Ask Dr. Discovery is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through award #1438825, Facilitating Museum Evaluation with Real-Time Data Mining (2014 - 2017). This project makes novel use of familiar technology to address the immediate and pressing challenge of affordable, ongoing, large-scale museum evaluation (Adams, 2012; Smithsonian, 2004) while encouraging visitors to explore and engage deeply with museum content. To do so, the project develops and implements an innovative app for mobile devices, composed of two parts:

1. A front-end “virtual scientist” called Dr. Discovery for use by museum visitors (and docents) that doubles as an unobtrusive data-gatherer.

2. A back-end analytics portal for museum staff, evaluators, and researchers.

Ask Dr. Discovery is deployed at two science museums serving diverse urban populations in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The Ask Dr. Discovery system enables museum evaluation efforts by mining, analyzing, and interpreting in real-time large datasets produced by logs of visitor interactions with the mobile app, while supporting museum visitors engaged with space science-related exhibits and content by answering visitors’ questions and involving them in mini-quests in museum exhibit spaces. Through an analytics web portal that enables customizable analysis of user logs, the system is designed to provide continuous, accessible evaluative data to museum staff to help them make just-in-time tweaks to exhibit content, modify exhibit pathways to reflect user preferences or facilitate learning, or change flexible materials and resources (such as multimedia, lecture topics, docent training or locations, experience carts, etc.) as current events or visitors’ needs and interests change.

Ask Dr. Discovery Overview

Research Questions

This project seeks to build evaluation capacity among informal educators, to advance the fields of visitor studies, museum evaluation (including providing tools to support practitioners), and informal science learning, and to contribute to the development of novel evaluation techniques in informal learning settings by probing the following research questions:

1. How does use of the analytics web portal by museum staff impact museum evaluation and visitor experience?

2. How does the storyline (mini-challenge) version of Ask Dr. Discovery impact level of use?

The project builds upon findings from previous research using the Dr. C pedagogical agent (Bowman, 2011) and new findings emerging from the on-going SAVE Science assessment project.

The museum partners [[link to: Team and Partners page]] in the study are the Arizona Museum of Natural History and the Arizona Science Center, which together serve over 600,000 visitors annually. The visitors are diverse in terms of economics, race, and language, reflecting the future of the American population. The Ask Dr. Discovery app is provided in English and Spanish.

Use Dr. Discovery in Your Research

The Ask Dr. Discovery app and analytic backend may serve as a platform to allow researchers outside the project to probe interesting questions that relate to visitor learning and motivation (such as those with interests in topics related to informal learning settings like parent-child interactions, effects of current events on engagement, etc) , the effective application of “big data” for museum evaluation, and ways to encourage and understand use of mobile experiences. If you are interested in using Ask Dr. Discovery for your research, please contact us: info [at]

The app source code will be released as open-source at the conclusion of the project.

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