Key points from the summative evaluation we did of the Dinosaur Unearthed exhibition in 2006

The aim of the evaluation was to undertake a detailed study of Dinosaur Unearthed and feed the results into the development of the new permanent Dinosaurs exhibition opening in 2008.

The following studies were undertaken:

  1. Staff feedback (both paid and volunteers who worked in the exhibition)
  2. Unstructured observations and visitor feedback
  3. Feedback from Scientist for a Day participants
  4. Exit survey November 2006 (n=132)
  5. Feedback forms – adults accompanying children to the Dinosaurs Time To Play program (n=67)
  6. Focus group with adolescents with intellectual disabilities (NOVA Employment)

Key findings

  • Dinosaurs as a topic appeals across a wide range of audiences:
  • new exhibition needs to cater for all ages
  • physical design of new exhibition must consider the height of exhibits to allow access for all visitors
  • Visitors liked the exhibition but wanted more: they will expect the new exhibition to be bigger and better
  • Dinosaur Unearthed was a highly social experience: new exhibition needs to be designed for group learning; new exhibition needs to be highly interactive throughout
  • Visitors wanted contextual information, yet didn’t read the text panels: placement of text panels in new exhibition needs to be carefully planned; content needs to cover basics such as what is a dinosaur, how did they live, what was their world like, as well as how we know (including the processes of findings and excavating fossils)
  • The working lab was clearly a highlight for visitors, as well as staff and volunteers: staff to talk to/ask questions of will be required in new exhibition; need to ensure that staff working in new exhibition are trained to interact with visitors across all ages and ability levels
  • Handling real fossil material was definitely appreciated: provide touch specimens where possible
  • Visitors wanted to use technology: they will expect this in the new exhibition; work up series of stories that could be made through digital stories project
  • Visitors want “atmospheric” experiences: ensure sound, light and movement in new exhibition where appropriate

Overall Conclusions
Dinosaur Unearthed was well received by both visitors and staff. However the Centrosaur story was not well understood and visitors clearly did not read the text panels. This could be attributed to a reluctance to read, yet those who did read them felt the text was well written. Poor positioning of the panels may have contributed to low level of engagement with the written text. Once engaged with the story, visitors were fascinated and asked a great many questions of the staff. The process from finding fossils in the field to reconstructing a dinosaur skeleton is of high interest to many visitors.

Visitors were disappointed with the size of the exhibition and the number of dinosaurs on display. All wanted more, more, more! Handling ‘real’ fossils material was a highlight but there was a lot of confusion over what was real and what was cast. Confusion also existed over what was a touch specimen and what was not.

As previous research has consistently found, interactive component of an exhibition are very important, especially for children, and most visitors expect to interact with technology within an exhibition. The working lab was very well received by visitors and extremely popular with the volunteers and staff who enjoyed their interactions with visitors. Many staff felt the layout could be improved to allow visitors a closer view of the experts in action and consideration must also be given to height to allow viewing by children and those with disabilities.

The exhibition was attractive to visitors of all ages and there was a high degree of social interaction within visitor groups, adults reading text to children and children eager to display their knowledge of dinosaurs to adults. The opportunity to take photos was clearly a priority for visitors with children.

Different levels of engagement were clearly evident. Some visitors are immersed in the wonder of dinosaurs while others are engaged in a far greater depth.

Size is important. Visitors want to see BIG specimens and lots of them.