Assignment 1: A Critical Review

Due: Session 5

Length: ~1250 words

For this assignment you will write a critical review of an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science.

The purpose and target audience of your review: Who are you writing for and why?

Here's the scenario:

Imagine there’s a journal devoted to the topic of communicating science—let’s even imagine that the journal has that very title, Communicating Science. The journal caters to a broad audience of scientists, science teachers, students interested in STEM fields, and science writers. The editors of this journal are planning a special issue on the topic of communicating science through museum exhibits. You have been invited, as an MIT student, to contribute to this issue by submitting a review of a Boston Museum of Science exhibit. You may choose to write about any exhibit you want.

The purpose of the review is to provide an analysis and assessment of this exhibit, showing how it succeeds or falls short in engaging and conveying scientific ideas and information to its target audience.

Format and Content of the Review

The review should be written in the form of an essay.

It should include:

  • A brief overview of the Boston Museum of Science and your views about the role of science museums
  • A more detailed description of the exhibit you’re focusing on (e.g., its topic, content, design, aims, target audience(s))
  • An analysis of the exhibit’s strengths and weaknesses
  • An assessment of the overall success of the exhibit in achieving what you see as the designers’ intent

Organizing the Review

The review should have a discernible introduction (providing context and a framework for critique); body (consisting of your description and analysis of the exhibit); and a summary/conclusion (underscoring the main idea of your review).

You may use section headings to highlight key points. The paper should be either 1.5 or double-spaced, using a standard 12 pt. font and standard margins. It should also include a descriptive title.

Evaluating an Exhibit: What Should You Consider?

Consider the exhibit in light of the ideas discussed in the Semper article, "Science Museums as Environments for Learning," as well as your own ideas about science museums.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is the topic of the exhibit and what is its basic purpose?
  • Is this an appropriate topic for a science museum?
  • Who is its target audience (or audiences)? How can you tell?
  • Are the scope and depth of the exhibit’s content appropriate for the target audience(s)?
  • What forms of media are used to present information? Are they effective? Why or why not?
  • How is the exhibit organized (e.g., historically, topically, thematically)? Does the method of organization seem logical and clear?
  • What do you notice about people visiting the exhibit and their responses to it?
  • Does the exhibit actively engage the audience? If so, in what ways? If not, why?
  • Is the exhibit aesthetically appealing?
  • Are there gaps in the coverage of the topic?
  • Is the content accurate and up to date?
  • Are aspects of the exhibit confusing?
  • Do you have ideas about how the exhibit could be improved?

Take notes! You can even take pictures!

Using and Citing Source Material

If you draw on any idea, concepts, or facts from the Semper article, be sure to cite them and include a complete bibliographic reference to the article at the end. You are not expected to do additional research or consult other sources of information for this paper.

Suggestions for the Process of Writing

Thinking and planning are important (and often underappreciated) aspects of the writing process. You’re likely to find that the actual writing will be easier if you devote plenty of time to thinking about and sketching out your ideas and key points.

Using your recollections and notes, list the key points that you want to include in your analysis. Identify a central unifying theme for your review. Then you’ll be ready to sketch out the organization of each section and to see how the sections fit together into a coherent critical review. (The structure might change as you’re drafting the piece.)

And remember that you will have the opportunity to revise the essay after receiving feedback on the first version.