Ingenuity in Action: Collaboration and Design at a Science Museum

By Jennifer Wang and Gretchen Walker.

Published by The International Journal of Design Education

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Engineering involves messy, complex design problems that are solved through collaboration among engineers and other specialists. The Ingenuity in Action exhibit at the Lawrence Hall of Science explores this theme by exposing visitors to open-ended engineering design challenges that frequently involve collaboration. Specifically, the challenges are to invent a creation that flies in a wind tube, manipulate wheels on LEGO cars to traverse ramps, and design a bridge to withstand forces and span a distance. Oftentimes, visitors collaborate synchronously in creating a design. Visitors also asynchronously collaborate across time and groups by adopting and modifying the designs of other visitors. Focusing on the wind tube activity, we present results from observations of 32 visitor groups and two case studies. We found that as collaboration increases, visitors engage more deeply in the iterative cycles of the engineering design process. In other words, social and environmental contexts influenced the design. We also found that both synchronous design and evolutionary, asynchronous design are correlated with greater learning gains in science and engineering. This study will detail the interactions between collaboration and design within the natural, free-choice environment at the museum.

Keywords: Engineering, Design, Learning, Collaboration, Informal Education, Museum

The International Journal of Design Education, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp.47-62. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.313MB).

Jennifer Wang

Graduate Student, Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

Jennifer Wang is a graduate student in the Graduate Group in Science and Mathematics Education, focusing on Engineering Education at the University of California, Berkeley. She also obtained her BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Berkeley. She has several years of experience tutoring students and working with schools, and became interested in education through these experiences. Her primary interest is in informal learning environments and educational technologies. She currently conducts research with the Lawrence Hall of Science on their engineering exhibits and works to improve the facilitation and design of the exhibits. Her research focuses on how science center visitors engage and tinker at engineering activities and the impacts of these open-ended tinkering activities in terms of STEM learning and engineering understanding.

Gretchen Walker

Director of the Public Science Center, Community and Visitor Programs, Lawrence Hall of Science, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

Gretchen Walker is Director of the Public Science Center at the Lawrence Hall of Science. She has 15 years of experience in both formal and informal science education, including exhibit, multimedia, program, and curriculum development and has an M.A. in science education research. Prior to joining the Hall staff, she coordinated formative evaluation for the American Museum of Natural History’s Science Bulletins (regularly updated high-definition video program distributed to more than 25 national and international sites) and Space Show (digital planetarium show) teams.