This past week I had a chance to attend NOAA’s Science on a Sphere workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The workshop was held at the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) which is located along the shores of the Mississippi River.  It was great to see a new science museum and learn about data visualizations presented via 3-D spherical displays.  The network of institutions meets annually to discuss use of (now) 100 installations of the sphere around the world and learn from each other.  The setup for this display includes up to four projectors placed around a six-foot sphere at 90-degree angles.  Images wrap around the sphere based on the alignment of the projectors and represent data on various Earth system processes, such as atmospheric storms, sea surface temperature, seafloor mapping, as well as processes occurring on other planets in the solar system.  An app on the iPad helps to “drive” the exhibit, so facilitators can select a playlist of what they want to run on the sphere.  I had never seen this display before so it is amazing to see all that has been created for public viewing.  There are some videos online of it in action!

museumsphere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The theme of the workshop was “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” or the informal term used to designate the period on our planet where human activity can have a global impact on system functions.  Approximately 95 participants were in attendance discussing methods of presenting datasets to different audiences, maximizing use of available content, and showcasing custom content used at their respective sites.  NOAA staff also described new features that could be incorporated to the exhibit.   The three-day experience was full of working groups, plenary sessions, and inspiring keynote speakers.  FCL lab alum Katie Stofer was in attendance and presented some of her research and recommendations on the use of color related to data visualizations on the sphere.  Celeste (Science Education PhD student) and I represented the Cyberlab, sharing information about current work in the lab and the potential for Cyber Scholars to collaborate and access the tools we are installing in an effort to study informal science learning.  We showed the video produced for Oregon Sea Grant that explained the technology we are using and how that will connect to visitor research.  I fielded several questions throughout the rest of the workshop with regards to the projects we are working on.  Many participants expressed fascination with the setup and proposed use for research and some of them may pursue the opportunity to be a Cyber Scholar.

In addition to discussions about the sphere, there was a focus on communicating climate change to various audiences and what to keep in mind with regards to cognitive reception and emotion.  We discussed the power of cultural models, framing, and connecting with values instead of a “doomsday” message that can so quickly turn people off.  One strategy I found interesting was that instead of using the concept promoting individual action, was instead to discuss collective community action starting with people directly connected to you.  What can family, friends, and neighbors do to promote change and choices that can have a more measureable impact?  There was also the discussion on use of common symbols and metaphors to explain the abstract concepts of climate change.  Julie Sweetland of the FrameWorks Institute showed research on use of a metaphor that described climate as a system, similar to the human circulation system.  The ocean acted like the heart within the system, pumping or transferring heat around the world.  Just like a human cannot live without a healthy heart, the Earth cannot live without a healthy ocean as it has an influence on the rest of the system.  Julie showed footage of focus groups that had participants explaining the metaphor to other group members…meaning-making in action!

We did have some time to explore the museum on our own, which I was very excited about.  SMM has several incredible exhibits, some permanent, and others that are on display for a limited period of time.  The temporary exhibition is Ultimate Dinosaurs, and there were many reconstructions of the beasts on display.  There is an interactive Cell Lab, where visitors don lab coats and goggles and can look at their own cheek cells under the microscope and explore the properties of blood.  There was also space to tinker with electronics, build and create objects that would fly in a wind tunnel, and a “Collectors’ Corner” where naturalists can earn points to trade for artifacts like agates and small fossils.  It seemed as if the museum was always busy with families and school groups.  An outdoor exhibit known as the Big Back Yard was a combination of watershed education and a mini-golf putting course.  Obstacles included river deltas, mountain ranges, and other natural elements to symbolize the many aspects of the watershed.  Signage and information surrounded the holes describing the value of rain gardens and how impervious surfaces affect water runoff.  I felt like a kid again as I moved about the museum – it was a lot of fun.

lights     dino     tinkering

 

As I was traveling back to Oregon, I reflected on the concepts I keep encountering in the world of informal learning research.  So often the topic of communication, cultural tools such as language, interpretation, and meaning-making come up again and again.  There are challenges in conveying complex data on a sphere and trying to understand how it might be interpreted by the viewer.  What impact does it have on a personal level as well as a social level?  So many research questions can extend out of this.  As researchers we are also trying to make meaning and interpret the data we collect, then we communicate or share that with others.  Ah, the meta level…

In mid-July I will be representing the Cyberlab again at the National Marine Educators annual meeting.  Hooray for field trips!

