Our MissionAs an interdisciplinary team of social scientists, COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation (CRE) generates and shares knowledge about informal and nonformal learning experiences for communities throughout the nation and beyond..., as well as for the good of our professional communities.
- We work closely with clients, partners, and stakeholders to formulate and answer research and evaluation questions in ways that usefully advance equitable learning opportunities.
- We creatively employ, refine, and implement established research and evaluation methods while seeking to develop new ones to best answer the questions posed.
- We contribute to both academic and practical knowledge-sharing in a variety of fields, offering resources and pathways for social scientists and other professionals to study these experiences systematically.
We believe that at their best, informal and nonformal learning opportunities empower people to experience the world in a supportive and accessible way. We value critical thinking and creative problem-solving as tools for building a more sustainable and just world, and we believe that informal and nonformal learning experiences for all can begin to build these capacities at a societal scale.
As professionals, we affirm that drawing on and improving our highest quality understandings of audience experiences, learning processes, and community priorities are essential to this work. Read More
What We Do
We are researchers and evaluators. We gather data to understand things like how people learn and what makes learning better, more engaging, or more meaningful. As social scientists we study people which sometimes means studying institutions, exhibits, programs, and documents. What unifies our work is the focus on learning in non-school settings or at the intersection of school and informal/nonformal learning.
Knowledge sharing is an important function in the process of science. CRE team members actively seek opportunities to share what we learn through publishing, presenting, and advising. We also bring our collective experience and knowledge gained over time to our evaluation work and share what we know to help make programs and experiences better.
Consultation and Facilitation Services
Do you need someone to evaluate a program or research project? Do you have a cool idea for an initiative or research project but need a partner who can help get it funded? Are you in need of a critical friend to help your institution develop initiatives, build capacity, or plan for the future? These are some of many things we would love to help you with!
COSI as a Research Institute
Many know COSI as a place to visit with friends or family for a day of fun science learning. Fewer know COSI as a research institute, with a multi-faceted approach to performing and enabling quality research at, by, and for COSI. As a science center, CRE works closely with COSI’s Director of Science Content to expand the ways COSI contributes to scientific knowledge generation and sharing.
The COSI Learning Institute
Housed in CRE, The COSI Learning Institute works with corporations, organizations, and schools to help trainers and educators “shake-up” their teaching to improve learning outcomes. We help educators and communicators discover theoretically grounded ways to make learning more engaging, more fun, and more likely to stick.
Meet the Team
Dolly has a strong track record in the study of informal learning and over a decade of experience as an applied social scientist and museum professional. In her project work, Dolly frequently collaborates with teams to incorporate meaningful, end-to-end planning and evaluation processes that meet the demands of real-life practice. In particular, she specializes in developing context-sensitive methods that incorporate play and experience design into the process of data collection, and she loves helping teams “make it work” when it comes to systematically gathering information in tricky settings. Her current research interests include cultural alignment in museum experiences, constructed challenge in interactivity, and the role of cultural and social capital in informal learning.
View Dolly's CV
Joe E. Heimlich
Sr. Director of Research
Joe loves learning and even more, loves studying how people learn in nonformal, informal, incidental, and everyday settings. Joe is known for his work in learning theory, research, and evaluation and has worked in the field of informal environmental learning for four decades. His focus is on exploring how and what people learn in and about the environment, as well as the efficacy of programs at achieving outcomes. As Senior Director of Research for COSI, Joe leads the institution in moving theory to practice. In the Center for Research and Evaluation, Joe is a senior researcher and leads multiple projects across the country. He is an Academy Professor Emeritus with The Ohio State University where he served as Leader, Environmental Science for Extension, and taught in the School of Environment and Natural Resources, the Environmental Science Graduate Program, and the College of Education and Human Ecology. Joe also serves as a facilitator for organizations in building and shaping their education and outreach efforts.
View Joes CV
Justin Reeves Meyer
Justin is a researcher, designer, and musician, and has over 10 years of experience working with arts/cultural institutions. Focusing on the interactions between nonprofit institutions, communities, and urban space, Justin’s research uses econometrics and geographic, spatial analysis methods to help inform program and policy decisions. His research has been published in top tier urban policy and urban planning journals, and featured in museum studies and neighborhood planning books. In addition to his work as a researcher, Justin also has experience as a graphic and urban designer, having worked for environmental and architectural design firms, as well as interned with the City of New York’s Urban Design Division. As a professional classical singer, Justin has performed with several Grammy and Gramophone winning ensembles and recorded seven critically acclaimed discs on the Hyperion label.
