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Science Learning at the Zoo: Evaluating Children's Developing Understanding of Animals and their Habitats

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Abstract

Zoos attract hundreds of millions of visitors every year worldwide – many of them children. In the UK, hundreds of thousands of school children visit zoos every year. Thus, the zoo is a key institution for publics engaging with live animals and environmental education. However, zoos have recently come under ethical criticism linked to the claim that they have negligible or even negative educational impact. While there is some evidence of positive outcomes for adult zoo visitors, there is very little prior research available to answer such criticisms when it comes to children. To address these issues, a study was conducted using a mixed methods survey, which included a key visual component designed to track changes in children’s representations of animals over the course of a school visit to the zoo. Specifically, the study investigated the development of new ideas about animals, habitats and the zoo amongst a sample of pupils attending ZSL London Zoo. Results indicate the potential of educational presentations based around zoo visits, for enabling conceptual transformations relating to environmental science. At the same time, the research highlights the vital role of existing cultural representations of different animals and habitats which are confronted by the new ideas introduced during educational visits to the zoo.
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1 This quote is from http://www.zsl.org/education/schools/zsl-london-zoo-schools/primary-programme-at-zsl-
london-zoo,189,AR.html (Last accessed 15 April 2009).
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AUTHOR&BIOGRAPHIES&
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS&
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... Zoo visitors have generally been found to have relatively extensive knowledge of anthropogenic impacts upon biodiversity conservation and environmental issues, even if they hold misconceptions regarding the concepts of biodiversity and ecosystems (Dove & Byrne, 2014). However, very few of these studies have tried to quantify the long-term impacts of zoo visits (and specifically conservation-related presentations) on conservation knowledge retention (Collins et al., 2020b;Jensen, 2014b;Jensen et al., 2017;Moss et al., 2015Moss et al., , 2017bWagoner & Jensen, 2010), and even fewer studies have tried to measure the conversion of this knowledge into effective pro-conservation actions (such as adopting pro-environmental behaviors or joining or donating to conservation causes) post-visit (Adelman et al., 2010;Collins et al., 2020b;Miller et al., 2013). ...
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Animal-Visitor Interactions (AVIs) have become commonplace in zoological institutions and facilities globally. However, most AVI research focuses on the effects of visitors on the welfare of animals, with considerably fewer studies examining the visitor experience itself. Furthermore, robust evaluations of the efficacy of zoo education programs and engagements for increasing visitor awareness of conservation issues, and for fostering long-term pro-conservation behavior changes in them, are under-researched. This paper reviews the current literature that pertains to the effects of zoo visitation and AVIs on visitor perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. We briefly note some of the known effects that zoo visitors have on zoo animals, then explore the effects that factors such as enclosure design, animal visibility and behaviors, and AVIs can have on visitors' overall experience whilst attending the zoo. We suggest that future research needs to more closely examine the relationships and interactions between zoo visitors and zoo animals; why some zoo visitors over others repeat visitation; what the differences in beliefs and attitudes may be between "zoo visitors" and "non-zoo visitors" (i.e., other general public); and to make a concerted effort to understand: (1) what visitors do after they leave the zoo, and (2) whether visitors adopt long-term pro-conservation behaviors into their daily lives. We further suggest that future research needs to start investigating indirect measures related to the visitor experience, such as: (a) individual conservation support outside of the zoo; (b) internet activity; (c) changes in sustainable purchasing practices related to knowledge gains; (d) financial investment in sustainable or ethical companies after knowledge gains; (e) and the longitudinal effects of zoo visits.
