David Anderson


Research Interests

Cultural Institutions (Museums, Libraries, etc.)
Informal Learning
Long-term Memory
Museum Education
Science Education
Visitor Studies

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology



Doctoral students
Postdoctoral Fellows

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Evolution in Engineering Dispositions and Thinking among Culturally Diverse Students in an Undergraduate Engineering Programme (2015)

This study investigated the evolution in engineering dispositions and thinking among culturally diverse students through their enculturating experiences in team-based engineering design courses in second year electrical and computer engineering. Ethnographic methods (participant observation, semi-structured interviews) were employed to collect data in classrooms, labs, and project rooms over a seven-month period. Five culturally diverse students’ trajectories illustrate the processes and products of the evolution of students’ engineering dispositions and thinking. Five key conditions for students in navigating a shift from traditional to team-based project modes of study were identified: i) being willing to buy into working as part of a team, ii) being willing and able to claim a viable role as an engineer, iii) grappling with competing identities in becoming an engineer, iv) navigating different perspectives on engineering projects, and v) being able to self and co-regulate while under a complex, heavy workload. Cultural, language, and personal factors mediated culturally diverse students’ capacities to satisfy these five conditions. The study offers the following implications for fostering the engineering dispositions and thinking of culturally diverse students: i) explicit and meaningful orientation of students towards team-based project modes of study; ii) fostering of metacognitive awareness and capacity with respect to teamwork processes; iii) harnessing cultural diversity for promoting intercultural skills; iv) focus on English language competencies for functioning in formal, informal, and non-formal academic contexts; v) formative and summative assessment to support this mode of study; vi) self-regulation and socially shared regulation skills for sustaining the success of individuals and teams. The study offers the following implications for employing the theoretical framework in future research: i) greater clarity on the evidence required to identify stages of change; ii) greater clarity on establishing the existence and nature of inner contradictions that drive change; iii) exploration of methodological opportunities and limitations on capturing change in students. This study offers an exemplar for researching evolution and change in students in complex educational contexts.

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Understanding Science Museum Educators in China and their Self-Concept as Education Professionals (2015)

Museum educators are critical human connectors who have a crucial influence in fulfilling the educational mission and social responsibility of museums. However, studies focusing on museum educators have mostly been conducted in museums based in Western cultural contexts. The voice of museum educators from non-Western museums are often ignored, marginalized, or underrepresented. Moreover, empirical studies of Chinese science museum educators are nearly non-existent. Informed by a Communities of Practice (CoP) perspective and Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), this interpretive case study investigated 23 Chinese science museum educators’ self-concept as museum education professionals and their perceived needs for future professional development. The research focused on museum educators’ perceptions of their self-concept as museum education professionals, and how these perceptions were influenced by the local social and cultural context in which they work. This study used semi-structured face-to-face interviews as the primary method of data collection. These were complemented by informal conversations between participants and the researcher, as well as the researcher’s self-reflective journaling. The study's findings indicate that Chinese science museum educators’ self-concept as museum education professionals is multifaceted and contextual. Their self-concept includes their perspectives on work motivations, job responsibility, work competency, current professional development pathways, and desires for future professional development. Moreover, museum educators’ self-concept varies across different contexts. The sociocultural factors within the Chinese museum context that shape their self-concept as professionals include: a) a highly hierarchical organizational culture, b) an authority-centered political structure, c) a highly competitive education reality, d) a hybridized educational philosophy that blends constructive teaching and the traditional teacher-centered didactic teaching pedagogies, and e) the contradictions emergent in the process of building a professional community and connecting with different stakeholders relevant to museum education work. The research findings elucidate Chinese science museum educators’ self-concept regarding who they are as professionals and their place within the larger museum professional community. The revelation of contradictions within Chinese science museum educators’ perception of themselves as professionals will help shape future research, develop pathways to professionalization of museum education work, and build a professional museum educator community in China

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Visitors' Conceptions and Self-Report of Learning in Museums (2015)

This dissertation questions and examines conceptions of learning underlying museum visitors’ responses to a self-report of learning questionnaire. The central problem addressed by this study is a lack of significant engagement in the museum visitor studies literature with the methodological implications of self-report methods; in particular their sensitivity to contextual factors and the ways in which instruments can themselves shape respondents’ accounting practices. The methods of investigation were grounded in phenomenographic research, an interpretivist approach oriented towards the description of how phenomena are conceptualized (Marton & Booth, 1997) and expressed (Anderberg, 2000; Säljö, 1997). Participants were invited to visit one of two museums, followed immediately by a self-report questionnaire. Once completed, a semi-directed interview was initiated to explore with respondents, as best possible, situated conceptions of learning used in the process of responding to the questionnaire. Through a hermeneutic process of transcription, analysis, and iterative categorizations 24 conceptions of learning were identified and organized into six main categories : learning as consuming facts and information, learning as cognitive acts, learning as embodied experiences, learning as behaviours and actions, learning as serendipitous, and learning as knowing about self and others. Discursive analyses of the transcripts also identified accounting practices and visitor self-concepts turning on low visitor responsibility for learning and the granting of considerable agency to the built environment. As a whole, the results affirm the need to include interpretivist and critical perspectives on the use of self-report methods within visitor studies and point to specific areas where more investigation is needed.

