Benefits of informal education
Jun 26, 1998
Informal science education has had a large impact on the public's understanding and enthusiasm of science according to Goéry Delacôte, the physicist who is executive director of the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco. Writing in the latest issue of Science, Delacôte also reports that the high school and college students who explain the exhibits in the Exploratorium to the public can learn just as much as the visitors to the museum (Science 280 2054).
Delacôte suggests there are several lessons that can be applied to science popularisation in general: the emphasis must be on a 'active experience'; the best techniques work for all age groups; the most rewarding experiences result from the integration of museum displays with school courses; and the best exhibits are produced when artists and scientists work together. Delacôte also calls for new interactive media such as the Internet to be used to reach a global audience, and for institutional Web sites to foster a "culture of learning".
There is also evidence from the UK that informal science education is attracting students to science. According to Catherine Wilson of the Institute of Physics, "when students are asked why they are studying physics at advanced level, many of them say that taking part in project work, extra-curriculum visits, and people coming to the school helped them choose the subject." And Queen Mary and Westfield College in London runs a scheme in which undergraduates help teach science courses at local schools. Jim Emerson, a physicist at the college, says that students on the scheme felt that they had benefited, but he says that there is not enough data to conclusively prove this claim.