... Zoo visitors have generally been found to have relatively extensive knowledge of anthropogenic impacts upon biodiversity conservation and environmental issues, even if they hold misconceptions regarding the concepts of biodiversity and ecosystems (Dove & Byrne, 2014). However, very few of these studies have tried to quantify the long-term impacts of zoo visits (and specifically conservation-related presentations) on conservation knowledge retention (Jensen, 2014b;Jensen et al., 2017;Moss et al., 2015;2017b;Wagoner & Jensen, 2010), and even fewer studies have tried to measure the conversion of this knowledge into effective proconservation actions (such as adopting pro-environmental behaviors or joining or donating to conservation causes) post-visit (Adelman et al., 2010;Miller et al., 2013). ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Animal-Visitor Interactions (AVIs) have become commonplace in zoological institutions and facilities globally. However, most AVI research focuses on the effects of visitors on the welfare of animals, with considerably less studies examining the visitor experience itself. Furthermore, robust evaluations of the efficacy of zoo education programs and engagements for increasing visitor awareness of conservation issues, and for fostering long-term pro-conservation behavior changes in them, are under researched. This paper reviews the current literature that pertains to the effects of zoo visitation and AVIs on visitor perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. We briefly note some of the known effects that zoo visitors have on zoo animals, and conversely explore the effects that factors such as enclosure design, animal visibility and behaviors, and AVIs can have on visitors' overall experience whilst attending the zoo. We suggest that future research needs to more closely examine the relationships and interactions between zoo visitors and zoo animals; why some zoo visitors maintain repeat visitation over others; what the differences in beliefs and attitudes may be between "zoo visitors" and "non-zoo visitors" (i.e., other general public); and to make a concerted effort to 2 understand: (1) what visitors are doing after they leave the zoo, and (2) whether visitors are adopting long-term pro-conservation behaviors into their daily lives. We further suggest that future research needs to start investigating indirect measures related to the visitor experience, such as: (a) individual conservation support outside of the zoo; (b) internet activity; (c) changes in sustainable purchasing practices related to knowledge gains; (d) financial investment in sustainable or ethical companies after knowledge gains; (e) and the longitudinal effects of zoo visits.
... For example, at the Fota Wildlife Park penguin exhibit, a child exclaimed "they're too hot." The child is likely basing this misinformation on previous experience and understanding (Tunnicliffe et al., 1997) and is perhaps influenced by the media (Wagoner & Jensen, 2010), where penguins are often portrayed living in the snow. Presumably, the child did not encounter anything during the visit to adjust their prior understanding (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2012) or realize that Humboldt penguins do not live in snowy climates. ...
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Learning in the zoo is a complex process with many influences affecting outcomes, which traditional methods of evaluation may not consider. This study used conversational content analysis, an innovative and under-used technique, to investigate children’s learning in the zoo setting during an educational experience. The children’s conversations were observed at Fota Wildlife Park and Dingle Aquarium in Ireland at three different animal exhibits (1) free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) (2) Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) and (3) Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti). Some groups of children (the treatment group) participated in a purposefully designed educational intervention, while others (the control group) experienced the standard curriculum only. Descriptive statistics indicated that all children engaged in diverse topics of conversation indicative of learning as they viewed animals. However, further analysis using a general linear model showed that participation in the treatment or control group (p < 0.001) and species viewed (p < 0.001) affected the proportion of positive comments made by children. Groups that viewed free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs and Gentoo penguins made more types of positive comments than those that viewed Humboldt penguins, and children who experienced the educational intervention made more types of positive comments than children in the control group. Conversely, children in the control group made more types of negative comments (p < 0.001) than those in the treatment group. The results indicate that children do learn in the zoo setting; however, this was enhanced based on the type of educational activity the children experienced and the species they viewed. Overheard conversation offers a unique insight into the visitors’ experience at the zoo, but further research is required to establish if conversation can reveal a propensity for pro-conservation behavior.
... Positive learning refers to learning that leads to the acquisition of accurate knowledge about species, their natural habitats and conservation issues, as well as positive behavior. Negative learning refers to inaccurate information about species, their natural habitats and conservation issues as well as negative perceptions about species, conservation action, and/or the normalizing of captivity [9,10]. ...
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This paper assesses whether there is intrinsic positive educational value in travelling animal presentations and exhibits, referred to here as Mobile Live Animal Programs (MLAPs). Given that educational claims serve as the basis for allowing MLAPs to operate in many jurisdictions throughout Canada and the United States, it is essential to examine whether these purported claims are valid. This study takes a twofold approach of examining first, what constitutes an MLAP and how such programs are situated within the larger context of animal observation and tourism, and second, what constitutes both positive and negative education, and how such learning can empirically be measured in these settings. This approach provokes the ethical question of whether or not MLAPs should be allowed to operate given the high price paid not only by the individual animals used, but also to our psychological, emotional, and intellectual relationship with other species when we use non-human animals for our own knowledge, pleasure or comfort. The paper concludes that we must consider that the pervasive problem of negative education, that using displaced captive wild animals as learning tools that highlights human control over them, their objectification and their exploitation, is not justified by the purported positive educational claims of MLAPs.
... This may be due to the popularity of meerkats as a species and their prevalence across television documentaries. Wagoner and Jensen's (2010) study also found that similarly aged children (age 9-11) had a good level of knowledge about meerkats before visiting the zoo. Given that the theatre performance tested only provided basic knowledge about meerkat behaviour, such as 'standing on two feet', 'looking out for danger' and about where they lived, there may have been limited scope for delivering new information capable of increasing audience awareness about the species. ...
