Welcoming sun, great food, and warm people came to greet us upon our arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For me, it is always so good to be home, and this time home at the “wonderful City” to learn about the advancements in science communication taking place in Brazil and Latin America in general. Make no assumptions, this was not a “have fun in the sun” trip, although I would have liked to have spent some time at a tropical beach where swimming is the main activity. Instead, as hard workers and, let’s be honest, good museum nerds, we got to visit Museums and work on strategic evaluation and research planning around some exhibits.

Our first activity involved a whole day visit to the “Museu Ciencia e Vida” (Museum of Science and life) to see and discuss an exhibit called “Forest of Senses”. Luisa Massarani, a former Cyberscholar and Director of Red-Pop UNESCO (Network for the popularization of science and technology in Latin America and the Carebean) is a part of the team in charge of evaluation and research on children’s experience in the exhibit. After a 4 hour meeting, we discussed and finalized the whole research plan and stages of analyses. It felt very rewarding to be recognized as researchers with valuable expertise and to contribute to cutting edge learning research in the Brazilian landscape. Forest of Senses is a great exhibit designed to work as a game activity  for younger kids (5-8 years of age) to explore the Brazilian forest habitats and, through using their senses, be provoked and able to explore the ideas around biodiversity, invasive species and wildlife traffic (which is a big problem in Brazil). When we walked through the exhibit to see the initial camera installation and testing through the system package we arranged for them to become a “node” of  Cyberlab, it was like reliving the past when Cyberlab started, amidst tons of duck tape and creative solutions for IT problems. As we move forward in this collaboration, it will be interesting to share the process, findings and cultural clashes in the use of cutting edge technology.

To finalize this part I in the summary of our trip, we spent our last 2 days in Rio participating at the RedPop Event organized by Luisa Massarani, with the goal to discuss the science communication scenario in Latin America, where Brazil holds 260 of the total 490 science museums established. It was a great event, I even got to be interviewed by a science journalist for the first time (way to practice my communicating skills). It seems to me Latin America has come long ways not only in the effort of establishing science museums but in the reflection on evaluation and research practices to attend the cultural use of these places. From this event, we came out with fresh ideas on methods for learning research, with many bridges to collaboration in interdisciplinary projects including touch-tank research in Brazilian aquariums, and with a amazing contact list with the names of great science communication researchers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It was also very professionally rewarding to receive recognition for the cutting edge work being developed at Cyberlab and seeing its potential to really materialize and spread. Stay tune for more!


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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.