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Connecting Children to the Ocean: Understanding Elementary Students' Changes in Ocean Literacy During a Marine Aquarium Summer Camp Experience (2014)

Relatively little research has been carried out on how to increase ocean literacy among students from diverse sociocultural backgrounds in both formal and informal educational contexts. To contribute to the pressing need for research in this important area, this study employed a mixed methods approach and examined changes in elementary students’ (Grades 3 to 5) ocean literacy during a five-day summer camp (AquaCamps) experience provided by the Vancouver Aquarium. A specially developed survey questionnaire, interview protocol, in-camp observations, and document analysis methods were used to collect data on the characteristics of changes in students’ ocean literacy as well as the influences of AquaCamps and other life experiences on the changes in their marine science knowledge and orientations (naturalistic, aesthetic, recreational, utilitarian, and negativistic).Quantitative analysis of the survey data revealed appreciable changes in students’ marine science knowledge and in their orientations. In particular, students’ marine science knowledge and naturalistic, aesthetic, and recreational orientations increased while utilitarian and negativistic orientations decreased after participating in AquaCamps. Qualitative data analysis elucidated AquaCamps program components that influenced these changes. The analysis also revealed additional sources including family members and multimedia, which affected changes in students’ ocean literacy. A noteworthy finding of this study is students’ limited understanding of their connections to the ocean and marine organisms as a whole. This study highlights the need for marine education to focus on building individual student’s ocean literacy by (1) helping individual students to explicitly understand how they are connected to ocean/marine organisms and (2) providing individual students with opportunities to build emotional connections to ocean/marine organisms through direct encounters. This study’s findings have implications for theory and practice in the field of marine education and provide a basis for offering suggestions on ways marine aquarium education might foster students’ ocean literacy.

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Museum educators teaching others to teach (2011)

Currently there is minimal understanding of museum educators’ practices of teaching others to teach. Museum professionals have identified this as an area that warrants investigation if museums are to further their educational potential. This research examines museum educators’ perspectives of their practices as museum-based teacher educators to gain insights into their beliefs regarding practice, generate new understandings about teaching others to teach in museums, and provide direction for professional development. This qualitative study is framed by concepts embodied in collaborative self-study methodology and community of practice and addresses the following questions: 1) What beliefs are evident in the way museum educators discuss their practice as museum-based teacher educators? 2) How do museum educators understand and reconcile the tensions that emerge from their beliefs about practice? 3) How does the opportunity to engage in conversations with colleagues about their practice, framed within collaborative self-study, contribute to museum educators’ practice?Participants’ discussions of their practice as museum-based teacher educators focus on two distinct groups of teachers, new and experienced interpreters and docents. Their practice includes five areas: interpreter selection, initial training, creating space for reflection and peer feedback, shadowing and mentoring, and professional development. They described the purposes of their work as preparing interpreters and docents for program delivery and helping them develop judgement about their teaching. Participants’ beliefs about practice are examined through beliefs about teaching as a craft, teaching as an art and experience as a good teacher.Conflicts between participants’ beliefs and their perceptions of their organisation beliefs are evident in their discussions of tensions in their practice. Analysis suggests that many of the tensions relate to the purpose of visitor experience, the nature of teaching, and the structure of the interpreter position, and in most cases remain unresolved. Participants found the opportunity to engage in conversation with colleagues a valuable form of professional development that contributed to their practice as museum-based teacher educators by presenting alternative perspectives of practice, ensuring time and a degree of accountability to reflect on practice, and positively affected their identity as a museum educator by engaging with others who share similar challenges.

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Exploring Family Learning in a Mexican Science Museum from a Latin American Socio-Cultural Perspective (2010)

The crucial influence of socio-cultural elements on people’s ways of making sense of thesurrounding world has been widely recognised. Any learning process is contextualized by thelearner’s social and cultural backgrounds. However, socio-cultural issues are mostly absent inthe literature pertaining to visitor studies and museum learning, which has been traditionallydominated by Anglo views emerged from research conducted in Anglo institutions.Additionally, the family environment has been acknowledged as a key aspect of anyindividual’s development and learning.Framed by constructivist and socio-cultural theoretical perspectives on learning, thiscase study research explores the role that people’s socio-cultural traits play in shaping theirlearning experiences at a science museum, when visiting as part of a family group. Conductedin Universum, Museo de las Ciencias, a science museum located in Mexico City, this studyinvestigates the ways in which the members of 20 Mexican family groups learn and supporteach other’s learning in the context of a museum visit. The research design involves semistructuredinterviews as well as on-site unobtrusive observations as the principal methods ofinquiry.An interpretive analysis of the data suggests that even when the current Angloperspectives on family learning in informal settings describe in general terms the ways in whichfamilies with Mexican socio-cultural backgrounds experience a museum visit, there existimportant particularities that require researchers’ and museum educators’ awareness. First andforemost, the notion of “family” requires a definition that is socio-culturally grounded, sincethis study’s data shows that in the Mexican context, family implies a complex net ofinterconnected relationships and people. The dynamics in which family members engage, aswell as their affective interactions are identified as crucial elements in modeling children’s andadults’ learning outcomes.Also, the study points out the multiplicity of learning events that, often beyond thecontent matter presented in exhibits, family groups experience as a result of a museum visit. Inparticular, issues that relate to children education and rearing are discussed.Implications and recommendations for research and practice are discussed, includingmethodological suggestions for conducting research in culturally diverse environments.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

