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Designing for Family Learning in Museums: How Framing, Joint Attention, Conversation, and Togetherness are at Play

Tison Povis, Kaleen (2017) Designing for Family Learning in Museums: How Framing, Joint Attention, Conversation, and Togetherness are at Play. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Learning is social in nature and takes place across many contexts (e.g., Bandura & Walters, 1963; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1962, 1978). Informal learning environments, such as musuems, provide a venue to study such family learning. My dissertation acknowledges families as learning units and recognizes that thoughtful design informed by learning research can buttress their natural learning together.
Through a review of the museum-based, family learning literature, I identified three mechanisms—framing, joint attention, and conversation—that can serve to deepen and extend family learning. I then present two studies of simple interventions targeted at these mechanisms. In one study, families in a natural history museum explored dioramas in an experimental condition where they used flashlights to see into dioramas in a darkened room or in a control condition where they visited the dioramas in normal lighting conditions. Findings suggested the flashlights increased joint attention, which lead to learning conversations. In a second study, families visiting a children’s museum exhibition were encouraged to adopt the interpretive frame of scientist or artist. Findings suggest that framing changed what the families focused on during their visit, how they interacted, and how they talked about the content. I propose that framing, joint attention, and conversation are all aspects of a broader state of togetherness—which might serve as a useful concept to encourage research/practice collaboration for understanding and supporting families’ informal learning.
In both studies, the goal was to utilize an exhibition’s natural affordances and seamlessly integrate the design intervention into a typical parent-child museum experience. This contrasts with parent training programs or other interventions that might require additional time investment outside of the family museum experience. Rather, the challenge was to design “exhibit learning hacks,” or employ simple tools that would impact parent-child learning talk in exhibit-aligned, playful ways. We found that families, as learning units, are malleable and design interventions can assist and shape their learning in low intervention but high impact ways.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Tison Povis, Kaleenkaleent@gmail.comkep62
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCrowley, Kevincrowleyk@pitt.educrowleyk
Committee MemberSchunn, Chrisschunn@pitt.eduschunn
Committee MemberAkiva, Thomastomakiva@pitt.edutomakiva
Committee MemberKerr, Mary Margaretmmkerr@pitt.edummkerr
Date: 19 January 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 9 November 2016
Approval Date: 19 January 2017
Submission Date: 23 December 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 107
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Learning Sciences and Policy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Family Learning, Museums, Joint Attention, Framing, Conversation, Togetherness
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2017 16:38
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2017 06:15


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