Although the focus of the exhibit described in the case was on how to capture and hold visitors’ interest, in the process the designers also provided experiences that supported other strands of science learning. By designing activities that piqued the visitors’ interest, enhanced their sense of confidence, and provided them with engaging challenges, the designers also helped support conceptual understanding (Strand 2) and scientific reasoning (Strand 3).
Elements of design discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 also are evident in this case. The inclusion of labels promoted social interaction and the sharing of expertise. Interactivity played an important role in maintaining interest and supporting learning. At the same time, the designers found that including choices that didn’t require deliberate action encouraged behaviors that detracted from learning—a finding similar to one found at the Exploratorium after studying the interactive features of the Glowing Worms exhibit (Chapter 3).
Thus far, we have focused on interest as the initial spark that hooks people and encourages them to explore an informal science experience. But interest can involve something more than just a visit to a museum or an hour at the IMAX theatre. Among informal science educators, there also is a desire to build sustained interest that will bring people back to learn more.
Many researchers have developed models for the development of long-term interest. Ann Renninger and Suzanne Hidi provide a useful framework that differentiates between shorter term interest and more sustained, engaged interest.13 Their four-phase model describes how interest emerges and changes as an individual becomes more engaged through repeated experiences related to a topic.
In the first phase, situational interest, excitement or interest is triggered by the situation. The participant’s positive responses to a topic are typically sparked by environmental features that have personal relevance or capture attention because they are unexpected or unusual. In phase two, referred to as maintained situational interest, the participant has repeated positive experiences that are sustained by the meaningfulness of the tasks and personal involvement. In phase three, emerging individual interest, the person’s interest starts to extend beyond the informal learning experience, which at this point is not always needed to stimulate interest or engagement with the topic. In the final phase, a well-developed individual interest becomes evident by the person’s choice to continue his or her involvement