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.


How did I learn to communicate scientific information to the public? While I was working towards my bachelor’s degree in biology I started working as an interpreter at a city park in Indianapolis.  The position was advertised through the university’s biology department and I decided it’d be a great way to get involved in the community. A lot of what I did was nature hikes with home-schooled youth, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts, and a few family events. My knowledge about indigenous plants and animals grew every week (i.e. I learned a lot of content). While I simultaneously gained confidence talking to people, I received very little training on how to communicate. The experience, however, was a driving force for where I am now – environmental education. My communication knowledge and skills have developed in recent years from coursework and from having Shawn as a mentor.

How can we teach others to communicate science to the public? As Laia stated last week, we led a workshop about outreach. We focused on questioning, observing, and reflecting and the workshop seemed well received. During a small group discussion, some scholars and I talked about how to start a conversation with a stranger, engage kids with complicated science concepts, and how to talk to someone who is aggressive and says your research is wrong. These are all important and relevant topics, which we addressed using past experiences and how those experiences were handled. Hopefully the workshop is a stepping-stone for the scholars as they continue to think about and pursue outreach and communication opportunities. You can visit their blog to see what they had to say about communicating science at daVinci Days (a Corvallis event).

So, how did you learn to communicate science to the public?

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




While we don’t yet have the formal guest researcher program up and running, we did have a visit from our collaborator Jarrett Geenan this week. He’s working with Sigrid Norris on multimodal discourse analysis, and he was in the U.S. for an applied linguistics conference,  so he “stopped by” the Pacific Northwest on his way back from Dallas to New Zealand. Turns out his undergraduate and graduate work so far in English and linguistics is remarkably similar to Shawn’s. Several of the grad students working with Shawn managed to have lunch with him last week, and talk about our different research projects, and life as a grad student in the States vs. Canada (where he’s from), England (Laura’s homeland), and New Zealand.

We also had a chance to chat about the video cameras. He’s still been having difficulty downloading anything useful, as things just come in fits and starts. We’re not sure how the best way to go about diagnosing the issues will be (barring a trip for one of us to be there in person), but maybe we can get the Milestone folks on a screenshare or something. In the meantime, it led us to a discussion of what might be a larger issue, that of just collecting data all the time and overtaxing the system unnecessarily. It came up with the school groups – is it really that important to just have the cameras on constantly to get a proper, useful longitudinal record? We’re starting to think no, of course, and the problems Jarrett is having makes it more likely that we will think about just turning the cameras on when the VC is open using a scheduling function.

The other advantage is that this will give us like 16-18 hours a day to actually process the video data, too, if we can parse it so that the automated analysis that needs to be done to allow the customization of exhibits can be done in real-time. That would leave anything else, such as group association, speech analysis, and the other higher-order stuff for the overnight processing. We’ll have to work with our programmers to see about that.

In other news, it’s looking highly likely that I’ll be working on the system doing my own research when I graduate later this spring, so hopefully I’ll be able to provide that insider perspective having worked on it (extensively!) in person at Hatfield and then going away to finish up the research at my (new) home institution. That and Jarrett’s visit in person may be the kick-start we need to really get this into shape for new short-term visiting scholars.

Question: should we make available some of the HMSC VC footage for viewing to anyone who wants to see it? I was thinking the other day about what footage we could share with the field at large, as sharing is part of our mandate in the grant. Would it be helpful, for instance, to be able to see what goes on in our center, and maybe play around with viewing our visitors if you were considering either:

a) being a visiting scholar and seeing what we can offer

b) installing such cameras in your center

c) just seeing what goes on in a science center?

Obviously this brings up ethical questions, but for example, the Milestone Systems folks who made the iPad app for their surveillance system do put the footage from their cameras inside and outside their office building out there for anyone with the app to access. Do they have signs telling people walking up to, or in and around, their building that that’s the case? I would guess not.

I don’t mean that we should share audio, just video, but our visitors will already presumably know they are being recorded. What other considerations come up if we share the live footage? Others won’t be able to record or download footage through the app.

What would your visitors think?

Right now, we can set up profiles for an unlimited number of people who contact us to access the footage with a username and password, but I’m talking about putting it out there for anyone to find. What are the advantages, other than being able to circumvent contacting us for the login info? Other possible disadvantages: bandwidth problems, as we’ve already been experiencing.

So, chew over this food for thought on this Christmas eve, and let us know what you think.

Or at least across the globe, for now. One of the major goals of this project is building a platform that is mobile, both around the science center and beyond. So as I travel this holiday season, I’ll be testing some of these tools on the road, as we prepare for visiting scholars. We want the scholars to be able to come to work for about a month and set the system up as they like for capturing the interactions that provide the data they’re interested in. Then we want them to have the ability to log in to the system from their home institutions, continuing to collect and analyze data from home. The first step in testing that lies with those of us who are living in Corvallis and commuting to the center in Newport only a couple times a week.

To that end, we’re starting with a couple more PC laptops, one for the eye-tracker analysis software, and one more devoted to the higher-processing needs of the surveillance system. The video analysis from afar is mostly a matter of getting the servers set up on our end, as the client software is free to install on an unlimited number of machines. But, as I described in earlier posts (here and here), we’ve been re-arranging cameras, installing more servers (we’re now up to one master and two slaves, with the one master dedicated to serving the clients, and each slave handling about half the cameras), and trying to test out the data-grabbing abilities from afar. Our partner in New Zealand had us extend the data recording time after the motion sensors decide there’s nothing going on in order to try and fix frame drop problems during the export. We’re also installing a honking lot more ethernet capability in the next week or so to hopefully handle our bandwidth better. I’ll be testing the video export on the road myself this week.

Then there’s the eye-tracker. It’s a different case, as it has proprietary data analysis software that has a per-user license. We have two, so that I can analyze my thesis data separately from any data collection that may now take place at the center, such as what I’m testing for an upcoming conference presentation on eye-tracking in museums. It’s not really that the eye-tracker itself is heavy, but with the laptop and all the associated cords, it gets cumbersome to go back and forth all the time, and I’d rather not have the responsibility of moving that $30K equipment any more than I have to (I don’t think it’s covered under my renter’s insurance for the nights it would be stored there in between campuses). So I’ve been working on setting up the software on the other new analysis laptop. Now I’m running into license issues, though I think otherwise the actual data transfer from one system to another is ok (except my files are pretty big – 2GB of data – just enough that it’s been a manual, rather than web-based, transfer so far).

And with that, I’m off to start that “eye-tracking … across the universe” (with apologies to the writers of the original Star Trek parody).