Interactive Learning in “Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay”

By Marianna Adams, Ed.D., & Jeanine Ancelet, M.A. of Audience Focus Inc., for the Institute for Learning Innovation
October, 2007

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Summary: The Speed Art Museum of Louisville, Kentucky commissioned a thorough study of visitor experience of Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay exhibition (February 4 – May 13, 2007). The educators, curators and designers worked to engage visitors via five interactive areas, and were curious to know how the interactivity influenced the visitor’s encounter with the exhibit. Data was gathered from interviews, written surveys, direct observation, and analysis of drawings made in the areas.

The Speed Art Museum has a long-term commitment to visitor studies and this summative study in the most recent effort to use evaluation findings to further refine their professional practice. To enhance the Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay1 exhibition (February 4 – May 13, 2007), the Speed Art Museums educators, curators, and designers, experimented with ways to more fully engage visitors through five interactive areas. The staff worked together to enhance the existing graphics that came with the traveling exhibition, to integrate the interactive areas into the displays of Macaulay‟s art, and to display the works in the exhibition at a height more accessible to both children and adults. (See Appendix A for the exhibition floor plan and location of interactive areas.)

1. Big Ideas: The workings of everyday objects and the makings of the world‟s most complex architectural structures are the focus of this section. Dramatic original drawings from these and other books were included: The New Way Things Work, Cathedral, Mill, Castle, City: A story of Roman Planning and Construction, Underground, Unbuilding, Pyramid and Mosque. The interactive area focused on the question: How Does It Work? Visitors could draw or write their ideas about how the objects were used and post them for others to think about. Mystery objects changed regularly and the answers were available in the reading area.

2. Building Ship, Exploring the Artists Process: The artist‟s process through the creation of a book from concept to completion was explored through this exhibit. This section featured an extensive selection of images and artifacts relating to the book, Ship, and reflected Macaulay‟s collaboration with historians and archeologists around the world. The interactive area focused on the prompt: How to… Strips of high quality drawing paper were accordion-folded into five segments and visitors were invited to be an explainer like David Macaulay and then put their ideas on display for others to see.

3. Journey Books: The Evolution of Ideas: This section explored inventive and non-traditional picture books inspired by the artist‟s love of travel and appreciation for the places that imagination can take us. Shortcut, Black and White, Rome Antics, Angelo, Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? and Baaa! were some of the books featured in this section. In this interactive area, visitors could mix story scenes on the “Scrambled Stories” grid on the oval table shown in the photo above, they could draw a story scene in the drawing area, they could insert their drawing or one done by someone else into the table grid, and they could display their drawing.

4. & 5. About the Artist: This biographical section offered museum visitors insight into David Macaulay‟s life and career. Personal artifacts such as the Caldecott medal and family photographs were included. Two interactive areas adjacent to each other included Build, an open area filled with blocks for construction activities, and the Reading Area, where a selection of David Macaulay‟s books and other reference books were available for visitors to browse. The books were color-keyed to the area of the exhibition where the artwork was shown.
To assess the effectiveness of these interactive areas, the Speed Art Museum enlisted the services of Dr. Marianna Adams, to design and implement a summative evaluation study to address the following questions:

  • How do visitors engage with and use the interactive experiences in the exhibition?
  • To what degree do the interactive experiences enhance visitor learning and social interaction?

Intended Use of Results: Results from this study will provide useful feedback to the interdepartmental exhibition team and will assist them in the development of future interactive experiences in the museum‟s permanent collections and special exhibitions. In addition, the findings further support the efficacy and value of the interactive experience for visitors.

Methodology: The evaluation questions were addressed through a mixed methods design involving observation and exhibition exit interviews with a written survey to capture learning over time. In addition, drawings created in three areas and photographs of constructions made in the block building area will serve to round out the picture of the visitor experience. (See Appendix B for Observation Protocol; Appendix C for Interview Protocol; and Appendix D for Written Survey) The evaluator trained Speed Art Museum staff, evaluation assistants, and volunteers to collect data between February and May 2007. Researchers coded and entered data into Survey Pro software and analyzed the results as reported below.

Description of Sample: A total of 46 people were interviewed; however, only 36 people completed the demographic survey. Of those who completed the survey, 53% were males and 47% were females; ages ranged from 7 years to 79 years. Overall, visitors showed a keen interest in art. When asked to rank their interest in art on a scale of 1-8 with 8 being “very much interested”, 96% of visitors ranked themselves at a 5 or above. Half of the visitors (50%) ranked themselves at an 8. Visitors were slightly less confident about their knowledge of art and how art objects are made. When asked to rank their familiarity with how art is made, using a similar eight-point scale (with 8 being “very familiar”), 72% of visitors ranked themselves at a 5 or above. Only 19% ranked themselves at an 8.

In the observation sample, a total of 119 people were observed. 58% were male; 42% were female. Almost 2/3rds of the observation sample were adults (61%) with 29% children; and 10% teens.

Context of Visit, Museum Visit History, & Prior Knowledge: For each observation, data collectors were instructed to note the crowd conditions in the exhibition, as well as the social configuration of the group observed. Over half of the observations (56%) were conducted when attendance in the exhibition was low, while the rest of the observations (44%) were conducted when attendance was rated moderate. The majority of visitors (81%) came as part of a larger social group as opposed to visiting alone. Of those who came in a group, a high percentage (62%) came as part of an intergenerational group while 34% came in an all-adult group. A large majority (75%) of those interviewed had visited the Speed Art Museum before, making 25% of the sample first-time visitors to the museum.

Visitors were asked to talk about their prior knowledge of David Macaulay and his books. Almost half of the responses (45%) indicated that they had no prior knowledge of the author/artist. Of those who knew of Macaulay and/or his work, 25% said they knew he wrote books; 18% claimed to be great fans of his work; and 10% were familiar with the books but knew nothing about the author. A few people indicated that they had recently learned of the exhibition and the author/artist from a newspaper article or another person.

1 The Building Books exhibition was originated by the Norman Rockwell Museum. The interactive areas were enhancements added by the Speed Art Museum staff and installed in the exhibition while at the Speed Art Museum only.

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