After all the preparation for my research study, it was finally time to sit and observe visitor behavior around exhibits and collect some data.  This allowed me to personally see what natural behaviors in an informal science setting look like, while applying the skills and knowledge I have gained about conducting research and interviewing human participants.

Over the course of August I interviewed 25 family groups after they used the Ideum multi-touch table.  My goal was to collect data in the Visitor Center over morning and afternoon hours each day of the week to get a wide distribution of visitor attendance.  After each sampling session I was busy processing the data, inputting survey responses and typing up the comments from the open-ended piece of the interview, while downloading video footage of the interactions.  I enjoyed the result of our team’s effort of putting the camera system in place, as it was convenient to go back to the day of the visitor encounter and know that their conversations and interactions were captured unobtrusively on film.  The set-up of the Cyberlab provides an advantage to past methodologies where the researcher physically tracked the visitor or a large video camera was placed right over an exhibit.  Through our methods, I believe we are collecting very natural behaviors by the visitor which will help us understand learning in the public science setting more efficiently and effectively.

Family use of museums and science centers have been investigated over the past few decades, but as learning researcher Doris Ash noted in 2003 in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, there are few studies that investigate at depth the dialogic analysis of interactions with the family group.  This is important to understanding how meaning and sense-making between learners takes place in the informal science setting.  In looking at the research on large touch surface technology, I have not found much on family group use in public settings with science-related content.  The field of human-computer interaction has explored this technology with regard to usability features, particularly with gestures and software or program navigation.  I hope that my research provides insight combining both family learning and how this technology can support that.

While there are many different layers to the informal science experience (physical, personal, and sociocultural elements), I thought about the individual and collective learning in the family group, as well as how they were positioned in the physical sense around the touch table during the “live” observations.  As I look at footage, I will be exploring the interactions and roles that occur within the group while considering the conversations that are taking place.  I am also interested in the overall response to the touch table.  Part of my interview with the group was to hear how they would describe their attraction to the exhibit and how they described their interaction with this type of technology.  I will be doing some content analysis in an effort to see what the common themes are within their responses.

Considering the other technology we have, a familiar digital “interactive” is a single user kiosk or desktop computer with games and information.  The touch table allows for multiple users and inputs and is not commonly seen in other settings.  We have a desktop interactive located near the touch table, and I observed families (in groups of two, three, even up to five) crowding around the computer and “coaching” the user in control of the mouse.  As the desktop exhibit affords one kind of experience, the touch table allows for collective physical action at the same time.  Five people could use this exhibit at once.  Keeping this in mind, how can we (informal science centers with access to the technology) take advantage of this to facilitate learning for the individual and the group?

September and October will be busy months analyzing footage.  I am eager to see just what comes out of all of this data!

The first few pages of Nancy Baron’s book  (Escape from Ivory Tower: A Guide to Make Your Science Matter) set the bottom line, the “so what” of why science communication is important and the common cultural clashes tied to the idea of communication, advocacy and policy making. I particularly like her use of the term “agent of change” to assign an important role to scientists who do engage in communicating their science to broader audiences, both as a self- fulfilling role and as a societal role, to give the publics the information they need to make informed decisions or to simply understand the work of science, its true limitations, and also its essentiality.

Do you consider yourself a science communicator? Science educator? Agent of change?

In our group, we have been talking about this needed cultural change in the ways we see and understand learning in various educational landscapes. That to me entails us seeing ourselves as such “agents of change” and committed to become social scientists, who are among the growing body of professionals struggling to become better science communicators. Just as we call for a new cultural of learning, we should also turn attention to the communication processes it entails, in order to contribute to this hybrid space between science discoveries and public perception as a space of accuracy, fruitful dialogue, needed awareness and welcoming changes.

Looking at our growing steps to become important agents in this hybrid space between what we do and what we say, our group will be producing a series of articles in simple but not simplistic language for the International InterpNews magazine starting this fall, tying our various works to the ideal of a change in learning cultures and the role of interpretation in a global education era. It is a commitment to reach a broader audience, to do what we preach and to learn with it. I am proud to be part of this professional community and have valuable opportunities to play the role of an “agent of change”.

 

I have been Tweeted! This summer I spent more time than usual traveling and presenting at conferences, or padding my CV, whichever. It is a good time to focus on this part of my academic career- I am the home stretch- done with classes and able to focus more on my own particular interests, and I still get to register for conferences at the discounted student rate! It is pretty much win-win. As I was traveling to the Chicago area anyway for a family gathering, it seemed like a good idea to submit a proposal to speak at a conference happening there at the same time. At least I will save on airfare, I figured. So, I cobbled together yet another talk on Maker culture and was accepted to present at the first annual EdTech Teacher Summit. After presenting at and attending the ISTE conference in Atlanta earlier in the summer (with about 14,000 other attendees!), this conference was on a much smaller scale, and with only 6 choices per session compared to about a hundred, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of audience.

