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Exploring How Families Create and Use Digital Artifacts to Promote STEM Learning During and After an Aquarium Visit

Fri, April 17, 4:05 to 5:35pm, Virtual Room


The importance of parent-child interactions for children’s STEM learning while visiting community science institutions (e.g., aquariums) is well-established (Haden, 2010). In accord with sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), elaborative parent-child conversations during and after an event have particular importance for what the child learns, remembers, and recalls (Ornstein et al., 2004). Recent study, however, finds that parents who used smartphones during informal STEM learning had lower-quality interactions, talked less to the child, and used less science language (Kelly et al., 2019). This type of mobile technology is integrated into the lives of families from all backgrounds (Zimmerman et al., 2007), and digital tools have the potential to enhance informal learning (Jones et al., 2013).). Yet, few studies investigate family smartphone use in informal learning environments, notwithstanding museum apps. Therefore, this study investigated whether and how families create and use digital artifacts (i.e., photos and videos) during and after informal learning to assess their potential to enhance family STEM literacy practices.

The study included 77 children (38 girls; Mage= 5.8 years) and parents (40 mothers, 37 fathers; Mage=36.5 years) of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. A subset of 16 parent-child dyads was observed and audio recorded in the aquarium exhibit. Systematic observations recorded smartphone use and parent-child engagement. As families exited the exhibit, all parents reported via survey family demographics, smartphone use in the exhibit, and prospective use of digital artifacts. Within two weeks of the aquarium visit, parents completed an online follow-up survey, which asked how digital artifacts were used (e.g., social media, reviewed with child), how often the parent and child reminisced about the aquarium, and to record a conversation with the child about the aquarium visit. Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim.

Initial survey results revealed that, of the 37 parents who used a smartphone in the exhibit, 100% took photos and 68% recorded videos. Systematic observations revealed that, while 37.5% of the observed parents looked at the phone alone, only two parents looked at the phone with their child. Of the 17 parents who completed the follow-up survey, 13 reported that they used their phone to take photos at the aquarium. Parents’ most frequent uses of the photos after the aquarium were reviewing with their child (37.5%), reviewing alone (20.8%), texting/emailing to family or friends (20.8%), and posting on social media (16.7%). The majority of parents (92.3%) reported that their child asked to look at the photos after the aquarium. Additionally, 35.3% of parents reported frequently talking with their child about the aquarium and half (52.9%) reported sometimes talking about the aquarium with their child. Findings demonstrate that parents created digital artifacts during informal STEM learning, and most parents and children reviewed and reminisced about their aquarium experiences, which present opportunities for further informal STEM learning. It is unclear, however, the extent to which parents talked specifically about science while reviewing the artifacts. Future analysis of parent-child conversations during and after the aquarium visit will examine STEM language in the context of mobile technology use in informal learning environments.