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Communicating the topic of conservation to the public and encouraging proenvironmental behaviors can mitigate loss of biodiversity. Thus, the evaluation of educational efforts is important to ascertain the educational effects and provide high-quality conservation education. The learning outcomes of conservation education are diverse (e.g., attitudes, knowledge, and behavior). Considering the specific characteristics of these different outcomes and the factors that influence them is crucial to delivering successful conservation education. We reviewed 29 peer-reviewed articles published in English from January 2011 to April 2020 on empirical studies of learning outcomes of on-site conservation education in zoos and aquaria, institutions that seek to educate the public about conservation. We examined the range of learning outcomes, their definitions, and factors that influenced them. Cognitive outcomes were most frequently investigated (37%) in comparison with other outcomes (e.g., affective outcomes, 31%). The articles did not use explicit definitions for learning outcomes, and implicit or explorative definitions provided were inconsistent. Outcomes were influenced by various factors (e.g., prior experiences, staff interaction, animal behavior). Our results suggest the agenda of conservation education research should be broadened by examining all learning outcomes relevant to behavior change. Educational and behavior change theories should be used as a background for conservation education research to ensure clear and consistent definitions, derive appropriate instruments to measure learning outcomes, and relate learning outcomes to influencing factors. We recommend conservation education researchers and practitioners to treat conservation education holistically and acknowledge its learning outcomes' full complexity.
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This research aims to study the motivations and to categorize the motivations of tourists who visited Chiang Mai Zoo in Chiang Mai province. Questionnaires were used to collect data from 408 samples of the tourists in October 2019 all through weekdays, weekends and national public holidays. The data was then analyzed using Descriptive Statistic and Factor Analysis. The result of the motivations of the tourists visiting Chiang Mai Zoo based on their priority of experiences given to 30 factors shows the top three most important motivations as follows. First of all is to spend time with family or friends. Secondly is to see and appreciate nature and animals. The third is to rest and relax from stress, invigorate the mind and body, and release oneself from boredom. While the least important motivation is to buy goods or products related to animals. As for the categories of motivations for the visit can be put into five groups which are Group 1: Exploring the site, Group 2: Learning about animals, Group 3: Relaxation and spending time with closed ones, Group 4: Reminiscing, and Group 5: Taking children to learn about nature. These categories can explain the variance of the 30 factors at 56.10%.
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This chapter provides a review of relevant literature around social movement theory, an array of internal/external accounts of the transhumanist movement and other eclectic material relevant to the study. It reviews work addressing the incidence of optimistic/utopian motivation-systems surrounding science and technology—including the notion of science as a social movement. The chapter reveals the novel standing of transhumanism, which has both normatively laden and trans-locational quality, having circulated over a diffuse global area in recent years, made possible through the technologies of information and communication which have emerged over the last three decades or so. As such, it concludes that effective study of the inceptive social forms associated with the transhumanist movement requires development of a dynamic research strategy which moves to adequately capture the nuances of cultural meanings, objects and identities as they travel across time and space.
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Children’s emotional and mental worlds are often influenced by their experiences with companion animals. This study explored 77 (50 g; 27 b) 6- to 12-year-old children’s empathy; perceived companion animal friendship, comfort, and bonding; and mental state talk in conversations about their interactions with their companion animal. Children completed self-report questionnaires and responded to two moral stories about companion animals. Results showed that higher levels of children’s mental state talk were related with high levels of empathy for companion animals. Compared to boys, girls reported significantly stronger companion animal friendships, and that they received more comfort from their companion animals. Results also showed that, for girls only, higher levels of perceived companion animal friendship were related to higher levels of emotional comfort received. The findings can inform humane education programs that promote mental state talk, moral agency, and relationships.
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The modern zoo's roles command empirical enquiry to determine the effectiveness of zoos locally and globally. Ten years ago, published work identified the need for empirical research on a diverse range of species beyond charismatic zoo megafauna. We review zoo-based research published in the decade since this original recommendation. We collectively evaluate zoo-themed research papers from those working in zoos and those external to zoos but studying zoo-housed animals. By systematically searching Web of Science © for zoo-based research and performing inductive content analysis to code year, journal, study animal's taxonomic classification, and research aims and outputs we evaluate trends in zoo-themed research, contrasted with trends in species holding. Significantly more birds and fish are kept compared to mammals, reptiles and amphibians, but mammals are consistently the primary research focus. Whilst output generally rises, only for birds is a steady increase in publications apparent. Husbandry evaluation is a major aim/output, but papers on pure biology, cognition and health also feature. Most publications lead to "specific advancement of knowledge" including validation of methodologies. We show that: (1) trends in species holdings are unrelated to trends in publication; (2) zoo-themed research makes meaningful contributions to science; (3) zoo researchers should diversify their aim/output categories and chosen study species to close the persisting research gaps that we have identified. Finally, we discuss our findings in the context of evident species biases within research outputs across the broader fields of zoology, conservation and ecology.
