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Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments
To this end, making adjustments such as providing labels or program content in multiple languages has been shown to make a significant difference. Not only does this practice help members of other cultures identify key elements in an informal experience, but it also facilitates conversation and enhances learning among intergenerational groups.5 That said, it is important to point out that providing content in multiple languages is a big undertaking for a museum or other provider of informal science learning experiences. It requires adjustments to the exhibition or program development process and incurs costs for translation, proofing, and production. It may also require tough choices regarding which languages and cultures to include. However, the additional investment is an important step toward providing more equitable learning experiences. Electronic labels on touchscreens equipped to display multiple languages, while expensive, can address a variety of challenges, including the option of providing more detailed information on request. Alternatively, another way to accomplish the same goal is to have a non-English-speaking mediator available to “talk through” the experience with the visitors. Again, a non-trivial investment.
Attention to language differences is only one component of designing for equity. It also is important to consider variation in beliefs, values, and norms of social interaction, such as variability in family structure, gender roles, and patterns of discourse (e.g., the role of questioning in a conversation). Many informal institutions nationwide are addressing these issues and modifying exhibitions to reflect these differences. The next case study is one such example. It describes how a large children’s museum, Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose, California, established an ongoing relationship with the city’s growing Vietnamese population; through this partnership, the museum was able to develop a significantly more inclusive learning experience. The museum’s work in this area highlights both its challenges and rewards.