Paper Session 5: Extending Reality – Technology as a Bridge II

Tuesday, April 4th: 1:30pm - 3:00pm

From sea to screen: Bringing the ocean inland with online learning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium


While museums have been providing distance learning opportunities for over thirty years, the demand for online education programs skyrocketed in the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic. Environmental organizations faced the added challenge of moving outdoor education to digital platforms. The Monterey Bay Aquarium responded by rapidly developing English and Spanish self-paced online courses for PK-12 students and their caregivers. Designed to help learners build empathy for animals, connect to local outdoor spaces, and take conservation action, these free online courses have since attracted more than 55,000 enrollments from more than 95 countries.

In 2022, the Aquarium partnered with Audience Focus for an in-depth study of the online courses, uncovering the motivations and satisfaction of the courses’ main audiences. It also measured how well the courses met the intended learning outcomes, and how they impacted user affinity for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Audience Focus devised various methods to measure the Aquarium’s success in developing students’ empathy for wildlife and environmental identity with the courses. Using innovative embedded assessments, the evaluation showed that courses specifically designed around less-loved animals (such as sharks) led to large jumps in animal empathy. It also showed that students’ confidence in their ability to take environmental action increased, especially in courses for older students.

We will also address:
– The surprising finding that 40% of online learners described their communities as rural or small towns;
– Our approach to rapidly designing and releasing courses in creative sprints based in an Agile Scrum framework;
– Our innovative use of embedded assessments to gather data from children;
– Strategies for measuring empathy and environmental identity with children;
– The expanding opportunity for digital engagement with early learners (preK-2), in particular.


Ambruster, Kindseth, and Taylor. (2017) “Crow 360: Including Rural Schools in the Museum Experience.” International Journal of the Inclusive Museum.
Chawla, L. (1999). Life paths into effective environmental action. Journal of Environmental Education, 31, 15–26.
Cieko, Pryor, Torres, and Stirn (2020). “Supporting Schools and Educators as a Cultural Organization,” Cuseum.
Ennes, Megan, and Imani N. Lee. “Distance Learning in Museums: A Review of the Literature.” The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 22, no. 3 (2021): 162–87.
Khalil, K., Cote, E., Weber, M., & O’Morchoe, C. (2020). Embedded Evaluation Tools Effectively Measure Empathy for Animals in Children in Informal Learning Settings. Ecopsychology, 309-319.
Khalil, Kathayoon, & Ardoin, N. (2011). Programmatic evaluation in association of zoos and aquariums–accredited zoos and aquariums: A literature review. Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 10, 168–177.
Owen, K., & Khalil, K. (2015). Best practices in developing empathy toward wildlife.
Milligan, Darren, Wadman, and Ausman (2017). “Discovering, Creating, And Sharing Digital Museum Resources: A Methodology For Understanding The Needs And Behaviors Of Student Users.” Museums and the Web 2017.
(n.d.). Museum Facts & Data. American Alliance of Museums. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
Sliger, M. (2011). Agile project management with Scrum. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2011—North America, Dallas, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Stapleton, S.R. (2015). Environmental Identity Development Through Social Interactions, Action, and Recognition, The Journal of Environmental Education, 46:2, 94-113, DOI: 10.1080/00958964.2014.1000813

keywords: distance learning, empathy, aquarium, online learning, rural, environmental identity
Proposal Url:
Proposal ID: 11044

Building User Experience (UX) Capacity to Support Digital Transformation in Museums


To take full advantage of the potential offered by the digital space, museums and cultural institutions must be able to consistently apply User Experience (UX) methods to create enjoyable and understandable digital interfaces. Unfortunately, many of these organizations lack internal UX expertise, which means they need to partner with costly outside vendors to provide digital expertise, rely on internal staff and struggle through a process of trial and error, or do nothing and fall further behind in their digital offering. The COVID-19 crisis has intensified the digital transformation of museums. Although many museums are welcoming people back into their galleries, visitors’ demand for enjoyable digital experiences will persist. Absent a focused effort to build and sustain their internal capacity to apply effective UX practices, museums risk alienating their visitors with poorly designed interfaces that reduce engagement and decrease traffic in both virtual and physical spaces.

Our solution to this problem is to engage in User Experience Capacity-Building (UXCB), a process through which organizations can gradually create a more UX-friendly culture and build a sustainable and effective internal UX practice. UXCB is designed as a highly contextual process; it focuses on identifying and building on each organization’s existing strengths to then address its specific challenges. Conceptually, UXCB includes three stages. The first phase includes securing buy-in and support from relevant project stakeholders, performing a needs assessment to identify the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and setting achievable and realistic goals. The insights from this stage are then used to inform the second phase, which is about implementing UXCB strategies. This step includes figuring out what UXCB activities will be used, what content they will focus on, what resources will be needed, and when and how they will be implemented. Finally, the third phase is evaluating the outcom

keywords: UX,UXCB,digital transformation,User Experience,User Experience Capacity-Building
Proposal ID: 11081