I have been absent from blog posting as of late due to the whirlwind of grad school, but that also means there is quite a bit to share related to work in the lab and research!  My last post described the experience at ASTC in North Carolina – a great opportunity to see work at other science and technology centers, and to meet professionals in the field that are doing incredible things at these locations.  Since then I have been ramping up on my personal research, but also balancing coursework.

I am really excited to be enrolled in Oregon State University’s Free Choice Learning (FCL) series this year.  Everything I was learning “in the field” is now gaining context through courses in personal, sociocultural, and physical dimensions of learning.  I have the opportunity to practice evaluation methods through assignments and read papers related to my research on family group interactions in the museum.  I am thankful that I get to take these classes from Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking, two researchers that have studied FCL for many years!

In the visitor center, we are focused on getting our facial recognition cameras consistently working and capturing data.  We have been collecting images, but getting 11 cameras to stream a lot of data at the same time is challenging as both the hardware and software have to sync.  This has been a great learning opportunity in trial and error, but also learning the “language” of a field I am not familiar with.  As I have to troubleshoot with engineers and software developers, I have been learning vocabulary related not only to the camera system, but also the usability of configuring the cameras and the software.  Beyond the task of setting this up, it is an experience that I will reflect on with future projects that require me to learn the language of another industry, embrace trial and error, and patience in the process.

In addition to Cyberlab duties, I am busy coding video of families using the multi-touch table collected in August 2014.  Over the past twenty years, research on family learning has shown us how exhibits are often used (much of this research was done by Falk, Dierking, Borun, Ellenbogen, among others).  I am curious about the quality of interactions occurring at the touch table between adults and children.  I developed a rubric based on three different dimensions of behaviors – responsive engagement, learning strategies and opportunities, and directive engagement, and whether they are observed at low, moderate, or high levels.  These categories are modified from the types of behavior outlined by Piscitelli and Weier (2002) in relation to adult-child interactions surrounding art.  From their work, they found that a distribution of behaviors from these categories support the value of the interactions (Piscitelli & Weier, 2002).  Each category looks at how the adult(s) and child(ren) interact with each other while manipulating the touch table.  I also modeled the rubric after what is used in the classroom to assess teacher and student interactions around tasks.

An example of a high level of responsive engagement would be that the adults and children are in close proximity to each other while using the exhibit, their hands are on the touch surface for a majority of the time, the adults are using encouraging words and acknowledging the child’s statements or questions, and there similar levels of emotional affect expressed between them.  Learning strategies focuses more on the verbalization of the content of the exhibit and the integration of information, such as connecting the content to prior knowledge or experiences external to exhibit use.  Finally, directive engagement looks at whether the adult is providing guidance or facilitating use of exhibit by directing a task to be performed, showing a child how to accomplish the activity.  From this data, I hope to understand more at depth how the table is used and the ways adults and children interact while using it.  This may give us some idea as to how to support software and content design for these forms of digital interactives, which are becoming more popular in the museum environment.

My goal is to have videos coded by the end of the month, so back to work I go!

Piscitelli, B., & Weier, K. (2002). Learning With, Through, and About Art: The Role of Social Interactions. In S. G. Paris (Ed.), Perspectives on Object-Centered Learning in Museums (pp. 121–151). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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So, as I head into the second half of my fifth year in this dissertation process, I am starting to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, five years might not sound like too long to be in a PhD program, but for my program, at least in the cohorts before and after mine, the average is closer to four years (here’s looking at you Drs. Good and Stoffer!) And I did start my journey thinking I could complete it in four years- I had a plan! However, my qualifying exam process dragged on for a short eternity, and that set me behind, as things happen in a sequential way. And while I could have moved forward with some of the steps, for a while I was not sure I would progress past that point, and it didn’t seem worth it to spend time on a process that I might not see through to completion. Since I am still writing these blog posts, it is true that I did squeeze through those exams and was allowed to continue on to the subsequent steps of research and writing. However, I have had some road blocks with this stage too, as, for a variety of reasons, I kept having to postpone when I could start collecting data.