In addition to his work at CRE, Justin teaches graphic communication for planners at the Knowlton School of Architecture, at The Ohio State University, and holds design degrees in Environmental Design from the University of Cambridge (MPhil) and Product Design (BSE) from Stanford University. He received his PhD and MUP in Urban Plan-ning from the University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Plan-ning.
View Justin's CV
Manager, CRE Operations
Jessica Takacs is the CRE Operations Manager. With a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration, Ms. Takacs manages the business systems and operations of the Center for Research and Evaluation and COSI’s Sponsored Projects Office. Through her work at COSI, Jessica has 20 years of experience in informal education, with the majority of that time focused on videoconference education. Jessica also assists the research team on research projects.
Gary conducts research and evaluation for COSI’s Center for Research and Evaluation. He received a Doctorate degree in Education Research and Evaluation from The Ohio State University in 1999. He has 20 years of experience conducting research and program evaluation by designing and implementing questionnaires; conducting front-end, formative, and summative evaluations; and assisting clients to establish program theories of change, logic models, and evaluation strategies. These project have included areas of non-profit social service providers, state government, and formal and informal education and learning environments.
Most recent research and evaluation projects include public perceptions and experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, engineering spatial thinking and skill-building for blind learners, learning pathways by visitors to zoos and aquariums, and STEM ecosystems in rural environments. Past evaluation projects included two National Geographic films, a youth STEM career development program with the Pacific Science Center, an interactive space exploration virtual experience for Great Lakes Science Center, and a design-based learning out-of-school-time program for the New York Hall of Science.
Gary has also collaborated with numerous organizations on National Science Foundation (NSF) grant proposals, and has presented at national organization meetings for the American Evaluation Association (AEA) and the Giant Screen Cinema Association.
View Gary's CV
Deborah Wasserman loves new ways of seeing and understanding. To this pursuit, she brings extensive experience in human-service, visitor studies, and youth development program evaluation, not-for-profit management, organizational development, and program delivery in the performing arts, journalism, and health care. To each of her projects she applies a long-standing commitment to centering typically marginalized voices in the program evaluation process. With NSF funding (# 1810778, #1906396, #2039209), her research focuses on self-determination theory-based program evaluations. From a methodological background that ranges from journey mapping of success stories to structural equation modeling, she delights in working with clients to discover the most meaningful, relevant, and useful approaches to developing, monitoring, and evaluating program services and outcomes. Deborah received a Ph.D. in Family Science from The Ohio State University, where she has also taught child and adolescent development.
View Deborah's CV
Laura brings a strong background in evaluation, audience research, and informal learning. She holds a B.A. in History from the University of Illinois Springfield and an M.A. in Museum Studies from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Prior to joining the Center for Research and Evaluation, Laura conducted research and evaluation at a variety of institution types – two zoos, a children’s museum, and an art museum. She has experience in every stage of the evaluation process from front-end interviews to interactive prototyping to summative evaluation for programs and exhibits. She enjoys thinking of creative ways to collect data and share findings.
View Laura's CV
More about What We Do
Knowledge generation is done in-house at COSI, in the local community, and much more broadly through work done in collaboration with informal learning institutions around the world. Through evaluation and research, CRE continually seeks to better understand human learning as it happens in non-school settings across the lifespan.
CRE leads all in-house studies with much of the work occurring in the public areas of COSI. We find that COSI guests appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of their experiences and are usually happy to engage with our hands-on, creative, and interactive data collection approaches. We also work with collaborators around the U.S. and beyond on a wide variety of projects ranging from large-scale, national studies, to institution specific programming. We intentionally blend our portfolio to include basic and applied research, program and exhibit evaluations, and often conduct evaluative research on programs when appropriate.
Knowledge generation also happens at COSI with external partners. Labs in Life at COSI are real, working research laboratories of The Ohio State University. Situated in the “Life” exhibit area on COSI’s 2nd floor, the purpose of the labs is to move research laboratories from being hidden within the university, to being visible where guests both learn about research and are often the subjects of the studies. This is both a benefit to the researchers who can access large numbers of potential subjects, and to the guests whose visits are enriched by their participation in the studies.
In addition to our Labs in Life at COSI partners, COSI invites and hosts other researchers, usually from universities but also from industry and not-for-profit groups, to engage with guests. CRE oversees this work to ensure the study topics and methods are appropriate, to offer support for integrating the research into the visitor experience, and to ensure successful outcomes for the researchers and COSI’s guests.
