1 Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto (PORTUGAL)
2 Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2019 Proceedings
Publication year: 2019
Pages: 4746-4752
ISBN: 978-84-09-14755-7
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2019.1165
Conference name: 12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 11-13 November, 2019
Location: Seville, Spain
The goal of this paper is to understand the way multimedia and virtual reality are being integrated into the communication practices of science centers and represented by their directors or responsible personnel, from the perspective of the social representations theory. Through a three-phase, mixed-methods approach, we focused on the 21 institutions of the Portuguese network of science centers (Rede de Centros Ciência Viva). Phase I consisted of a documentary analysis of the science centers websites and Facebook pages, in order to draw a preliminary map of the activities, scientific areas, multimedia and virtual reality devices of the centers. In phase II, we surveyed 16 directors or responsible personnel of the science centers via an online questionnaire, to corroborate the results obtained in the documentary analysis and also to identify the role of multimedia in science centers and which of them had virtual reality activities. Phase III consisted of semi-structured interviews with six directors or responsible personnel of six science centers from North to South of Portugal to explore their social representations, as well as to obtain in-depth information about the role of multimedia, virtual reality and visitors in the science communication strategy of the centers. Data were analyzed with the support of Excel, SPSS, and NVivo. Results showed that exhibitions are the most common kind of activities, followed by workshops. Physical-natural sciences were represented in more than 75% of the science centers; mathematics, robotics, and informatics were present in less than 50% of the centers; social sciences and arts were underrepresented. Whereas projection devices and computers were used in more than 80% of the centers, virtual reality devices, tablets, and touch screens were used in less than 15%. Results of phase II, besides corroborating data from phase I, showed that the integration of multimedia seems to be associated with different degrees of interactivity allowed for the visitor. Virtual reality devices were mainly used to demonstrate their immersive capability rather than to explore the specificities of the science contents. As for the social representations, we found that multimedia was associated with the integration of image and sound and anchored to learning purposes and young audiences. Virtual reality was defined as “simulation” and “reality that does not exist”, therefore objectifying the concept of interactivity. It was perceived as a means to attract more audience. Though a central role was assigned to the visitor, contextualization seemed to be the more frequently adopted model of science communication. The findings suggest that, though multimedia plays a central role in the centers, it does not meet up the promise of allowing for higher levels of interactivity and public engagement and that virtual reality became the ultimate technology for making sense of interactivity and extension of reality. This study urges for a framework to promote a balanced integration of the multimedia with the activities of science centers to support the adoption of bidirectional models of science communication, in which evaluation is essential. This line of research is being explored in a science communication project (I SEA) by a multidisciplinary team. Based on the affordances and social representations of virtual reality, the main goal is to develop a non-obtrusive method of evaluation of science communication in non-formal spaces.
Multimedia, non formal education, science centers, science communication, virtual reality.