David J Lampe Brinley Kantorski John A Pollock

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Abstract

Charles Darwin is largely unknown and poorly understood as a historical figure.  Similarly, the fundamental principles of evolution are often miss-stated, misunderstood, or entirely rejected by large numbers of Americans.  Simply trying to communicate more facts about Darwin, or facts supporting the principles of evolution is inadequate; neither students nor members of the public will care or retain the information.  On the contrary, building facts into a one-on-one conversational narrative creates an memorable opportunity to learn.  Here, we create a digital-media, self-guided question and answer ‘synthetic interview’ with Charles Darwin.  Questions are derived from a survey of nearly 1,000 people.  Answers spoken by an actor portraying Darwin are derived from Darwin’s own writings. Questions on modern topics have answers from scientists, theologians and lawyers.  First produced as a museum exhibit, and then later re-produced as an app (iOS/Android), the synthetic interview has been evaluated with more than 3,000 users surveyed, 69% indicating that they learned, and that more than 75% would recommend the experience.  Students who interacted with the synthetic interview in a classroom setting found answers were unexpected and clarifying.  The Darwin Synthetic Interview creates a new way to engage students and the public in a process of self-directed discovery on a topic that is often considered difficult to teach.

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