Knowledge sharing is an important function in the process of science. CRE publishes in professional, peer-reviewed journals; writes articles for professional associations’ magazines; presents at local, national, and international conferences; hosts learning discussions, trainings, and other professional learning opportunities; and continually seeks ways to share what has been learned on a wide array of topics associated with informal, nonformal, incidental, and everyday learning. CRE team members are also active in their professional associations, volunteering for committees and leadership roles, elected into governance, and engaging with colleagues to learn from each other.
Internally, CRE team members work with the Executive Leadership Team and all divisions of COSI to bring current research on practice into decision making, planning, and teaching. CRE shepherds COSI’s Research Agenda and leads COSI’s thinking on the theories that underlie COSI’s Philosophy of Learning.
Click here to see the peer reviewed articles authored by CRE team members.
Do you need someone to evaluate a program or research project? Do you have a really cool research or program idea and would like a partner who can help get it funded? Are you in need of a critical voice to help your institution develop programming, build capacity, or develop new plans for the future? Below are some of many things we would love to help you with!
Evaluation. Our team brings a wealth of expertise in studying informal education, from museums and libraries to online media. We provide rigorous evaluation services at all phases, customizing each project to meet your needs and budget. We bring expertise in qualitative and quantitative methods and a client-centered approach to our work. We have deep experience serving as evaluators on grants funded by NSF, IMLS and other federal agencies.
Research. Our team also regularly lead research studies that investigate critical issues in many social science areas, including, but not limited to: informal learning, museum studies, urban and regional planning, environmental and educational psychology, science education, and community engagement. Our team can lead conceptualization, design, and execution of all phases of research, from literature review and study design to analysis and dissemination of results.
Facilitation and Project Planning. Many endeavors benefit from facilitation through strategic planning and alignment of goals, audiences, and outcomes. Whether for a program, a department, or an institution, we provide facilitation and planning services, including the development of logic models, competitive landscape analyses, and articulation of impact statements and indicators of success.
Capacity-Building and Support. Our experienced team can help your staff incorporate evaluative thinking techniques into their practice. We conduct workshops on evaluation skills, techniques, and tools customized to your context. We also provide one-on-one mentoring to increase your staff’s capacity to evaluate experiences.
Consulting and Advisement. Our team will provide critical review of materials, plans, and strategies. We offer clear recommendations based on research and evaluation, strategic priorities, and trends in the field that will help you advance programs, exhibits, and guest-centered practices in your institution.
Proposal Development. Drawing upon extensive experience with funders, we will collaborate on the development of your proposal and create an evaluation or research plan to align with your program and fulfill funder requirements. We can assist in the development of supporting materials such as impact statements or logic models and provide critical review of your proposal.
Many know COSI as a place to visit with friends or family for a day of fun science learning. Fewer know COSI as part research institute, with a multi-faceted approach to performing and enabling quality research at, by, and for COSI. As a science center, CRE works closely with COSI’s Director of Science Content to expand the ways COSI contributes to scientific knowledge generation and sharing.
COSI works in collaboration with entities such as universities, schools, and other informal learning organizations to engage in knowledge generation on lifelong learning and knowledge sharing of the results of our collaborative efforts. Many of these projects are made possible with funding from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Institute for Museum and Library Services, National Institutes for Health, NOAA, and NASA. To successfully navigate the complex federal funding landscape, COSI’s Sponsored Projects Office - based in CRE – ensures that proposal preparation, funding applications, and post-award management are well supported and compliant with federal regulations.
CRE conducts studies at COSI as much as possible both for COSI and for other projects. The reason is simple: as with the Labs in Life, engaging guests in meaningful and creative ways in the process of science, we can demonstrate that science is not just the body of what we know, but is about what we can learn. To keep the research focused, the COSI Research Agenda, guided by COSI’s Sr. Director of Research on behalf of CRE, drives the studies COSI conducts and the grants COSI seeks to move the institution forward. CRE also supports COSI’s Philosophy of Learning through ensuring the theoretical foundations of the philosophy are included in programs and experiences.
Housed in CRE, The COSI Learning Institute works with corporations, organizations, and schools to help trainers and educators “shake-up” their teaching to improve learning outcomes. We help educators and communicators discover theoretically grounded ways to make learning more engaging, more fun, and to better ‘stick.’