The Development of a Virtual Science Museum for the Public Understanding of Science in Eastern China and in the United States
Delello, Julie A.
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In 1999, the Chinese Academy of Sciences realized that there was a need for a better public understanding of science. For the public to have better accessibility and comprehension of China's significance to the world, the Computer Network Information Center (CNIC), under the direction of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, combined resources from thousands of experts across the world to develop online science exhibits housed within the Virtual Science Museum of China. Through an analysis of historical documents, this descriptive dissertation presents a research project that explores a dimension of the development of the Giant Panda Exhibit. This study takes the reader on a journey, first to China and then to a classroom within the United States, in order to answer the following questions: (1) What is the process of the development of a virtual science exhibit; and, (2) What role do public audiences play in the design and implementation of virtual science museums? The creation of a virtual science museum exhibition is a process that is not completed with just the building and design, but must incorporate feedback from public audiences who utilize the exhibit. To meet the needs of the museum visitors, the designers at CNIC took a user-centered approach and solicited feedback from six survey groups. To design a museum that would facilitate a cultural exchange of scientific information, the CNIC looked at the following categories: visitor insights, the usability of the technology, the educational effectiveness of the museum exhibit, and the cultural nuances that existed between students in China and in the United States. The findings of this study illustrate that the objectives of museum designers may not necessarily reflect the needs of the visitors and confirm previous research studies which indicate that museum exhibits need a more constructivist approach that fully engages the visitor in an interactive, media-rich environment. Even though the world has moved forwards with digital technology, classroom instruction in both China and in the United States continues to reflect traditional teaching methods. Students were shown to have a lack of experience with the Internet in classrooms and difficulty in scientific comprehension when using the virtual science museum--showing a separation between classroom technology and learning. Students showed a greater interest level in learning science with technology through online gaming and rich multimedia suggesting that virtual science museums can be educationally valuable and support an alternative to traditional teaching methods if designed with the end user in mind.