fbpx Talking Learning, Accessibility, Sustainability & Visitor Focus with experimenta | Ecsite

Talking Learning, Accessibility, Sustainability & Visitor Focus with experimenta

This month we caught up with Viola Hoffmann (Science Communication & Sustainability), Franziska Lang (Programme Coordinator for STEM Education), Yvonne Bierbaum (Inclusion & Accessibility) and Nadine Herrmann (Research and Evaluation) to hear what’s new at experimenta in Heilbronn, Germany.

After such a great Conference last year it was lovely to touch base with the team again and hear all about their plans and activities.

Since 1 July 2022, experimenta has been under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Bärbel G. Renner who has worked at experimenta for 5 ½ years and prior to that had an extensive career in education. Bärbel has a clear vision for experimenta. “We need spaces that allow for questions and provide a zone of comfort and knowledge. We need people that welcome anyone and provide support and growth. The experimenta family works on fulfilling this dream every day. We continuously strive to shape such a space, a sort of fireplace, where people can ask questions and find answers – in a warm and comforting environment. We want to be your science-home for everyone now and in the future.”

The team at experimenta are working on their new strategy and throughout all their activities, two threads became clear, a new focus on inter-departmental working and a real focus on the visitor. Here’s what they had to say:

LEARNING – with Franziska

What is learning for experimenta?

experimenta’s role is as a facilitator of knowledge, providing various learning opportunities. We aim to offer different ways for students to learn without the traditional classroom experience. experimenta has laboratories aligned with educational guidelines, but we also have areas, like the exhibition, that are more open and not tied to specific educational content. In these areas, experimenta aims to not only broaden students' perspectives but also encourage them to think creatively and shape that future skill set such as social competencies.

How does an experimenta visit benefit students?

We offer a variety of learning environments to create engaging and interactive experiences. Our exhibition and laboratories are just a couple of examples that provide unique opportunities for students. What sets us apart from classical museums is our emphasis on hands-on interaction with objects to truly understand scientific phenomena. We believe that experiencing mistakes is a crucial part of the learning process, and we create a non-judgmental space where students can truly enjoy the learning journey. To us it is important that they become more than consumers of education, but rather co-construct knowledge through interactive learning experiences.

Do you have an example of that?

Yes! We have the Talent Search which is a tour throughout our main exhibition where students have the opportunity to learn about their talents and strengths. By engaging with interactive stations that target a unique area such as RIASEC (Realistic; Investigative; Artistic; Social; Enterprising; Conventional) students get an idea of the skills that they’re really good at and can investigate possible future job opportunities and hidden qualities.

How interesting. Is the Talent Search used by schools as a career guidance tool?

Yes, we have a lot of classes that come - it fits the curriculum for German schools well. The Talent Search is spot on because it is actually tackling the task of finding out what job would you like to do in the future that you might not have thought of so far. It is a result of our cooperation with the Transfer Centre for Neurosciences and Learning at the University of Ulm and it is used in collaboration with the employment agency in Heilbronn.


Tell us about experimenta’s approach to accessibility

I have been working on this for about 3 years now, looking at different areas of accessibility and learning as we go. Last year we ran a full day programme for students who are blind or with vision impairment. We focussed on the exhibition stations which could provide the best interaction and experience. This year, we developed a programme for pupils who are deaf or hearing-impaired. We evaluate these programmes, talk extensively to people so we can understand fully the needs and requirements of our audiences.

How can you make your exhibitions more accessible when they weren’t designed that way?

We are listening to feedback from visitors and are developing accessibility aids with them.

Together with two students who use a wheelchair, we developed a 3D printed tool which allows wheelchair users to interact with the exhibits in an easier and more tactile way.

Just recently, we received a tactile book designed by students who are vision-impaired. On the occasion of our special exhibition the students were tasked with visualising the sun, using various materials to depict its heat and the cooling effect as they move away from it. The book is large and features different textures and materials, providing a unique perspective on the subject.

