Last week, Katie Stofer and Lisa Anthony from the University of Florida spent a week in residence at Hatfield Marine Science Center as part of the Cyberscholars program. Here is their account of their week:

We are interested in investigating how people learn science in informal settings such as the science center, in this case, specifically through interactions with visualizations of global ocean data. During the week in residence, we observed users interacting with exhibits on an Ideum multi-touch table, the same multi-touch screen mounted on the wall, and a traditional touch screen kiosk that controls a 3-foot spherical Magic Planet display. We also conducted semistructured interviews with visitors to understand how the exhibits were working for them or falling short and how the exhibits could be improved. Lisa got acquainted with the Cyberlab setup at HMSC, including the camera system and its synchronized audio stream, and Katie got re-acquainted — she actually worked on the installation of the system as a graduate student. Jenny had created a custom view of the eight cameras focusing on the exhibits of interest. In all, we collected roughly 50 visitor observations and around 20 interviews, and we also created workable prototype exhibits to continue collecting data once we leave to supplement and compare with the in-person data we collected.

Our collaboration combines the traditions of informal science learning with human-computer interaction to investigate the whole exhibit experience from the touch interaction to the resulting meaning-making. After returning home to Florida, we will continue remote observations of the exhibits to analyze more patterns of use by a broader cross-section of users. Ultimately we may design new programs for these exhibits to harness the power of touch interaction to invite users to deeply investigate the patterns in these visualizations, while presenting the visualizations in forms that we know best facilitate meaning-making by many users.

Lisa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) at UF, and works on human-computer interaction questions of natural input modalities (e.,g., touch, gesture, and speech) for kids and learning. She is interested in designing for exhibits at HMSC because interfaces in public settings need to be very robust and intelligent to be able to handle the diverse visitors who may be using them. Information seeking, navigation, and understanding can be either enabled or challenged depending on the efficacy of the interaction. Lisa earned her PhD from Carnegie Mellon in Human Computer Interaction in 2008.

Katie is now Research Assistant Professor of STEM Education and Outreach at the University of Florida in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, after earning her PhD as part of the Free-Choice Learning Lab at Oregon State University in 2013. She wants to help publics gather, make sense of, and use the results of current research for decision-making at personal, societal, and global levels through public engagement with science. In particular, visualizations of data can harness the powerful human visual system if designed to make use of, rather than compete with, perceptual and cultural systems. Katie is also interested in agriculture as a context for engaging with many contemporary science and engineering issues.


As a Maker who doesn’t really Make much, it is probably no surprise that as an educator who never really used technology, I would spend five days at the recent International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) annual conference in Atlanta. As a result, I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the role of technology in the classroom and learning. I took a class through OSU last year that focused on technology in the classroom (interestingly an on-line class, but that is a topic for another day) and it was my first exposure to the variety of what teachers are doing with technology these days. My classmates represented the whole range of individuals teaching K-20+ and the different projects they shared encompassed an amazing variety of programs and topics. So, being surrounded by 14,000 educators, administrators, and technology specialists was not the complete culture shock it might have been a few years earlier. And, if nothing else, my fellow attendees are very excited about what they are doing. I have rarely been around so many enthusiastic, eager people who truly believe that what they are doing can change education for the better- they just oozed positivity!

Prior to my PhD journey, I was involved with Montessori for over twenty years. As I have previously written about some of the reasons I whole-heartedly agree with the Montessori pedagogy, hands-on, interest driven, collaborative, follow the child and such, I won’t belabor that here. However, my long experience with Montessori shapes my experiences with and attitudes about technology and education. Let’s just say that Montessori has not been quick to embrace technology. Montessori tends to be conservative anyway- it can happen when a movement grows around an individual and once that individual dies, it can be hard to determine how to incorporate new things/ideas in a way that preserves the original intention. What would Maria Montessori do? We can only make our best guesses. Some would argue that because she was a scientist by training, she would be interested in some of the new possibilities technology offers. However, as modern Montessorians strive to preserve what makes this pedagogy effective, new ideas and tools are subject to much scrutiny, if they are considered at all.

