Human Communication in interactive science museums

Science and technology museums are considered by several authors to be non-formal educational environments that complement the formal scholastic learning of children and the general public, and they aim to encourage the public to seek scientific knowledge. In regard to the educational role of museums, it is important to emphasize that education is understood as “a continuous and uninterrupted process that builds the individual for its role in society and also constitutes a socialization process”.

The museum environment enables people to learn using several mediums and can provide means for visitors to interact with the object of study. This way, in an interactive museum environment, the individual is no longer a passive spectator and takes on an active role, being able to manipulate the different installations, interact with the available material and take charge in actions and discoveries. In interactive museums “the public experiments science in a direct, lively and playful manner”.

Interactivity is understood as a process that enables and encourages phenomena experimentation and participation in the obtainment of information, with the goal of expanding personal knowledge. In this sense, experimentation justifies the existence of interactive museums. The museum must permit, for this reason, the visitors’ interaction with objects, phenomenon and equipment to motivate them to learn, stimulate curiosity on a particular topic, and therefore, enable new information and contribute to their scientific culture.

Museums aspire to create or change understandings about science and the exhibitions are cultural products with a rich educational potential. In these environments, there are some approaches to health education . A research  conducted at Rio de Janeiro’s Museu da Vida (Museum of Life) has indicated that visits have contributed to “establish relations among the main topics discussed at the Museum (history, science, technology, environment and health), extending young people’s comprehension of health”.

After selecting the museums, the respective websites were analyzed via Internet during the year of 2009. For each institution a table was created with the following data: name, location, URL, title of identified exhibition, title of related displays, description of the material encountered and the primarily discussed topic.

For this research project, “exhibition” was considered as the area of the museum containing educational objects of the same subject and “display” was considered as an individual museum object. In this sense, an exhibition is composed by more than one display and a display is an object created to provide information or experiments with which the visitor interacts.

In regard to the displays related to Human Communication, the following was found: objects built with anatomical models, static or interactive posters, computer software, equipment with informative films, musical instruments, installations, among others. The material used in each display can vary greatly, for example: a display of the Listen exhibition at the Exploratorium Museum consists of a passageway with stones on the ground and very sensitive microphones which capture the intensity of the sound produced when the visitor walks over the stones.

In this manner, exhibitions on Human Communication and displays arranged in different areas of the museums were analyzed. The aspects considered for this assessment were anatomical, physiological and physical features of hearing and phonation as well as broader aspects of natural languages, media, and communicative ability.

The denomination “Human Communication” is understood as the broad process that involves the following elements: message sender or decoder, the message, the receiver that interprets the message, the medium or channel or chain of channels that induce the message transmission, feedback – the element that ensures the monitoring of the message and noise (error, interference or obstruction of the process). Communication through language stimulates the interaction between individuals and is associated with hearing, body expression and oral expressiveness which includes speech, voice, diction, respiration, and the linguistic-discursive elements .

Taking all this under consideration, the selected exhibitions and displays were classified and divided into four main categories: acoustics, auditory system, Human Communication in general and/or language and voice and/or speech. Some were added to more than one category, seeing that many exhibitions and displays address more than one subject, for example acoustics and auditory system.

In view of the tables created for each institution, the data was quantitatively and qualitatively analyzed resulting in a description of the exhibitions and displays regarding Human Communication that currently exist in the investigated science museums.

Finally, a table was created with the “Key Information about the researched National Science Museums” using the data collected on the 20 Brazilian museums that were analyzed.

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