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Today, public debate over genetic futures takes place within a new societal context. There is a greater emphasis from policymakers on promoting engagement between sciences and public, and mass media play a key role in this shifting relationship. Media representations of genetic futures are often subject to both positive and negative hypes. This tendency towards ‘genohype’ results from the economic imperative of journalistic and entertainment media production. Moreover, symbolic representations from science fiction continue to influence mainstream news coverage of genetics, present and future and can be effectively used to communicate complex scientific findings. However, social media are altering how audiences engage with discussions concerning genetics. The ways in which media representations of genetic futures influence audiences are only partially known; however, it is clear that there is a complex negotiation between existing attitudes, knowledge and values and the messages communicated about genetic futures by both factual and fictional media.
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Castro and Batel's (2008) study points to some important strategies of resistance to social change in the transformation of transcendent to immanent representations. We contextualize this study within a broader cyclical model of social change, in which their focus is one of the four phases in the cycle. The expanded model is exemplified in the shifting representations of science communication in the UK from the `deficit model' of public understanding of science to the dialogic representation of `public engagement'. Within each of the four proposed phases, the dialectic of adoption/rejection is central, although it is modulated by strategies of resistance and the selective distribution of resources.
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Psychology is focused on variation between cases (interindividual variation). Results thus obtained are considered to be generalizable to the understanding and explanation of variation within single cases (intraindividual variation). It is indicated, however, that the direct consequences of the classical ergodic theorems for psychology and psychometrics invalidate this conjectured generalizability: only under very strict conditions-which are hardly obtained in real psychological processes-can a generalization be made from a structure of interindividual variation to the analogous structure of intraindividual variation. Illustrations of the lack of this generalizability are given in the contexts of psychometrics, developmental psychology, and personality theory.
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This chapter describes how focus group interviews were used to investigate scientists expressions of commitment to first (deficit), second (dialogic) and third (contextual) orders of public engagement. The findings suggest that ambitious third order agendas for public engagement were only rarely articulated by these scientists, who were generally keen to contribute in ways they understood best, and to audiences that they particularly valued.
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Abstract  Zoos aspire to be leaders in environmental conservation through their work in environmental education. This study examined whether a spokesperson's job title impacts credibility when conservation messages are delivered to the public. Visitors to a zoo were presented with seven environmental messages. They then selected—from a list of zoo-related job titles—the one they deemed most credible and the one considered least credible. Statistical analysis established that three “credible” job titles were selected significantly more often, while three were generally selected as “least credible.” The authors demonstrate that some job titles have greater credibility than others among visitors, and recommend that more attention be given to this variable if attitude and behavior change are desired outcomes. They caution that while source credibility may vary based on job title, the influence it has on persuasiveness is yet to be determined.
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Abstract  This study asked why parents value zoo experiences for themselves and their children. It proposes a new theory regarding the psychological value of such experiences for the development of identity. The study used a constructivist grounded theory approach to explore parenting perspectives on the value of zoo visits undertaken by eight families from three adjacent inner-city neighborhoods in a major American city. The results suggest that parents use zoo visits as tools for promoting family values. These parents felt that experiences with live animals were necessary to encourage holistic empathy, to extend children's sense of justice to include natural systems, and to model the importance of family relationships. The author concludes that parents find zoos useful as a tool for helping their children to develop skills with altruism, to transfer environmental values, to elevate children's self-esteem, and to inculcate social norms that they believe will aid in their children's social success in the future.
Why look at animals? London: Penguin
  • J Berger
Berger, J. (2009). Why look at animals? London: Penguin.
ISOTOPE: Informing Science Outreach and Public Engagement. Final Report of the NESTA­funded project
  • R Holliman
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  • E Jensen
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Holliman, R., Colllins, T., Jensen, E., & Taylor, P. (2009). ISOTOPE: Informing Science Outreach and Public Engagement. Final Report of the NESTA­funded project. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
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Jensen,E.(2009b).Review:HumancloningintheMedia.PublicUnderstandingof Science,18,373-374.