One misconception that others can have is around the “hands-on”’ nature of Montessori. One woman I talked to at the conference had a PhD in mathematics and had created some clever ways of modeling mathematical ideas on computers. She was surprised that Montessorians would not necessarily appreciate her programs as she saw them as “concrete” representations of abstract ideas- which is what many Montessori materials are designed to do. And for years there have been computer games (now aps) that allow children to “move” beads and other images around to represent Montessori math materials for work with the four operations (+.-.x./). Yet, most Montessorians would argue that it is important for the child to hold an actual bead bar, with three beads, or nine beads, on it and manipulate it, feel it, count it, notice the difference in weight and space it takes up. Does sliding an image around on a computer screen with your index finger really recreate that experience? And if we forego teaching handwriting and start children out with keyboarding at younger and younger ages, will that somehow affect human intelligence as we know it? The human brain and hand have coevolved in ways we don’t fully understand and there is some evidence that written language parallels other changes in our development as a species. Montessori believed in the importance of “work with the hand” for everything from intellectual to emotional and social growth, at all levels of development- preschool through adolescence. Will technology fundamentally change how we think and learn?

I don’t claim to know the answers, but I am concerned. I think that is why Make appeals to me. Yes, it does have a technology component, but the focus is on individuals being producers, not just consumers of technology. There are plenty of people at ISTE who also believe this, advocating for teaching coding and ap design to all grade levels. But, I am concerned what happens when we let this dominate their day. I heard Dale Doughtery (co-founder of Make and founder of MakerFaire) answer a question from a kindergarten teacher about how to create a MakerSpace in his classroom. Dale said that for this age, finger painting, sewing, playing with blocks and clay is Making. He even said that “Montessori had it right, children need to be working with their hands, with real materials” (and yes, I did do an internal fist pump when I heard this!).

I think there is a need for balance and that there is room for both. I realize we live in a world that is overrun with technology, and this is part of the reality of children and youth today, and I want them to be prepared for the world they inhabit. Yet, I want them to build real towers that they can measure their own height against and that can topple over and they hear the crash. I want them to know the difference, in their bodies, between a unit, a ten, a hundred, and a thousand.

I will end with a quote I saw on FaceBook this week (just to add my own bit of irony, I guess!). “Yes, kids love technology, but they also love Legos, scented markers, handstands, books, and mud puddles. It’s all about balance.” K.G. first grade teacher. It is all about balance- let’s all remember that!

Luisa Massarani is our guest blogger today. She was one of our cyberscholars, visiting Hatfield and Cyberlab from June 29th through July 4th, to learn our tools and resources in order to collaborate with us from the Brazilian Institution she works for, the Museum of Life (Museu da Vida), FIOCRUZ Foundation. Luisa is also the director of RedPOP-Unesco, the Network for Popularizing Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe
Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe

Over the last decade, Brazil has been systematically investing in public engagement in science and technology (S&T), both in pratical activity and in research. As someone who works in the field, I don’t need to be persuaded how much it is important to invest in it. In fact, other countries around the globe have been much more aware of the importance of supporting public engagement in S&T.

However, less effort has been put into understading the meaning different publics make of the public engagement in S&T actitivies – a challenge faced not only in Brazil but also around the globe. In my view, understanding the audiences is, in fact, the main question mark we face in science communication.

This was the main motivation that made our research group at the Museum of Life – a hands on science center in Rio de Janeiro, linked to the research institution Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – focus our attention to audience studies. Latin America has good scientific production in audience studies – mainly in soap operas. Very little, however, has been produced in science communication.

Luisa, Shawn and Jenny
Luisa, Shawn and Jenny

In 2009, we succeed in having a grant for designing a study on audiences and science coverage in TV news as result of a collaboration among 10 countries in “Ibero America” (Latin America plus Portugal and Spain). Since then, we began applying the methodologies we used for that study in the context of a science exhibition. In particular, we were very excited to understand further science exhibitions and 5-8 years old kids – which is a wonderful age for engagement in science due to their natural curiosity about the world around them. Furthermore, there is a substantial gap of literature focusing on this issue.

