Glossary of Visitor Studies Terms
These are common terms in the visitor studies profession. These definitions came from The Definitions Project. See the Definitions Project for additional terms.
Assessment: The process of documenting, usually in measurable terms, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs.
Audience Research: The systematic gathering of information (descriptive, psychological, contextual) about visitors or audiences.
Benefit: Lasting, meaningful change over time that results from multiple and diverse learning experiences; refers to collective sociological, psychological, economic, and/or environmental outcomes of education and learning.
Critical Appraisal: The overall observations and expert judgment of an exhibition, program or interpretive product by a professional evaluator (or panel of professional evaluators) to identify obvious or suspected problems which can be immediately corrected or studied later with visitor input.
Demand Analysis: The deliberate and systematic process of gathering information and data about current and potential visitors for program and administrative decision-making; audience inventory and analysis that considers current, hindsight, and future perspectives and employs a thoughtful and deliberate process for understanding and describing patterns in the data for making planning recommendations.
Ethics: The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession.
Evaluation: A judgment of worth or merit; an appraisal of value; the careful appraisal and study of something to determine its feasibility or effectiveness.
Evaluation Planning: The decision making process for evaluation that often includes at minimum, sections that address, (a) purpose of and audience for the evaluation, (b) information needed and type of evaluation, (c) who has the information – visitors, stakeholders, audiences, etc), (d) how should the information be collected – methodologies but also ethical treatment of respondents, (e) what resources are available.
Formative Evaluation: Provides information about how a program or exhibit can be improved and occurs while a project is under development. It is a process of systematically checking assumptions and products in order to make changes that improve design or implementation.
Front-end Evaluation: Provides background information for future project planning and development. It is typically designed to determine an audience’s general knowledge, questions, expectations, experiences, learning styles, and concerns regarding a topic or theme.
Impacts: The collective effects, achievements, benefits, or changes brought about by a program or exhibit on its intended audiences or on the environment. Impacts often embody lasting changes, such as improved environmental conditions and changes in the way people think and live.
Indicator: A benchmark or specific performance target used to determine success of an outcome.
Informal Learning: The truly lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills, and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment -- from family and neighbors, from work and play, from the market place, the library, and the mass media. Related words or phrases include free-choice learning and self-directed learning.
Informal Learning Environments: The places, venues, and settings where informal learning opportunities are intentionally made available to visitors, such as in parks or museums.
Institutional Review Board (IRB): Also known as an independent ethics committee (IEC) or ethical review board (ERB) is a committee that has been formally designated to approve, monitor, and review research involving humans with the aim to protect the rights and welfare of research subjects.
Interpretive Planning: The decision making process that blends management needs and resource considerations with visitor desire and ability to pay to determine the most appropriate interpretive (educational) prescriptions for their site and situation. Interpretive Plans often include at minimum, sections that address, (a) the context and situation - history, background, rationale for the plan, (b) purpose for the plan, (c) inventory and analysis of facilities, resources, programs, issues, audiences, (d) media alternatives and decision criteria; media recommendations, and (e) actions needed – timeline, budget, resources.
Logic Model:An organizing tool or picture of how an interpretive or educational organization or program works. A logic model links outcomes (short- and long-term) with program activities and processes and the theoretical assumptions of the program through tiered objectives:outputs, outcomes, and impacts.
Measurement: The assignment of numerals to objects or events according to rules; an operation resulting in standardized classifications of outcomes; in visitor studies or evaluation research, measurement often refers to the tools used to capture data about audiences or visitors and may include such things as observations, interviews, focus groups, surveys and so forth.
Objective: A statement of a specific, measurable, and observable result desired from an educational or interpretive activity or experience; a stated expectation about audience, behavior, condition, and degree that will result from a learning experience.
Outcomes: The achievements or changes brought about by a program, project, exhibit, or activity that helps lay the foundation for longer-term impacts or benefits. Outcomes can involve changes in behavior, skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, or condition after participating in a learning activity or experience.
Outcome-Based Evaluation: Evaluation that focuses on measurable visitor outcomes rather than outputs.
Output: The material products, programs, or other media of a program, exhibit, or project. Measurable, observable results that can be counted as numbers or dollars; direct products of activities measured in units.
Rubric:Specific criteria or guideline used to evaluate learner outcomes.
Summative Evaluation: Conducted after an interpretative media, program, or exhibition is completed and provides information about the impact of that project. It can be as simple as a head count of program attendance or as complex as a study of what individuals learned; what is assessed should be tied to project goals and objectives.
Visitor Studies:The interdisciplinary study of human experiences within informal learning environments. The systematic collection and analysis of information or data to inform decisions about interpretive exhibits and programs.
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