Finally, last fall, it seemed that the stars were starting to align, and I would be able to do my project in January through March of this year. Now, if you are doing the math, you might realize, as I did, that this will only leave me a few months to write my whole dissertation, on top of doing the data analysis, once the program I am collecting data from ends. I do have a fairly high opinion of my ability to write a lot under pressure, but I decided to do what I can now, to move along. So, I started my writing process, before my data collection. It makes sense, I can write up my introduction and literature review and methodology and such without having done the study, and anything I write now, means something I don’t have to write in April. I am pretty determined to graduate and walk the stage this June, so time is of the essence!

In December, I started to pull together what I could from things I have already written, such as my proposal. I dinked along with this for a few weeks, hashing out an outline and filling in some spots on it. However, it was when my dear friend, Elese posted on FaceBook that her New Year’s Resolution was to write on her dissertation for an hour a day, that I was motivated to make my own concrete goal. I sent Elese a message, asking her if she wanted to be “accountability buddies” and we would stay in regular touch with each other about our progress-and she said yes.

This is all a little complicated by being a commuter student- in that I live more than an hour away from campus, so don’t go down unless I have too. Many of my friends in the Corvallis area, who are in similar points on this journey, get together in small groups to write and support each other. I have to motivate myself. Having Elese on the other end of my texts helps- I know someone out there is paying some attention to whether or not I am making regular progress. I also had a coffee date with one of my committee members who lives up here too, and she gave me an open invitation to stop by her office, even unannounced, just because this process can be lonely.

And she is right- although I had not really thought about it in that way, this is a lonely journey. I really adore the group of colleagues I have met through this program, but as I have never lived near them, I have done most of this alone. When we were taking classes, there was that level of interaction, and I miss it! What I am doing now, reminds me most of when I (foolishly!) decided to run in the first Eugene Marathon, in 2007. I was a casual runner, so joined a training group, to learn the skills it would take to help complete this, for me, colossal undertaking. I learned a lot and met some good people, but on the race day itself, I ran alone. I had planned to run with others, but people end up with different paces and such, and it was easier to just go on my own. And that is how this feels. I did the training, taking classes and going to lab meetings with my colleagues, and making some great friends, but now, I am off on the trail, writing one word at a time, as I ran that race, one step at a time.

But, I am sure looking forward to taking photos together as we all wear our PhD regalia in June, after we all make it over that finish line on our own.

As it is the holiday time of year, this month’s post will be a short bit of fluff, as opposed to the longer bits of fluff I usually write. I am a reader. If it comes in my mailbox, or I pick it up from a newsstand, I will probably read it. This often leads to interesting things coming into my mind and life.

Recently, my older daughter’s university magazine arrived, and being me, I read it. The thing that caught my attention this time was the centerfold bit. They had taken photos of a bookshelf from a variety of professors and wanted you to match the book collection to the academic. I did read the short bios and thought about which books likely matched their interests, but the part that has stuck with me is the way we can represent ourselves, or make assumptions about others, based on their book shelves. I don’t know about you, but I love to look at the books on display in public spaces in other people’s homes, and as a fan of the selfie shot, this is an idea I am a fan of all around.
As I mentioned last month, I have recently relocated. I don’t just hold on to recipes, I also hold on to books. However, moving from a 3,000 square foot house to a two bedroom apartment made me think long and hard about what books I just “had” to have with me for this interim housing. As an academic, I have a collection of books that are relevant to my research interests and had to come along for practical reasons. However, I also insisted on bringing a sampling of the books that helped define me- the books that I might never read again, but I will probably carry around with me for the rest of my life.

So, I will share two photos with you all, my personal shelfie and my academic shelfie, and I hope to inspire many of you to post yours on twitter! If you @FreeChoiceLab us, we will get to see and share this part of our lives. Could be fun! Oh, and happy holidays- whatever you celebrate!

PS- Michelle Mileham posted the original “shelfie” with her cookbook blog last year!

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I was inspired by Jen’s last blog post about her obsession with collecting recipes she actually does not use very much. As a result, instead of writing another technical blog about our challenging journey in the development of Cyberlab tools, I decided to go light and fluffy here and, like Jen, talk about an obsession of my own – collecting postcards! (Although this blog is being written as I wait on hold with customer support for camera software troubleshooting – Got to love multitasking in counter-balanced ways).