The talk was scheduled for a full hour, the longest I have presented while in graduate school. All in all, I do feel like it was one of my more successful presentations. Having more time to delve into the topic and integrate more opportunities for it to be interactive than a more typical 30 minute talk (with time for Q&A!) let me relax and enjoy the experience. I was also able to pull the audience in more during the talk, to contribute their experiences- anything to break up the “sage on the stage” format! However, this is always a bit risky, and there was a man in the audience who made a comment that made it apparent that he had been expecting my talk to cover more advanced territory, while I was focused on “what is Make?” and “how can it be implemented?” Yet, he was pleasant and stayed until the end, so I approached him after the talk and apologized if my title had been misleading. He assured me that he had enjoyed the talk and gotten things out of it, and I would see that from the Tweets he had sent out during the talk.

So, as soon as I was back in the car, I whipped out my smart phone and got on Twitter. Lo and behold- I had been Tweeted about! I am not sure why, but seeing so many comments with my Twitter handle (wyld_peace) attached to them was quite a rush! From the feed, it seems that there were at least four people who were Tweeting out during the talk, posting quotes and even photos of some of the slides. And not only was it an incredible ego boost, it was also great, real-time feedback about what comments and slides had more of an impact on the audience. And, I was able to see not only what mattered to that immediate audience, but then what was favorited and retweeted from the feed. What a great experience in “real” assessment!

As part of the FCL lab’s foray into social media, some of us have taken to Tweeting when we are at conferences or workshops, although I always feel a little self-conscious when I do it. “Really, I am not on Facebook or texting, I am Tweeting your talk”, I want to say. Yet, as a presenter, I did not notice anyone on their phones or tablets or such, in ways that were distracting or felt rude to me.

In short, to all of you on the fence- I say Tweet on! From my own perspective as a presenter, it is flattering and an informative source of feedback, and when I am in the audience, I am paying special attention to find things that would be interesting to Tweet, so I might even be more attentive. This is a great use of social media that can make our learning and sharing more interactive- which is one thing we do know makes learning more effective and impactful! See you in the Twitterverse!

Summer is flying by and the hard work in the Cyberlab continues.  If you have been keeping up with previous posts, we have had researchers in residence as part of our Cyber Scholar program, movement on our facial recognition camera installations, and conference presentations taking place around the country and internationally.  Sometimes I forget just how amazing the implementation of unobtrusive audio and video collection methods are to the field of visitor research and exhibit evaluation until I talk to another researcher or educator working at another informal learning center.  The methods and tools we are applying have huge implications to streamlining these types of projects.  It is exciting to be a part of an innovative project in an effort to understand free choice learning and after a year in the lab, I have gained several new skills, particularly learning by doing.

As with any research, or project in general, there are highs and lows with trying to get things done and working.  Ideally, everything will work the first time (or when plugged in), there are no delays, and moving forward is the only direction.  Of course in reality there are tool constraints, pieces to reconsider and reconfigure, and several starts and stops in an effort to figure it out.  There is no Cyberlab “manual” – we are creating it as we go – and this has been a great lesson for me personally when it comes to my approach to both personal and professional experiences, particularly with future opportunities in research.

Speaking of research, this past week I started the data that will go towards my Master’s thesis.  As I am looking at family interactions and evidence of learning behaviors around the Ideum touchtable, I am getting the chance to use the tools of the Cyberlab, but also gain experience recruiting and interviewing visitors.  My data collection will last throughout the month of August, as I perform sampling during morning and afternoon hours on every day of the week.  This will allow for a broad spectrum of visitors, though I am purposively sampling “multi-generational” family groups, or at least one adult and one child using the exhibit.  After at least one minute of table use, I am interviewing the group about their experience using the touch table, and will be looking at the footage to further analyze what types of learning behaviors may be occurring.

During my observations, I have been reflecting on my time as an undergraduate conducting research in marine biology.  At that point, I was looking at distribution and feeding habitats of orange sea cucumbers in the Puget Sound.  Now the “wildlife” I am studying is the human species and as I sit and observe from a distance, I think about how wildlife biologists wait in the brush for the animal they are studying to approach, interact, and depart the area.  Over the course of my sampling sessions I am waiting for a family group to approach, interact, and depart the gallery.  There are so many questions that I have been thinking about with regards to family behavior in a public science center.  How do they move through the space, what exhibits attract particular age groups, how long do they decide to stay in any particular area, and what do they discuss while they are there?  I am excited to begin analyzing the data I will get.  No doubt it will likely lead to more questions…

“Hands-On Science Museums and Their Visitors” is the topic of a two-day conference coming up September in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cyberlab will represent Hatfield Science Center/Oregon State University and will join other Science communication professionals from  Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom to engage in dialogue about visitor meaning making, basically the kind of conversation we are very enthusiastic about engaging in and promoting, especially in such a multicultural setting.

