The Living Laboratory is a unique, educational on-site research program that was developed at the Museum of Science, Boston. In the Living Lab model, scientist collaborators (in disciplines including developmental psychology and related fields) recruit participants and conduct their studies at local museums. Collaborating researchers work with informal science educators to communicate the questions and methods of their work to parents and other caregivers through participation in on-going studies, one-on few conversations with scientists, and hands-on activities based on completed research projects.
In 2011 the project scaled up to 3 additional museums and university partners: Maryland Science Center with Johns Hopkins University, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry with Lewis & Clark College and the Madison Children’s Museum with the University of Wisconsin Madison. The goal of the national initiative, led by the Museum of Science Boston and Harvard University, is to assist researchers and informal science educators in collaboration efforts that foster public awareness, engagement and understanding of the scientific study of children’s learning and development. Through participation in active research studies, families can learn about current topics and methods in child development research and by hosting on-site research activities, museums can gain access to current research that can inform their daily work.
The multi year evaluation is looking first at the Mutual Professional Development between researchers and museum educators including growth in their self-efficacy as well as the On-Site Research. Subsequently the study will focus on the development of Research Toys – activities to be used in the museum context, developed from actual research studies, and the outcomes for the adult visitors.
The main research questions for this study are:
What sticks and how? Does it "stick"? Who does it "stick" for? What does it mean to "stick"?
How do factors vary by region and lead institution(s)?
Across institutions (museum/department, lab/academic department) where has this change been enacted? Across both types of institutions, or one more than the other?
The evaluation is largely informed by the theoretical framework of Coburn’s theory of Scaling Up (2003), which focuses on four main aspects of a scaled up project:
The study design is a multi layered case study. A case study design will be able to reveal a lot about the processes and outcomes at each of the sites, and the ways in which these interrelate.