Mississippi RiverWebSM Museum Consortium

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Geographic Modeling
Systems Laboratory

Funded by the

NCSA logo National Center for
Supercomputing Applications


(Here we very briefly sketch what the Consortium partners and independent evaluators have learned about visitor experiences and learning with the RiverWeb exhibits. Selinda Research Associates in Chicago were subcontracted by the Consortium to conduct the evaluation throughout the project. The following text has been excerpted and/or adapted from the Consortium's final report to NSF, submitted June 30, 2003.]

A front-end evaluation conducted early in the RiverWeb Consortium project indicated that most museum visitors only had moderate knowledge and interest in the Mississippi River. Cultural and/or historical stories about the river tended to pique their interests, rather than the systemic riverine processes that RiverWeb intended to explicate.

The overarching education goal of the RiverWeb project was to develop exhibit components (the Digital River Basin) to help people learn about the Mississippi River as a complex interrelated system where physical, biological, and human forces interact. A second goal was to facilitate visitor interactions with scientific models datasets used to study river systems.

Based in part on the front-end evaluation, the following exhibit learning objectives were articulated:


  • Visitors will understand that system changes may be distant in time or place from the initiating causes.

  • Visitors will understand that natural and human activity in one part of a river basinwill create changes in other parts of the system.

  • Visitors will understand scientific phenomena underlying the natural and humanevents that shape a river basin.


  • Visitors understand how computer technology can illustrate imperceptible or exceptionally complex changes that occur over years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

Formal evaluation results have indicated that, as a museum exhibit, the Digital River Basin has demonstrated evidence of being very successful, both in formal and informal evaluation settings. Exhibit evaluators have observed unprecedented levels of engagement both in terms of attention time and social interaction within and even between visitor groups. The learning objectives for the exhibit are currently being met to varying degrees. However, in the present prototype, the depth and breadth of information available are somewhat daunting to first time, casual visitors. Nevertheless, the formative evaluation data indicates that while the direction of learning is clearly on track, further refinement of visualizations and interactions would enhance the visitor experience and learning. A Phase 2 funding proposal for further development of the DRB and related informal learning products is in preparation.

{copyright}© 2003 University of Illinois Board of Trustees
Last modified: July 10, 2003