Data-Based Decision-Making

Value the use of data as the starting point for professional work.

Zoo Wayfinding Presentation

Class: EDTEC 570
Zoo Wayfinding Presentation  

In response to an Interpretation Master Plan, which found that the wayfinding system (maps and signs) at the San Diego Zoo contributed to confusion and presented challenges to the visitor in finding his/her way around the Zoo, the Zoo staff re-designed the entire wayfinding system. In EDTEC 570, I was paired with another student, Chris Ingram, and we were tasked with evaluating whether the new wayfinding system successfully helped visitors find their way around the Zoo and whether there were ways to improve the new system. We worked closely with our client, Debra Erickson, the Associate Director of Communications and Interpretation at the San Diego Zoo, to develop an evaluation instrument that would help us determine the effectiveness of the wayfinding system as well as provide us with visitors’ suggestions for improvements. We collected responses from 316 individuals at the exit of the Zoo. We then developed a final report, which included analysis of the data as well as recommendations for changes/improvements to the wayfinding system based on the literature review and the data. Using Powerpoint, we developed a presentation that provided an overview of our evaluation project. We presented it to our EDTEC 570 class and shared the archive of our presentation with our client, who then shared the results with her staff and used it to make decisions about the wayfinding system.

There are many ways to use data to make important decisions, as was the case for our evaluation project. We used the data that we collected to answer our four main evaluation questions, to make conclusions about the findings, and to make informed decisions about the recommendations for improvements to the wayfinding system.

Using the data to answer the evaluation questions or make conclusions required analysis of a group of 2-4 questions. For example, our client wanted to know whether the wayfinding system was working. Based on the responses to our evaluation instrument, we found that 294 (95%) visitors felt they found their way around either fairly well or very well and 254 (81%) visitors got lost only once, if at all, while at the Zoo. Looking at these numbers my teammate and I determined that the new wayfinding system was successful at helping visitors find their way around the Zoo.

On the other hand, making recommendations required a more in-depth look at and knowledge of all of the data. One of our key recommendations was to inform Zoo visitors about the new wayfinding tools. This recommendation was based on the fact that returning visitors (individuals who had not been to the Zoo since they changed the wayfinding system) were twice as likely as new visitors to ask for help finding something. Furthermore, frequent visitors and returning visitors had more trouble locating the brand new, highly advertised Elephant Odyssey exhibit. Unlike first time visitors who relied heavily on the wayfinding tools, these visitors were more likely to refer on previous knowledge of the Zoo instead of wayfinding tools. Looking at both the qualitative and quantitative data, my teammate and I decided that it would be useful to inform visitors about the different wayfinding tools so they would feel more comfortable using them and know which tools to look for throughout the park, thus decreasing their chances of becoming lost.

Data are particularly useful for determining whether to change a current program/system. Using the data from our evaluation instrument we were able to support our findings and make informed recommendations that would benefit the wayfinding system at the Zoo.

Problems and Opportunities:
The entire evaluation project took place over a 10-week period. This included the development of the evaluation plan, design and pilot testing of the instruments, data collection, data analysis, and recommendations in the form of a final report. This left very little time for designing and fine-tuning the evaluation instrument as well as data collection. The limited time frame resulted in less time for pilot testing and refining the survey, as well as a smaller sample size. The evaluation could have benefited from individual interviews and observations, however, my teammate and I had to be realistic about the feasibility of the project and make the most out of the time we were given to complete the evaluation.

Personal Development:
Evaluating a large-scale system as my first ever evaluation project was quite a feat to accomplish. I spent extra time reading the class literature as well as additional articles about evaluation to make sure that I was well versed when working with my teammate and client. I developed and improved upon many skills while working on this project. These skills were communication, responsibility, delegating tasks, taking initiative, and doing the best possible job in a limited time frame (which resulted in a more focused evaluation). This project truly challenged me and showed me what I am capable of doing and I am very appreciative for that.
This project also helped me develop an important new skill set: evaluating programs/processes. I work at UC San Diego as the Student Wellness Program Coordinator. With the budget crisis, there has been a huge emphasis at my University to develop learning outcomes for each program and then evaluate them. I have already used the knowledge that I have learned from this project to teach my colleagues about evaluating their programs. I have also had to opportunity to evaluate a few programs of my own and the data has been very useful for making decisions about improving/changing programs to be more beneficial for the students.

Field of Educational Technology:
Evaluation is a critical tool for educational technology. Whether you are doing formative evaluation to determine if a prototype is working well or summative evaluation to determine the cost-effectiveness of a program, you can use evaluation results and data to make important decisions. This project has increased my confidence in evaluation techniques and I plan to use evaluation more often in the process of designing educational tools or programs.