Children’s conversations reveal in-depth learning at the zoo

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Collins, Courtney
McKeown, Sean
McSweeney, Lynda
Flannery, Kevin
Kennedy, Declan
O'Riordan, Ruth M.
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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.
Conversational content analysis , Informal science , School groups , Zoo setting , Zoological education
Collins, C., McKeown, S., McSweeney, L., Flannery, K., Kennedy, D. and O’Riordan, R. (2021) 'Children’s Conversations Reveal In-Depth Learning at the Zoo', Anthrozoös, 34(1), pp. 17-32. doi: 10.1080/08927936.2021.1878679