This past Saturday, approximately 2,000 visitors joined in a celebration of marine science at Hatfield Marine Science Center.  There were opportunities to get behind-the-scenes tours, participate in activities in the wet labs, and interact with scientists, staff, and students from the OSU campus of Corvallis, HMSC Campus, Oregon Sea Grant, and Oregon Coast Aquarium.  Some of the state and federal agencies in attendance were  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Research, NOAA Marine Operations, United States Fish and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.  These groups shared their research and the tools they use to collect data.  It was a great opportunity for the public to hear and see some of work that takes place in the lab and along the coast.

I made a point of observing the facilitators/researchers and listening for their personal methods of communicating science.  For those presenting their work, they had to rapidly tailor their message to a diverse audience.  Interacting with young children, their parents, and grandparents, how did they capture the interest of this multi-generational group?  As each person brings with them a range of science knowledge, vocabulary, and attitudes towards science, how did the dialogue evolve between learner and facilitator?  I also watched the dynamics between group members as they stopped at stations.  If adults were with their children, what was the adult doing while the child interacted with the facilitator (whether it was a scientist, student researcher, etc.)?  Did they get impatient if their child did not answer a question right away?  Did they try to coax an answer out of them?  Did the adults get so enthusiastic they dominated the interaction?  Several questions came out of watching family groups make their way through the activities.

One station that was memorable for me was a simulation of a watershed and impacts to water quality.  Staff members from the Environmental Protection Agency of Newport used a model using several familiar items.  Two cake pans with sand were placed side-by-side.  The sand was built up to represent a shoreline and small plants were placed in the thickest section of sand.  The difference between the two was the presence of a wetland, indicated by pieces of sponge, near the shoreline.  Using food coloring, pollution was added to the model, followed by a “rainstorm”, or a spray bottle filled with water.  As the pollution moved over the surface, you could see where the wetland “sponge” soaked up the polluted water and prevented it from entering the water along shore.  The staff showed how this was similar to surface runoff and the challenges of pollutants entering waters along the Oregon Coast.  The facilitators summarized this simulation with an explanation of why wetlands are important and connected it to the simulation the visitors just witnessed.  As I moved on to other exhibits, I wondered if the concept of a wetland and its purpose had changed for these particular individuals.

Having this many visitors on site on one day, I took some time to watch behavior around the touchtable.  I looked for patterns to help refine my research questions of how people use an interactive tabletop in an informal science setting.  This setup is different from “informational kiosks” used in many museums, having a size and orientation similar to a desktop computer screen.  As the touchtable is a flat computer, the table setup itself may be attractive or inviting.  I watched as a group of five people leaned in and had at least five hands on the table simultaneously.  There were instances of users reading text out loud to others and modeling behavior of how to do a particular task on the screen.  I also noticed whether users would put one hand or two on the table and if they started with one finger or more, and did this vary by age?  I watched to see how soon someone was able to figure out what the point or goal of the software was and whether they refer to the instructions.  A few users took some time to speak about their experience using the table.  It was a helpful exercise and a reminder that there is still quite a bit to do before the summer season begins.

Marine Science Day was a great event due to the incredible work by many staff and volunteers that are connected to the HMSC community.  Looking forward to next year!



Happy New Year!  With regards to Susan’s post on the final day of 2013, I appreciated the chance to reflect on my experiences and accomplishments of the past 12 months.  I have already learned so much from my peers, my courses, and through work in the Cyberlab.  I am looking forward to 2014 as it will be full of hard work and additional opportunities to build personal and professional skills while I conduct research in the field of free choice learning.

One area I am excited to continue studying are strategies and methods of communicating scientific information to the public.  At the Visitors Center we are always striving to improve our exhibit design, and our personal methods of interpretation while interacting with visitors.  We critique what we say and how we say it whether it is on exhibit signage or in conversation.  Effective communication, particularly the translation of technical information to a diverse audience, is a skill that takes practice.  The challenge is communicating the information in a way that is inclusive and avoids confusing jargon.  Other members of our lab have discussed the value and elements of science communication through the blog and I am seeing more of these conversations occurring within the scientific community online.

As scientists and researchers, we are attempting to answer questions and understand natural phenomena.  Why would we want to keep that information to ourselves?  Are scientists motivated to share their work beyond formal conferences and peer-reviewed journals?  With regards to the previous question, there is evidence that indeed scientists want to share their work with a wider network.  For example, more and more researchers are writing blogs and using social media channels to showcase their findings.  I recently joined Twitter and following #scicomm has been a valuable resource for me as I learn about this topic.  The discussion covers many areas — whether scientists should be trained in graduate school on effective communication strategies, to which channels are most effective (Twitter vs. Facebook), to making connections and advancing research.  I am interested to follow how the the relationship between social media and science progresses.  As future generations enter the field of research, how will the value or use of peer-reviewed journals and social media platforms evolve?

In future posts I will discuss social media and science, and other examples of how scientific content is shared in unique ways online.  Of particularly interest to me are infographics, which represent complex data and information using graphic design techniques.

