The touching of marine invertebrate animals is a common experience at aquariums, zoos and some museums. While the activity is generally seen as educational and of value experientially, there is very little actually known about what happens when family groups visit touch tanks and interact with the animals, interpretive materials and staff present to facilitate the experience. It can be argued that knowledge of ecological science and ecological problems is important for the general public. This study sought to determine how much time families visiting touch tanks spent talking about ecological topics during their visits. Additionally the content of the ecological talk was examined along with the consistency or inconsistency with currently accepted scientific thinking of declarative statements about ecology made by participants, and the overall depth of conversation in which ecological topics were discussed. In addition, the influence of external variables like touch tank design, type of animal displayed, and staff interaction on the length of ecological talk were examined. Family groups were video taped and their conversations recorded during their visits to touch tanks at one of four west coast aquariums. Results indicate that while ecological talk did occur during touch tank visits, it represented no more than 9% of the total time spent engaged at the touch tank. In general the talk centered on interactions between organisms, rather than on interactions between organisms and the environment, and that of the talk about interactions among organisms, 40% consisted of talk about interactions between the human participants and the animals they were touching. Most declarative statements about ecology were consistent with currently accepted scientific thinking, and most ecological conversation occurred at a level above that which would be considered as most basic. Of the external variables examined, tank design seemed to have no influence on the amount of ecological talk, while statistically more ecological talk occurred in the presence of invertebrate than vertebrate species. Similarly, talk about ecology between guests and staff was significantly longer than was ecological talk among participants only. This study suggests that ecological talk is occurring at touch tank and at a level of sophistication that is higher than the most basic. This suggests that visitors to touch tanks may have a relatively high level of ecological knowledge to begin with. The influence of staff interactions on the amount of ecological talk suggests that staff may be playing an important role in supporting learning about ecological topics. That tank design does not seem to support increased ecological talk suggests that the money used for artificial rockwork could be better spent on other features of the touch tank. Finally, that more ecological talk occurs when people are touching invertebrates rather than vertebrate what species is not easily explained. It may be linked to staff interactions, but it certainly suggests more study of this phenomenon is needed.
|Advisor:||Kisiel, James S.|
|School:||California State University, Long Beach|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||MAI 50/04M, Masters Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Ecology, Science education, Museum studies|
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