Call the Wild is a collaborative study investigating the potential for enhancing science learning at zoos through interactions mediated by visitors’ mobile phones. Specifically, the educational objective is to increase zoo visitor understanding about the nature of science through encouraging observation, critical thinking and communication related to zoo animals and the role of science at the zoo. Project partners include the Florida Museum of Natural History, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the American Zoological Association, with evaluation provided by the Institute for Learning Innovation and technical contracting with Odysseus Mobile and Guide by Cell. Call the Wild is funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0916623).
Call the Wild is currently in the exploratory stage in which we are focusing on identifying the phone-mediated interactions that are most appealing to zoo visitors and are most effective at communicating the content. Thus far we have completed several visitor surveys and an evaluation of a prototype exhibit station; two more prototype exhibits and concomitant evaluation are forthcoming.
What we have learned
Initial visitor surveys found that most zoo visitors owned and regularly use a mobile phone, and approximately 30-40% indicated interest in using their phone to discover more about animals or exhibits. A second survey found that zoo visitors had a broader understanding of the nature of science when described in context of work caring for animals and conducting research at the zoo.
In February we tested a prototype exhibit at Jacksonville Zoo with four options for mobile phone interactions: audio recording, text poll, website with poll, website with video and poll. Although relatively few zoo visitors participated in the activities, those who did had a mostly positive experience. Follow-up questions further suggested that visitors favor incorporating mobile phone activities into the zoo experience even if they were personally unlikely to participate.
Future exhibit prototypes will continue to present options in multiple technologies and will incorporate zoo visitor comments and suggestions from the Call the Wild advisory committee. Additionally, for both the April 2010 and June 2010 evaluations, we intend to include a native iPhone app incorporating in-depth observation and critical thinking activities. We also are building multi-level, visitor-directed experiences with IVR and SMS interfaces.
Feedback from visitors suggests that they wish to ask questions, not be asked. How can we do this with an automated system?
Zoo visitors want to watch animals. How can we design activities that impose as little as possible and still convey complex messages about how science works?