Smarter Living through interactive exhibits? A case study

Posted by Michael Wolf on November 22, 2016

Energy Game at the Smart Living Challenge Zone

The Smart Living Challenged Zone was installed at the Two Oceans Aquarium in November 2015 to create awareness around the sustainability issues of water, waste, energy and biodiversity.

Just under a year later, and with up to 1200 visitors to the exhibit each day, we commissioned Anne Van de Poel, a Dutch researcher living in Cape Town, to evaluate the Smart Living Challenge Zone.

The focus of her research was to answer the question of how the Smart Living Challenged Zone Exhibition influences the awareness, knowledge and attitude of visitors regarding environmental issues. The overall findings of the study are positive and include suggestions on how to further improve the outcomes of the exhibition.

Summary of the Smart Living Challenged Zone Evaluation

The main objective of the exhibition is to challenge visitors to change their thinking in such a way as to influence the choices they make in their household, for the better of the environment. In order to establish if the Smart Living exhibition was having this effective, both observational research and interviews with visitors were conducted.

Anne’s observational research revealed that, while in the exhibit space, visitors engage in social interactions within their families and social groups they are exploring the aquarium with. Prompted by questions posed through the interactive exhibits, parents explain environmental issues to their children. Instead of primarily delivering content to individuals the exhibits function as a catalyst sparking debate and social learning around the topics. Research shows that through this strategy even younger children who don’t read the message panels retain important facts from the exhibition content.

Interviews with visitors revealed that they are genuinely worried about the state of the environment and are aware that changes are needed by everyone to have a positive effective on the environment. Interestingly, though, they often did not seem to be aware of their own influence on the environment.

Ultimately, the research concludes that visitors clearly gain a lot of knowledge regarding environmental issues through interacting with the Smart Living exhibits. Younger visitors, especially, gain a lot of insight with the help of explanations from parents and parental figures.

The goal of environmental education, however, extends beyond simple learning to actual change in visitor behaviour. Because visitors seem to be unaware of their own personal influence on the environment, Anne’s research suggests that the content needs to relate more directly, and personally, to each visitor. Only then will visitors make a cognitive link between what they’re interacting with at an exhibit and how they behave at home, encouraging new positive behaviours.

Click here for a PowerPoint summary of the research results presented at SAASTEC 2016.

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