How long does it take a Neanderthal detective to crack the case?

Imagine you are staring at a spreadsheet with 99 rows of data. You have been interacting with weekend visitors at the American Museum of Natural History for several months facilitating a new interactive experience. This is the first time you see the collective work of your internship translated into numbers. Where would you begin? What question would you want to test first?

When faced with these rows upon rows of data some of the Crime Scene Neanderthal (CSN) interns, students from Millennium Brooklyn High School, focused their analysis on the number of visitors that completed the CSN:Crime Scene Neanderthal experience, age group of visitors (adult vs. child), and dwell time (how much time visitors were spending as Neanderthal detectives).

It turns out that a total of 238 visitors completed the CSN experience from April to June. A closer look at the breakdown of visitors by age showed that 108 of the visitors were children and 130 were adults. Of these 130 adults, only 17 completed the experience without children (Figure 1).


Figure 1. What age group (adults vs. children) completed the CSN experience?

The interns were interested in more than the number of people that completed the CSN experience–while facilitating the experience they also observed strikingly different kinds of interactions between Museum visitors.

In the groups comprised of children and adults the interns observed the following:

  • Adults tried to help the child learn
  • Adults continually checked in to make sure that the child was understanding what was going on.
  • Active involvement of adults provided extra support to the child.
  • In some cases, an adult feeding information to a child led to lower levels of child engagement.

In groups without any adults the interns observed:

  • Children freely asking questions.
  • Children had more opportunity to follow their own curiosity.
  • In some cases the child seemed uncomfortable being alone (without an adult they knew), which led to lower levels of engagement.

The interns also wanted to understand how visitors were engaging with the experience by taking a closer look at how many activities visitors completed, and how long it took to complete those activities. Initially CSN was designed so that a visitor would spend 20 to 30 minutes completing 3 of the 8 activities; we thought that would be enough for them to fulfill the obligations of a Neanderthal detective, close their case, and earn their 3D printed prize. However, it turns out visitors were completing an average of 4 activities, with many visitors completing as many as 8. Even more surprising, visitors were spending anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour with their teen facilitators.


Figure 2. How much time do Museum visitors spend as Neanderthal detectives?

It was not a surprise to see that dwell time increased with the number of activities completed. What did stand out was the range of time that people spent with the experience. If we just look at the time it took to complete three activities it is striking that some people spent under 20 minutes while others spent over 50.

Two CSN interns walk a visitor through "An Unknown Bone" activity in the Hall of Human Origins.

Two CSN interns walk a visitor through “An Unknown Bone” activity in the Hall of Human Origins.

Asking the interns to participate in this internal assessment and analyze the data they helped collect was an important complement to the learning and iterative design skills they had been developing before interacting with Museum visitors. In turn, their work and analysis helps the Museum to iterate the CSN prototype.

After working with the data, the interns took time to reflect on their experience. They admitted being “surprised at how many people went through the experience. In the beginning I didn’t think many people would go through it.” However, after looking at the 99 rows of data from the experience, they noted that “people are more patient than we think” — something to remember when testing a new visitor experience, as well as analyzing it.


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One Response to How long does it take a Neanderthal detective to crack the case?

  1. Preeti Gupta says:

    Extremely interesting. This work can contribute to a growing interest in understanding the field of facilitated interactions in museum settings!

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