Georgia Aquarium: Educational Media, No Guns

spider crab
Originally uploaded by linoleum jet.

I was smart enough to avoid much of Boston’s recent deluge by escaping to Atlanta. I was also smart enough to make sure that we all reserved tickets for the new Georgia Aquarium. The Aquarium’s visitor tips might start to give you sense of the local context:

  • No guns, knives, lighters, matches or fishing poles are permitted inside Georgia Aquarium
  • Please come prepared to spend some time outdoors. There is a 4 minute walk from our parking deck to the front door

I can’t imagine any organization in Massachusetts warning against bringing guns inside, or cautioning visitors that they should come prepared to spend four minutes outside. I also thought that the inclusion of “no fishing poles” on the sign outside was a joke. Um, I guess not.

Anyway, the Aquarium was totally worth walking for four unarmed minutes *outside*, as the exhibits were gorgeous. I also thought that the use of educational media was interesting, and had a long conversation with my sisters after the visit to compare what we thought of the different approaches.

electric eels
Originally uploaded by bella6281.

Layering subject and commentary: The electric eels tank sat in front of a screen showing a video about electric eels. So, you can simutaneously watch the real eels and their filmed counterparts. It was difficult to take in the two types of information at once. Also, I think that electric eels are interesting enough that they don’t need to be jazzed up to attract kids’ attention.

Parallel commentary: The beluga whales are undoubtedly the stars of the Aquarium. They also have very interesting backstories. A screen showing a slideshow about the whales was positioned to the side of the tank. One of my sisters noted that because a slideshow format was used, with one sentence and image at a time, the viewer is not constantly distracted by movement. They can focus on the whales and look over to the screen from time to time. We thought this was a more effective approach than that of the eel tank.

watching the coral reef
Originally uploaded by linoleum jet.

Interactive kiosks: The coral reef exhibit had an enormous tank with lots of very small fish. Viewers had to stand pretty close to get a good view, unlike in the beluga whale exhibit. Near the back of the reef room, where viewers had to squint and kind of look up to see the fish, several kiosks were positioned. No one was looking at them. They would not have been able to see the reef at the same time as looking at the kiosk. It also looked somewhat complicated. Users would have to work with a trackball and navigate through a foreign user interface. Not a lot of interest there.

video screen: fish
Originally uploaded by linoleum jet.

Interactive wall: I felt that the “interactive wall” was the most effective use of interactive media. This was a huge screen that stretched the length of an otherwise empty hallway. Lifesize fish (and the occasional shark!) swam past; they were the same species as a tank that we had just passed, with the same movements and sizes as the real fish. As the “fish” swam past, you could touch it and a bubble would be displayed with a bit of information about it. As the fish passed each panel a different blurb would be displayed. Everyone in the hallway was engaged in this collaborative game of reaching for and touching the fish; the kiosks were solitary and complicated, while the wall experience was easy, beautiful, and social.

Yet, although the Aquarium was educational, I’m not sure that anyone learned much about the context of how these animals live in the wild. As one of my sisters pointed out, there were no maps. (The otter exhibit did have some Tibetan prayer flags hanging in front of the tank to let us know that these are Asian otters. I thought that was a little weak.) I saw no mention of global warming, coral reef destruction, pollution, etc. I wonder if politics were at play here? (The founder of HomeDepot donated the money for the Aquarium…)

~ by linoleumjet on May 25, 2006.

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