The challenges of integrating the natural and social sciences are not news to us. After King, Keohane and Verba’s (KKV’s) book entitled “Designing Social Inquiry”, the field of qualitative methodology has achieved considerable attention and development. Their work generated great discussions about qualitative studies, as well as criticism, and sometimes misguided ideas that qualitative research is benefited by quantitative approaches but not the other way around. Since then, discussions in the literature debate the contrasts between observations of qualitative vs. quantitative studies, regression approaches vs. theoretical work, and the new approaches to mixed-methods design. Nevertheless, there are still many research frontiers for qualitative researchers to cross and significant resistance from existing conservative views of science, which question the validity of qualitative results.

Last week, while participating in the LOICZ symposium (Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I was very encouraged by the apparent move towards an integrated approach between the natural and social sciences. There were many important scientists from all over the world and from many different disciplines discussing the Earth systems and contributing steps towards sustainability of the world’s coastal zone. Many of the students’ presentations, including mine, had some social research component. I had many positive conversations about the Cyberlab work in progress and how it sits at the edge of building capacity for scientists/researchers, educators, exhibit designers, civil society, etc.

However, even in this meeting, over dinner conversation, I stumbled into the conflicting views that are a part of the quantitative vs. qualitative debate — the understanding of scientific process as “only hypothesis driven”, where numbers and numbers alone offer the absolute “truth”. It is still a challenge for me not to become extremely frustrated while having to articulate the importance of social science in this case and swim against a current of uneducated opinions about the nature of what we do and disregard for what it ultimately accomplishes. I think it is more than proven in today’s world that understanding the biogeophysics of the Earth’s systems is essential, but that alone won’t solve the problems underlying the interaction of the natural and social worlds.  We cannot move towards a “sustainable future” without the work of social scientists, and I wish there would be more of a consensus about its place and importance within the natural science community.

So, in the spirit of “hard science”…

If I can’t have a research question, here are the null and alternative hypotheses I can investigate:

H0 “Moving towards a sustainable future is not possible without the integration of natural and social sciences”.

H1  “Moving towards a sustainable future is possible without the integration of natural and social science”

Although, empirical research can NEVER prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that a comparison is true (95 and 99% probability only), I think you would agree that, if these hypotheses could be tested, we would fail to reject the null.

With all that being said, I emphasize here today the work Cyberlab is doing and what it will accomplish in the future, sitting at the frontiers of marine science and science education. Exhibits such as the wave laboratory, the climate change exhibit on the works, the research already completed in the lab, the many projects and partnerships, etc. , are  prime examples of that. Cyberlab is contributing to a collaborative effort to the understanding and dissemination of marine and coastal issues, and building capacity to create effective steps towards sustainable land-ocean interactions.

I am very happy to be a part of it!


Our FCL group has been asked to participate in the mid-summer check-in for the Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars Program. Members of our group will be giving a 2-hour seminar for the six undergraduate students participating in the program. The workshop will be about communicating sciences and outreach, and I have been helping with the planning process. Therefore, I have been thinking a lot about science communication and its often association to the “broader impact” components in research grants. What would be important to include in such a workshop to introduce the debate of science communication to these young scholars in the beginning of their careers?

If  science education needs some reform, how important is it for educators to partner with the scientists in order for such reform to occur? I think it is very important but mostly when  science outreach starts to be viewed as more than a voluntary activity with tangential benefits for scientists and has broader significance to them. Thinking interpretively, this will only be possible when outreach and science education opportunities accommodate their interests, time and talent. Sooner or later, every scientist will be required to engage in some sort of outreach, but the key here is whether the role they fall into is a role they feel comfortable with.

In their Fall 1998 newsletter of the Forum on Education of the American Physical Society, Rodger W. Bybee and Cherilynn A. Morrow (1998) talked about “Improving Science Education: The Role of Scientists” and reported on a matrix that sorts out the roles scientists could or do play in science outreach. Such roles were classified in the formal and informal educational settings and they fitted in one of three categories: Advocate, Resource, and Partner. For example, if a scientist assumes a role of advocate within an informal education setting such as a science center, he or she could perhaps participate on the board and participate in decision making. On the other hand, if a scientist choose to be a resource, he or she can review science content in exhibits or programs, give a talk at a science center, etc. As a partner, a scientist would collaborate with the creation of a exhibit or program from the get go. Here is the link for this article:

This matrix on possible scientist’s role in outreach and science communication is an important resource for the proposed workshop. I think it is imperative for young scientists to understand the possibilities for involvement, the possible venues and the roles they may find themselves in someday. BUT I came to think that it is also very important that these young scientists can think about who they are and how their talents can best fit within the matrix. Are they advocates, resources or partners? regardless, they need to feel comfortable in their roles in order for them to effectively contribute to a science education reform.