Wherever I go in my traveling adventures, I always find time and ways to buy myself some beautiful postcards, which I have all the intentions to send to family members and friends but really never do. Also like Jen, I feel those are important to me and I always remember to gather these pieces of experience puzzles and add to a fairly organized storage system. Jen made me wonder and dive into a self-reflecting mode to ask why does she rarely use the recipes she so treasures? Why do I never send the postcards? Even though collecting those is such a part of who we are?

One answer popped in my head that I actually think I will go with. I said it out loud, “these collections are such a part of who we are”, and then it occurred to me, “a part of us”, perhaps it relates to giving up something unique in my case, that is somewhat irreplaceable and contextually rich with the stories a possible “recipient” may not ever know or understand. So I keep those to myself because giving a part of me to someone else is truly an altruistic activity, even in seemingly small representations like in the case of postcards.

We tend to hold on to our identities and what we think is part of it so tightly, partially because that is all we know and have built and it would seem like a gamble to give up and relearn. However, as we all have struggled to academically contextualize the concept of identity and understand its premises, it is clear the complexity of doing so. Nevertheless, you may not agree with me, but I think that having an identity is being a “part of” something beyond self, and that is why I only now recognized I am obsessed with collecting postcards, only after Jen’s words brought that out of me.

Jen is a dear friend and I did not know she collects recipes she never uses, and I bet she did not know until now, and if she reads this blog post, that I collect postcards. So, Jen… send me one of your recipes and I will send you one of my postcards. Perhaps we can start a meaningful “wheel of sharing” to give an added dimension to this part of our identity. In fact, you are all invited here to share your obsessions and join the wheel. Why not? After all we all have much to learn about each other and I thought that could be a very good FCL activity during the week of thanksgiving.

 

This post will be another one where I have a confession to make. I am a bit obsessed with food. However, it is a very complicated obsession. Having recently relocated to a much smaller space, I have an entire bookshelf devoted to cookbooks and recipes. And it is the pile of recipes that is the concern. It is kind of a towering pile of recipes. I also have two recipe boxes, and a few folders that I have gathered these recipes in, but the pile is always out of control. Organizing them is one of those perpetual tasks that makes it on my “to do” list for Winter/Spring/Summer breaks, when I theoretically have time to deal with them, yet I never seem to make any progress! I do try, I attempt to go through them with a critical eye, “will I really cook this?”, I cut them smaller and glue them to index cards, I try to group them in logical ways (main dishes, desserts, etc…), yet I am always cutting out more, so I never catch up. And I find recipes everywhere, not just Vegetarian Times or Eating Well or magazines devoted to food; I cut recipes out of the newspaper, Yoga Journal, or anything else I read. I also check even more cookbooks out of the library and look through them for intriguing recipes.

Now, in and of itself, this might not seem too odd, but the bizarre reality is that I never really use these recipes. I have the best of intentions, I occasionally go through them as I menu plan for the week (which I also don’t do often enough), but most nights when it is time to cook dinner, I look in my fridge and just make something up. My family is vegetarian and has participated in a CSA (community supported agriculture) program for years, so we get a lot of variety of local produce- it is not that we eat the same thing all the time. However, I seem to cook most meals the same way. I get out my wonderful wok (best wedding present ever! And still in regular use) throw in some oil and onions and then just add piles of chopped veggies and a sauce I have thrown together at the last minute, toss it over a starch/carbohydrate of some kind, and add tofu or some other kind of protein, and serve it. I am fairly versatile, I can do Asian (Thai, Chinese, Japanese), Mediterranean, or Tex-Mex in this way, and that is the way I cook most of the time. Sometimes, I mix it up and throw some of these veggies onto a pizza dough and bake it in the oven, or under a layer of eggs for a frittata- that is about as radical as it gets. So, what is up with that pile of recipes?