Luisa Massarani, who was a Cyberscholar this Summer and who is the Director of the RedPop, the Network for Science Communication for Latin America and the Caribbean, organized this event to discuss strategies Museums around the world employ not only to investigate learning but also how a diverse public construct meaning from their visits. Although a bit intimidated I will admit, I am supper excited to participate in this event because it strikes me as a place where paradigmatic shifts in learning research are possible and in fact welcome, as a place where we can make room to discuss strategies to capture and analyze meaning making, to look at visitors from their perspectives, to go beyond the traditional measures of learning outcomes in research, to really give our visitors a voice we can dialogue with in the academic written world.

We talk about this need for a new culture of learning in our Free-Choice Lab meetings, Luisa talked about that in her seminar presentation as a Cyberscholar and the need to understand “provocation” and build provocative exhibits. Shawn and I talked about this in an article just published in the NAI Magazine “Legacy”, which led us to an invitation to expand this thinking through a series of articles for the InterpNews Magazine next year. As these kinds of dialogues spread and increase (as it seems to be happening in my opinion), this discussion becomes highly related to current dialogues on learning research methods and applications in the world of practice. I have been recently involved with the new “Methods” Research Interest Group of NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) and the current development of a broad scope dialogue on learning research that seems to be heading in the direction of valuing these paradigmatic discussions and the need to change.

Even though we are all trying to do this kind of more inclusive, learner-based research in our work, we need to see ourselves as important voices in the larger network of discussions, and commit to speak our mind in fruitful and inclusive ways.  Meetings like this really allow us to reflect on how we are trying to do that in the context not just of our own lab and cohort here, but in the larger international context as well. It also gives us a chance to make things real, to move from discussion to actual application invigorated by the good work of others and motivated by our own growth and learning as professionals in the field.

To learn more about RedPop visit the following pages:

http://www.redpop.org/redpopasp/paginas/InfoPrensaDetalle.asp?SitioID=1&InfoPrensaId=90

http://www.redpop.org/redpopasp/paginas/pagina.asp?PaginaID=3

Last week I traveled to Annapolis to present on research taking place in the Cyberlab at the National Marine Educators Association’s annual conference.  It was a great opportunity to meet and network with other professionals and educators that focus on the marine and aquatic environment.  Attendees come from both the formal and informal education field, but also staff members of state, federal, and non-profit environmental organizations.  The schedule was filled with workshops, informative sessions, local tourist activities, and social events.  Highlights of the trip included a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, as well as a chance to learn about oysters while sailing on a skipjack boat on the Chesapeake Bay.  I also had a chance to walk around downtown Annapolis and see some of the historic buildings that were present at the time our country was established.

I presented early in the conference and I was pleased with the attendance to my session.  Several people spoke to me afterwards and expressed their interested in human learning in an aquarium setting and what that means for the visitor experience.  There was also a strong interest in the types of technology we were using to study behaviors and learning, as well as the touch-surface exhibits we have installed as part of the NSF grant.  As we are still in the process of recruiting Cyber Scholars, I hope that future collaborations come from the interest expressed at the conference.

A recurring theme during the week was the current state of the ocean and climate change.  I attended the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) introductory workshop prior to hear about the strategies they recommend when engaging the public at science centers and informal institutions on the topic of climate change.  There was a great basic introduction to climate change, ocean acidification, and other environmental impacts of a changing climate.  As one of the partners of this program is the Frameworks Institute, which has done research on the public perceptions of climate change, there was a focus on framing and considerations for conversational tone while interacting with visitors.  We also had discussions on the incorporation of cultural ideals and values when presenting and interpreting a complex science topic.  Throughout the day, we had several group discussions and brainstormed community based solutions to a global issue.  As educators, it is now time to have the confidence to share our knowledge of how the planet is changing, and facilitate that spark of awareness with those we engage with.

The Keynote Presenter was Dr. Edith Widder, Deep-Sea Explorer and Conservationist, and CEO, Sr. Scientist and Co-Founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association.  As an expert in bioluminescence and methods of deep sea exploration, she shared inspiring words with regards to the continued exploration of our ocean.  There is so much that we do not know about our own planet and our marine environment, she encouraged us to keep working hard at educating others and keeping youth engaged in the marine sciences.  Dr. Widder also shared some incredible footage of giant squid that live in the deep.  These creatures were captured on tape, being attracted to powerful lights that acted as a “bait” symbolizing the same bioluminescent patterns that their prey express.  Her talk made me want my own submersible to explore the deep!

I really appreciated the opportunity to attend this conference on behalf of the Cyberlab and interact with enthusiastic and determined educators.  There are so many that are passionate about the ocean and excited to engage others in learning about the aquatic environment.  Next year the annual conference is in the “other” Newport…Rhode Island.  I hope to make it to this conference and share the results from my Master’s research in the Cyberlab, which will begin this week!

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