For museums, Ask Dr. Discovery enables a non-intrusive, continuous window into the minds of your visitors. With Ask Dr. Discovery, you can uncover new opportunities to engage and serve your visitors. The system provides museums with an online analytics portal that summarizes the questions your visitors are asking and shows topics that are trending and popular. These analytic tools provide your museum staff with continuous, accessible, real-time evaluation data. The Ask Dr. Discovery system can help your museum or science center with:
Updating Content: Ask Dr. Discovery’s easy-to-edit database of questions and answers can be updated as often as desired by anyone on your museum staff, allowing your museum to keep up with current events without having to make costly additions to exhibits. You can use the information to make just-in-time tweaks to exhibit content during formative periods, modify exhibit pathways to reflect user preferences or facilitate learning, or change flexible materials and resources (such as multimedia and web content, public events opportunities like lecture topics or themed days, docent training or locations, objects on experience carts, or posters and temporary signage) as current events or visitors’ needs and interests change.
Engaging with Visitors: Your docents and guides can use the app to facilitate interactions with visitors, looking up questions on topics unfamiliar to them or encouraging shy visitors to ask their questions of Dr. Discovery and then using those questions and responses as a jumping-off point for further interaction. Dr. Discovery is perfectly suited to augment offerings in museums that are not able to have extensive human docent presence.
Evaluation: Evaluation is critical in informal learning settings, but often hard to accomplish with limited resources and staff time already stretched thin. The Dr. Discovery analytics portal allows museums to make evidence-based improvements when desired. The thousands of questions that your visitors ask Dr. Discovery are collected as raw data and then automatically analyzed by the system and presented in an easy-to-understand way.
How Does Ask Dr. Discovery Enable Evaluation?
The questions and types of data used in traditional museum evaluations (from time spent at an exhibit to what visitors found most interesting), are extensively documented in the literature (e.g., guides such as Diamond et al. 2009; journals such as Visitors Studies, Journal of Museum Education; websites such as Assessment Tools in Informal Science), and provide the baseline of analytic tools that are included in the Ask Dr. Discovery back-end for use by our museum partners. They align closely with standard museum evaluation data analysis, but on a much larger scale.
For example, museum evaluators conducting exit interviews or surveys might ask visitors specific factual questions about exhibit content, or more general questions such as, “What did you find most interesting about…?” Data mining of Ask Dr. Discovery’s log files can provide insights into both the specific (such as misconceptions revealed by the questions asked) and the general (inferring visitor curiosity and interest through topic frequency for individuals and participants overall). An additional strength of collecting visitor data via the Ask Dr. Discovery app is that all visitor interactions with the app will be unobtrusively captured, not only the potentially-filtered responses that a visitor might provide to an interviewer or the self-edited comments made by a visitor wearing a microphone during their visit (e.g., Allen, 2002).
The system's analytics should yield a rich picture of visitor understandings, interests, confusions, misconceptions, and even frustrations—both “in the moment” and across their visit. Combining data from hundreds or thousands of visitors will allow museum staff to focus their efforts on changes or enhancements that will be the most impactful in their setting. Additionally, since the questions traditionally asked are often constrained by cumbersome data-collection techniques or limited resources, the project capitalizes on the ease and flexibility of app-based data collection to develop new analytics, guided by our museum partners and advisory panel members who provide critical ideas and feedback on the tools.