I started reflecting on this after my younger daughter asked me last month if I considered myself an “adventurous” cook. I still don’t really know how to answer this. I am somewhat creative with food, but don’t seem to try a lot of new things- either ingredients or recipes. I definitely eat much differently than the way I ate when I was growing up, and cook very differently than my family. I use “real” ingredients and actually cook most things from “scratch”. I am confident in my skills and most people seem to enjoy the food I prepare. I even eat differently than I did ten years ago- kale and beets would not have been on my plate then! Yet it is a slow evolution, often motivated by what I get in my CSA box. I am loathe to waste food, so try to eat what comes into my house. For example, last year, I learned that in some Asian cuisines, they use the carrot greens in cooking, so now I can’t with a clear conscience, compost them anymore.

So, again, what is up with that pile of recipes? I am pretty disciplined about only saving ones with ingredients I will probably like, or that are not too time-consuming or complicated, on the theory that I will be more likely to try them, but very few of them ever make it out of the pile and into our bellies. My best guess is that it is somehow tied to my identity- my image of whom I am. In my more idealized version of myself, I try more new things. I do like learning new things, and gathering new ideas, so this is part of it also. I have a similar issue with wishing I decorated more for the holidays or made more DIY gifts (hmm… I could possibly have written a similar post about knitting patterns and that one hat design I have made hundreds of variations of- might be a trend here…). Regardless, when I was going through that recipe pile one more time, I could not get rid of them! I know I could look things up on the internet, or pick one cookbook and work my through it, and mine is not the most efficient system, but those recipes are important to me for some reason and they will continue to collect in my life, for better or worse.

I guess there are worse obsessions…

Last month I attended ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers), which was a great opportunity to hear about work in other science centers, visit a new museum, and meet some of the researchers that I often cite in my work!  This year the conference was held in Raleigh, North Carolina — a new state to visit!  Oregon State University had great representation as two of my colleagues, Laia and Jenny, presented their analysis of science communication in natural history museum exhibits.  Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking presenting in research and evaluation sessions.

Dr. Hayat Sindi started off the conference with an inspirational keynote speech.  Born in Saudi Arabia, she followed her interests in science to become the first female from the Gulf to earn a PhD in biotechnology.  She is a co-founder of Diagnostics for All which designs and creates medical diagnostic tools that can be used in areas that may not have the medical infrastructure.  She spoke of science heroes and how we continue to look to the past, which is dominated by white males.  She challenged us to continue to work and inspire young people to look for the heroes of today, many that are female, who are doing powerful things to advance our knowledge in the science field.

One of the more memorable sessions I attended focused on the premise of designing flow experiences and balancing sensory stimulation in the physical spaces of science centers.  As I am still learning about the design of the physical space, at times it seems that science centers and museums try to put so much into a room without considering how overwhelming it could be for the visitor.  With the advancement of technology and digital media interactives, this is creating more stimulation as the visitor tries to navigate and determine where to focus their attention.  Beth Redmond-Jones of the San Diego Natural History Museum spoke about her daughter who has autism.  She showed an interview of her daughter describing what an experience at a museum space is like for her.  For a few minutes the audience had the opportunity to “feel” what it is like to have the sensory overload.  The fluorescent lights of the room were put to the highest level, we had to move in our seats to that we were very close to our neighbors, and they played a recording from a museum lobby that had competing noises of conversations, babies crying, and sounds from exhibits.  This immersion technique was effective to prove a point to the audience.  From this there was discussion on how to make the space more inclusive for those with differences in sensory reception, incorporating spaces that are quiet, and training staff how to effectively engage with these visitors.

As a first time attendee to this conference, I was trying to soak it all in…the Exhibition Hall, the networking, the city surrounding the conference, and a cool museum — the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  They have some amazing exhibits that incorporate technology.  There was a microbiology lab that allows for formal or informal exploration of DNA which I would have loved when I was in middle school.  The museum also made use of several touch screens in different sizes to present science content.  It was interesting to see their showcase of technology alongside their traditional dioramas and natural history exhibits.  So much potential for learning research with technology as well!  I could have spent several more days in Raleigh, but since I am in the midst of Fall Quarter with a busy course load, I’ll just have to make plans to visit again someday.  Check out #ASTC2014 to see tweets about the conference.

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