We feel that further methodologies are necessary for understanding in fact the meaning the kids make of the exhibitions.Thus, since the very begining, the connection with Cyberlab has been very exciting, due to the opportunity for opening new intellectual doors for us. Visiting Cyberlab in person during the week of June 30th was not only very useful and important from the point of view of developing new and more robust methodologies but extremely inspiring for new research and collaboration ideas.

I go back home prepared to start phase 1 of collecting data of the exhibition entitled Forest of Senses, which aims to foster curiosity of kids toward the Brazilian biodiversity. We will implement the methodology we designed together with the Cyberlab team, including installing the equipment that will allow us to transmit to Newport in real time what we will be observing in Brazil. We hope to, very soon, have results to share with all of you!

ISTE2014 has ended, and I am back home and reflecting on what this experience meant to me. This was by far the largest conference I have attended- at over 16,000, it is probably four times bigger than what I usually consider a crowd! Getting to guest blog for the conference was a great boost to my ego, and I was tweeting out regularly from talks and other events I attended- and I think I might have doubled the number of followers I have on Twitter! Just seeing the email that was sent out to tens of thousands of ISTE members before the conference, with the list of guest bloggers, with my name on it, was a rush! One of the highlights of the event was getting to chat with Dale Doughtery, one of the co-founders of Make, and the main face of MakerFaire and MakerEd. I have introduced myself to him before, but this time I could talk to him about my research and thoughts on this movement with a lot more confidence. I even broke down and did the fan-girl thing and took a Picsie/Pixie (Susan, Michelle, and I are still figuring out the spelling- it is our word for a selfie with multiple people in it) with him. I am including the link for the second blog I wrote for ISTE since the topic is relevant here too! Enjoy!

ISTEConI am guest blogging for the ISTE (International Society for Technology that is happening this weekend and through Tuesday. ISTE is an organization interested in talking about and exploring Make and there are a number of events at the conference on the topic.

Here is a link to my first post:

“Rapid prototyping” or “additive manufacturing” are both terms associated with the process of 3D printing (using digital models to fabricate tree-dimensional objects, printed one layer at a time). This piece of technology proved to be the solution for one of the most difficult cyberlab’s challenges: finding perfect mounts and housing for cameras installed on the exhibit floor that can be practical, durable, flexible and aesthetically pleasing.

We struggled with somewhat problematic alternatives for quite sometime, being saved by 3D technology as an effective and cheaper alternative than contracting with big exhibit development companies to create prototypes and models to customize mounts and housings for cameras to be placed throughout the visitor center. After a few attempts to find 3D printing contractors in Oregon that could do the job at a reasonable price and fast pace (believe me! that was quite an interesting task), we found Donald Heer at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at OSU. Donald has been superb in working with us to make “our dreams” come true in time for a very busy summer, packed with ongoing research projects and scheduled cyberscholars who will be collecting data through the camera system.

Below are photos of the camera mount and housing prototype for the octopus tank. While the final product will be painted and look polished, the photos show how the 3D model works. It is really quite amazing to be able to have a customized product that fills all needs for the assigned exhibit.

3D Mount OctoTank3    3D Mount OctoTank4

3D Mount OctoTank5 3D Mount OctoTank10

Cyberlab was created under the premises of effective technology use to improve research on learning. It could not be any different that most of the solutions for our challenges are found within cutting edge technologies as well, and that we learn along the way. Sometimes it feels surreal we can do all of this, and that within the course of a very short time we can transform ideas into real products that work.

In her last blog post, Jen Wyld encouraged us to find our voices. If I have learned something working at Cyberlab is to find my voice, trust and try new ideas. Knowing the great job you all do within the Free-Choice Learning Program, I encourage you to trust your ideas even if they seem surreal, give them a voice and roll with them, because they are most likely doomed to succeed, especially when you find the right team players.

If you are interested in learning more about 3D printing or even try to print some projects of your own, enter the library 3D printer website and have fun testing your ideas!