As the next crop of scientists graduates from universities, what role will they see themselves playing within science outreach and communication? Do they see themselves in a outreach role at all? motivations should not only be external such as a requirement of a grant funded project but should also be internal such as relevance and usefulness within the scientist work scope and interests. Below is some more food for thought in the subject:

Thiry et al 2008

Halvesen & Tran 2011

Larsen et al 2008

MarBEF article

Thiry et al. 2008




I finished the edits and all the various fee-paying and archiving that come along with completing a dissertation. My transcript finally reflects that I completed all the requirements … so now what? I have a research position waiting for me to start in July, but as I alluded to before, what exactly do I research?

In some ways, the possibilities are wide open. I can stick with visualizations, sure, and expand on that into animations, or continue with the in situ work in the musem. I may try to do that with the new camera system at HMSC as a remote data collector, as there is not a nearby spherical system of which I am aware in my new position.

I could also start to examine modeling, a subject that I danced around a bit during the dissertation (I had to write a preliminary exam question on how it related to my dissertation topic). Modeling, simulation, and representation is big in the Next Generation Science Standards, so there’s likely money there.

Another topic of interest dovetails with Laia’s work on public trust and Katie Woollven’s work with nature of science, broader questions of what is meant by “science literacy” and just why science is pushed so hard by proponents of education. I want to know how, when, and most importantly, why, adults search for scientific information. By understanding why people seek information, we can better understand what problems exist in accessing the types of information they need and focus our efforts. A component of this research also could explore identity of non-professionals as scientists or as capable consumers of academic science information.

Finally, I want to know how all this push toward outreach and especially toward asking professional scientists to be involved in or at least fund outreach around their work impacts their professional lives. What do scientists get out of this emphasis on outreach, if anything? I imagine there are a range of responses, from sheer aggravation and resentment to pure joy at getting to share their work. Hopefully there exists a middle ground where researchers recognize the value and even want to participate to some extent in outreach but are frustrated by feeling ill-equipped to do so. That’s where my bread and butter is – in helping them out through designing experiences, training them to help, or delivering the outreach myself, while building in research questions to advance the field at the same time.

Either way, it’s exciting! I hope to be able to blog here from time to time in the future as my work and the lab allows, though I will be officially done at OSU before my next turn to post on my research work. Thanks for listening.

When you have a new idea in a field so steeped in tradition as science or education, as a newcomer, how can you encourage discussion, at the very least, while still presenting yourself as a professional member of your new field? This was at the heart of some discussion that came up this weekend after Shawn and I presented his “Better Presentations” workshop. The HMSC graduate student organization, HsO, was hosting the annual exchange with the University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology grad students, who work at the UO satellite campus in Charleston, Oregon, a ways south on the coast from Newport.

The heart of Shawn’s presentation is built around learning research that suggests better ways to build your visuals to accompany your professional presentation. For most of the audience, that was slides or posters for scientific research talks at conferences, as part of proposal defenses, or just with one’s own research group. Shawn suggests ways to break out of what has become a pretty standard default: slides crowded with bullet points, at-best illegible and at-worst incomprehensible figures, and in general, too much content crammed onto single slides and into the overall presentation.

The students were eager to hear about the research foundations of his suggestions, but then raised a concern: how far could they go in pushing the envelope without jeopardizing their entry into the field? That is, if they used a Prezi instead of a PowerPoint, would they be dismissed as using a stunt and their research work overlooked, perhaps in front of influential members of their discipline? Or, if they don’t put every step of their methodology on their poster and a potential employer comes by when they aren’t there, how will that employer know how innovative their work is?

Personally, my reaction was to think: do you want to work with these people if that’s their stance? However, I’m in the enviable position of having seen my results work – I have a job offer that really values the sort of maverick thinking (at least to some traditional science educators) that our free-choice/informal approach offers. In retrospect, that’s how I view the lack of response I got from numerous other places I applied to – I wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway if they didn’t value what I could bring to the table. I might have thought quite differently if I were still searching for a position at this point.

For the grad student, especially, it struck me that it’s a tough row to hoe. On the one hand, you’re new to the field, eager, and probably brimming with new ideas. On the other, you have to carefully fit those ideas into the traditional structure in order to secure funding and professional advancement. However, how do you compromise without compromising too far and losing that part of you which, as a researcher, tells you to look at the research for guidance?

It occurred to me that I will have to deal with this as I go into my new position which relies on grant funding after the first year. I am thinking about what my research agenda will be, ideally, and how I may or may not have to bend that based on what funding is available. One of my main sources of funding will likely be through helping scientists do their broader impacts and outreach projects, and building my research into those. How able I am to pick and choose projects to fit my agenda as well as theirs remains to be seen, but this conversation brought me around to thinking about that reality.

As Shawn emphasized in the beginning of the talk, the best outreach (and honestly, probably the best project in any discipline, be it science, or business, or government assistance) is designed with the goals and outcomes in mind first, then picking the tools and manner of achieving those goals only afterwards. We sometimes lament the amazing number of very traditional outreach programs that center around a classroom visit, for example, and wonder if we can ever convince the scientists we partner with that there are new, research-based ways of doing things (see Laura’s post on the problems some of our potential partners have with our ways of doing research). I will be fortunate, indeed, if I find partners for funding that believe the same, or at least are willing to listen to what may be a new idea, at least about outreach.