The Zoo and Aquarium Action Research Collaborative research project targets zoo and aquarium staff with a cascading action research model meant to build the capacity of the informal science education field to conduct action research on visitor learning. Research questions focus on the experiences of participating zoo and aquarium staff in conducting action research on visitor experiences and how they use the information from that research to improve and develop educational programs. In the first year of the project, zoo and aquarium staff will implement a well validated educational activity with visitors to their institutions and learn how to develop and implement action research in their context. In the second year of the project, zoo and aquarium staff will take their new skills in action research and develop their own questions to investigate visitor learning in their own organizational settings.
Project staff will train zoo and aquarium staff in action research, provide technical assistance and facilitate collaboration among the sites and staff. This project will contribute to learning in the field about how action research can be used to develop ISE staffs' skills in data collection, data analysis and data-driven decision making. Partners in this project include TERC and Oregon State University, and sites are situated in zoos and aquariums in six states: CA, MO, MA, AZ, MD and WA. At each of these institutions approximately 15 senior staff will participate in the professional development.
Evaluation of the project will focus on the learning that is generated about collaborative models for action research and the impact on ISE staff of participating in action research as professional development. Methods for the evaluation will include surveys and interviews with participants, observations, document review and site visits. Outcomes of the project include increased capacity for zoo and aquarium staff to conduct action research on visitor learning, case studies of collaborative action research projects that will be disseminated widely through workshops and conferences, and research papers presented at conferences and published.