An Investigation of Sustainability-Oriented Courses: Student Views and Experiences (2012)

With an increased awareness of climate change and environmental concerns, and a worldwide call for the integration of sustainability into the curriculum, universities are looked upon as agents of change to incorporate and integrate sustainability into their operations, research, teaching and learning. To address this call for leadership, institutions of higher education are incorporating a focus on sustainability into their mission statements, policies, practices and courses. In 1997, the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, was the first Canadian university to adopt a sustainable development policy, and today, UBC continues the pursuit of sustainability education leadership by preparing its students to be global citizens.This study investigated students’ learning experiences in UBC courses that teach about sustainability, as well as students’ perceptions and views towards what is valued for their understanding of sustainability concepts and pedagogies. The study examined students’ understanding and awareness of sustainability and their views on their own learning through an in-depth qualitative analysis approach that involved focus groups, one-on-one interviews, classroom observations, and document analysis. Findings indicate two factors play a role in students’ understanding and integration of knowledge of sustainability concepts and their motivation to engage in sustainability-related activities: 1) multi-disciplinary environments and peer interactions that involved project-based group work and 2) philosophical and holistic discussions of sustainability-related issues. Data analysis also indicated that while participating in sustainability-oriented courses increased students’ interest in sustainability, students felt restricted in their exploration of the issues due to the strict degree and program requirements imposed by the university departments. Findings from this study inform future course design and the development of a comprehensive and cohesive sustainability curricula at UBC and other institutions of higher education.

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Experiential environmental education: looking at the socio-cultural variables that affect attitudes and behaviours following a marine conservation program (2011)

This study explores the impacts of an experiential, environmental school program (Intertidal Marine Biology) at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre that is linked to the British Columbia Grade 11 Biology Curriculum. Little is known about the socio-cultural characteristics of participants that may influence their behaviours about, and attitudes towards, marine environmental issues after participation. This is reflected across the field of informal environmental education, and while this study is focussed on a unique program, the results offer insight into the field of experiential, informal, and environmental education in general.This research is based on a two-stage, mixed methods approach. The first stage comprised of an assessment of students’ environmental attitudes and behaviours using a specially developed questionnaire instrument that was administered to 129 students from three different schools. The second stage involved face-to-face student interviews with a sub-sample of stage 1 students. The variables that were examined included year of participation, school, gender, ethnicity, birthplace, parent’s birthplace, hobbies, museum visitation, Ocean Wise use, most enjoyable component, and least enjoyable component of the program. These were broadly conceived to be socio-cultural variables that may have an impact on a student’s attitudes and behaviours following engagement in the program. The results of this study were based on these independent socio-cultural variables, which were tested against the dependent measures of attitude and behaviour. Many of the socio-cultural variables were demonstrated to be statistically significant in influencing students’ perceptions of their own attitudes and behaviours after the program. Students consistently showed an increase in their positive environmental attitudes and behaviours after participation in the program. When measured against the socio-cultural variables, student attitudes and behaviours were influenced by factors including school, gender, birthplace, parent’s birthplace, parent’s birth country, favourite hobbies, and museum visitation. However, ethnicity and year of participation proved not to be significant in this study.The results of this study indicate that socio-cultural variables play an integral role in the attitudes and behaviours of students. This knowledge is an important factor for informal educators to consider when designing experiential, environmental programs.

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The extended practicum beyond the classroom option : impacts of a pre-service practicum in a museum setting (2010)

A key challenge facing reformist teacher educators and researchers today is one of aligning pre-service teachers’ epistemologies and pedagogies with current theories of learning and teaching. The deficiencies in the traditional school-based practicum experience can be argued to complicate the process by reinforcing pre-service teachers’ value of naïve epistemologies and contributing to pre-service teachers’ questions about the relevance of more dominant epistemologies of learning and teaching. Based on recent research, teacher educators considered the role of non-traditional practicum structures in teacher development to be a viable complement, specifically the development of a Schönian practicum option.A qualitative study case study methodology was employed to examine the experiences, conceptions of learning and teaching, and teaching development of three small cohorts of pre-service teachers participating in practicum experiences at an aquarium, an art gallery, and a science centre. Participants developed flexible pedagogies, gained experience using constructivist pedagogical principles, insights into the affective components of pedagogical relationships, felt better prepared for the role of a Teacher-On-Call, and used reflective practice to consider the effect of their pedagogical choices on student engagement, learning and motivation.This study illustrates the potential for using museum spaces as the context of non-traditional Schönian practicum spaces that can more effectively transition pre-service teachers’ naïve epistemologies of learning and teaching to more sophisticated ones and supports the potential for effective reforms to programs of teacher education.

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