of visitors acquire access to natural scientific phenomena by using the experimental stations. We do this by accompanying them with video cameras and additionally recording their gaze behaviour with eye-tracking glasses. By means of Conversation Analysis, we then reconstruct the day-to-day methods by which people discover something in their environment, formulate the discovery as a natural scientific phenomenon and acquire a mutual understanding of the discovered phenomena.

The importance of the project consists in finding an answer to questions relevant to the functioning of science centers and their role in the Public Understanding of Science: Does working with experimental stations really help visitors in acquiring natural scientific knowledge? Do visitors learn what is important with respect to a scientific access to the phenomena in question? Can natural science be made accessible by enabling people to experience phenomena through their perceptions? By focusing on the construction of shared sensory experiences during conversations between visitors, the project creates a link between Conversation Analysis and museological visitor research. Simultaneously, it broadens the range of methods of both sciences by using eye-tracking glasses and examines the relationship between individual perception and the social construction of knowledge.