What’s the future of accessibility for experimenta?

For us accessibility considerations are key to any new developments. But we are still learning and exchange with others is fundamental for this. Last year at the Ecsite Conference originated the idea of a German speaking community of practice about living diversity in our institutions. We started with bi-monthly meetings and hope to inspire and support each other in this group.


Experimenta has a very interactive way to communicate with and receive feedback from its audience on sustainable issues, can you tell us about ‘the Forum’?

It’s a small foyer with a meeting place and an exhibition. There are different interactive stations where people can inform themselves about current research, read different newspapers and magazines. We also have a big discussion wall where people can pin their opinion on a postcard regarding our focus topic (i.e. microplastics). On top of this we have a programme of events and formats where we meet up in the Forum, talk and connect.

And in the Forum a lot of cutting-edge topics are discussed. How are these topics chosen?

We always have changing topics which are very current. For example, we started with climate change, then we had microplastics, bio-economy and now we have sustainability. So the Forum is a platform where we really try to bring current topics to the to the public based on research from the universities.

We have events, for example, now in the context of sustainability we do clothes swap events or we meet in our science lounges and discuss about how AI influences sustainability or how scientists use AI in the context of sustainability. And we also do Changemaker evenings where we can meet and discuss different topics, new projects, initiatives.

Who is the main target group?

Young people aged 14 upwards who are enthusiastic about engaging to solve sustainability issues in their free time.

So, along with discussion groups, how else can people get involved with science and sustainability via the Forum?

A big topic is citizen science, so everyone can be a scientist on their own with their smartphone, collecting data, uploading it to the Internet and like helping scientists build a huge database. There are a lot of citizen science projects which are engaging people to protect the environment, to monitor for example, insects, birds or waste hotspots in cities.

An important Forum activity is our Sustainability Festival “Wild Spaces”, which we organise every two years. It has workshops, exhibitions, art and culture and this will take place next year for three days in July. We want to be like a big marketplace of ideas. We invite people, organisations, start-ups and cultural acts. The main part of the programme comes from the external partners who present themselves and what they are doing and we provide the platform.

And what measures has experimenta taken to become more sustainable?

We have a sustainability team and have a sustainability strategy which is published on our website. Besides that, we are working on a sustainability report in which we are collecting all the data about our energy consumption, our carbon/environmental footprint.

This is a challenge for us because, at experimenta, we have a very new and a very, very sustainable building, so our science centre is like the gold standard of construction and there is not much room for improvement. But we are also working on the sustainability of individuals, for example regarding mobility of the employees etc.


Tell us about your strategies on audience-centricity and evaluation

I would say we're on a journey on becoming more and more audience focused and data driven in our work. We are listening to and involving audiences more extensively. For this process we exchange ideas and information with other museums and science centres at Ecsite, for example.

Experimenta is a big organisation, how do you work together on an audience focused strategy?

In summary, our current project at experimenta is focused on understanding and integrating the visitor's journey, particularly with regards to school groups. We have realized that each department has its own expertise, but we need to bring everything together to grasp the complete picture. We aim to combine a visitor-centered approach to programming with evaluation to gather more insights from our target audience. Each department will delve into different aspects of the visitor journey, working closely with colleagues. Our goal is to enhance collaboration, connectivity, and prioritize the visitor's experience in the future.

Tell us about the role of evaluation in this project?

It is essential that evaluation results are effectively utilised by experts in experimenta’s different departments. The visitor journey project addresses the issue of evaluation data not yet being broadly shared and used where it is needed. We aim to distribute the data widely and have a greater impact on our offers. By designing the evaluation questions based on the specific needs of each department, we can identify practical problems and enable meaningful changes to take place.

The project will enhance the practicality and usefulness of our evaluation efforts: Always with the visitor in mind and with the focus of connecting, not only different departments, but also, connecting them to the visitor – to come to a solid and common knowledge base.