Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy ASTC Halloween!

The international "gathering of the clans" of science center folks called the ASTC Annual Conference starts in Fort Worth this Saturday.

Which as my four children have repeatedly reminded me is Halloween.

So here is a great "trick or treat" (without the trick!) opportunity for any intrepid ExhibiTricks readers who will be in Fort Worth --- I've got several decks of Harry White's Exhibit Aphorism cards (kindly provided by Harry)  to give away.  To find out how to snag your own free deck, just keep reading ....

Here's an excerpt from a previous ExhibiTricks interview with Harry about the decks:

Tell us about your card deck of exhibit aphorisms.
In 1996, Techniquest started the UK’s first Masters course in Science Communication based in a Science Centre. It was a great success with students from all around the world, graduates were snapped up by most of the new UK science centres. I taught the Exhibits module, but after a year of PowerPointing them into submission, I felt that it just wasn’t appropriate to teach a degree about informal education, formally. Also, whenever I ran out of material for a session, just saying something deliberately controversial would start a debate that would fill the time and engage the students.

So I started collecting these quotations, jokes and provocations as aphorisms and put 52 of the best/most annoying onto a deck of cards. When the sessions flagged, I’d ask someone to pick a card, read it out and then the group would try and fathom what I was getting at. Most times a heated debate would ensue.

So you’d like some examples. There are over 200 so bear with me and I’ll pick some of the better ones. You may notice I’ve sneaked one in already in italics above.

The first is from Ken Gleason, at one time it was up on the wall in our workshop.

The Three Ways an Exhibit Must Work.
1. Attraction
If they don't use it, it can't achieve anything.

2. Function.
It must work, keep working and be safe.

3. Education.
What we're for, and why we're doing it. 1 & 2 lead here.

And from Ian Simmons
"The Survival of the Dullest"
Good exhibits are popular, get used and therefore break down.
Dull exhibits don't get used, and so don't break down.
Therefore all interactive exhibitions, without maintenance, eventually tend towards the dull.

Others are shorter and reflect bitter experience:

Sufficient ruggedisation of loose parts turns them into weapons.

For every hole or gap there is a corresponding human limb or appendage to get wedged in it.

Making easy exhibits is difficult.
Making easy exhibits difficult is easy.

Then some come in pairs:

Any component which is ideal, cheap and universally available will be discontinued by the time the exhibit that uses it is fully developed.

Any component that doesn't exist, so you have to devise it at great cost, will be in the next RS (McMaster Carr) catalogue.

Not all are about exhibits:

Nobody cares who the Director is.
(As you may imagine this was more forcefully put, the point being that however hard the administration works it’s the people on the front line that the Visitors meet and our job is to support them.)

“Give a visitor a fact and they know one thing,
Give them curiosity and they will learn endless things.”
Ian Russell

“Nobody flunked a Science Centre.”
Frank Oppenheimer

“The probability of somebody doing the absolutely inconceivable is never exactly zero.”
H. Richard Crane

“Visitors come to a Science Centre because it’s cheaper than the movies and less exhausting than the swimming pool.”
Gillian Thomas

You can know the science from a book,
You can know the engineering from experience,
But to find out what it makes people think you have to ask them.

Exhibits are about the phenomena, if the Visitor notices that the design is good, then it’s not good enough

The interactive content of an exhibit is inversely proportional to the area and expense of the graphic surrounding it

And so on, and on and on…………….

The idea of an Aphorism is to put some core truth in a memorably flippant way so that people who are “in the know” recognize it and those who don’t think about it. As an instructional tool this has a fatal flaw in that any one who “gets” it doesn’t need it and those that need it, don’t get it.

So I have started writing explanations of the Aphorisms to go with them. I use them a lot in consulting with other centres because they are memorable and anti-intuitive, a bit like good exhibits really.

A consultant is a person who borrows your watch and then charges to tell you the time.


So, if you'd like a chance to win your own Exhibit Aphorisms deck of cards, just find me on October 31st, hand me your business card, and say "Trick or Treat!"

That's it.  Supplies are limited, but I'll make sure I have a batch to give away for both the A.M. and P.M. to keep things interesting.

Hope to see you in Fort Worth!

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