 

It is official, I have been in graduate school too long. It has started to change the way I think about the world!

Last night, I was at a local Science Pub event. This in and of itself, might trigger the “nerd” label for some people, but as a fairly educated person before starting this PhD, and living in a liberal, college town, lots of types of people attend these events now.  Science Pubs are almost trendy these days. Our local one is often standing room only, and takes place in a venue that is used frequently for concerts, fund-raisers and shows of all kinds.  Even the name of the venue is cool- Cozmic Pizza- you can have pizza and a beer and listen to smart people talk.  Not a bad way to spend an weekday evening.  Also, the topic was not even that fringe- “You Are What You Eat: The Evolutionary Importance of Diet in Mammals”.  The talk was given by a local professor, Dr. Samantha Hopkins, who is in the Geology Department at the University of Oregon. While her work is often in paleontology, she is a self-described “mammal geek” and her talk was peppered with lots of funny anecdotes and plenty of cute photos of mammals (none of which my partner would agree to let me get as a pet… sigh…)

All of this was a pleasant experience. I learned a few things, laughed a few times, and enjoyed a glass of Kombucha. However, it was during the question and answer phase that the wheels in my head started spinning.  While gender issues in science are not a particular area of study for me, it does come up in my department on a fairly regular basis, and both my daughters are just starting to explore gender issues through courses in their own college experience, so it is on my radar. Yet, it took me a bit to realize, “hmm… so far, all of the people who have asked questions are guys” and I thought, “I am going to pay attention to this and see if it continues.”  It is probably no big surprise to anyone that it did continue.  Out of around 12 questions (I didn’t start counting until I had my observation, so I had to make a best guess about the total number), only 2 were asked by women, much later in the Q & A session. To make matters even sadder, one of the women qualified her question by stating “this is probably a dumb question” as she asked it.  So, I did a scan of the room, and while I did not do a full head count, it seemed that pretty close to 50% of the audience was female.  Furthermore, this was a completely free-choice experience, in a social setting, with alcohol available to loosen social inhibitions, and the topic was even more focused on biology- an area females typically express a slightly higher interest in than males.

While I may have previously made an observation like this, and possibly gone on a slight feminist rant about it, what was truly surprising to me was my next thought.  Where my mind went next was “it would be pretty easy to design a research project to explore this more in depth.” We could have people do gender counts when people walk in the door and then keep track of how many questions were asked by each (notice I am also consciously using gender as opposed to sex, as we could only make a best guess by appearances, without doing a more involved study- grad school is teaching me so much about so many things!).  We could compare this data across different locations, different topics of Science Pubs, we could try to look at different age groups- there are all kinds of interesting questions to explore! And the fact that I now think of more explicit ways to explore them, instead of just a curious observation, was a sign to me that I just might have been in grad school too long.

PS- and the next sign was that my first thought about it this morning was, “and I could write a Blog post about it”!

This quarter I took the COSIA (Communicating Ocean Science to Informal Audiences) course taught by Shawn.  He had a role in designing this class with staff from the Lawrence Hall of Science at University of California Berkeley and several other COSIA partners around the country.  This course is excellent for grad students in the science and formal education fields to learn about ocean science concepts, gain instructional and facilitation strategies for informal settings, and apply their skills towards effective activity design.  I have experience facilitating marine science activities at outdoor schools and at aquariums, but this class gave more insight on HOW people learn in these settings.  Reading and discussing learning theory with classmates was beneficial to improving my abilities as a facilitator while focusing on how to support a learner-driven experience.

Our challenge was to design an activity that was “minds-on” and hands-on.  Susan and I thought about topics that were abstract and that we could attempt to model them for better visualization.  Our plan was to provide views of the concept from different perspectives and allow for the discussion of what people already knew.  We started with plankton, a significant component of the marine ecosystem, and decided on an exploration of photosynthesis, the oxygen cycle, and connections to phytoplankton.  Our overall activity consisted of four stations:  learners could think about the proportion of water to land in terms of surface area, comparisons between the ocean and land with regards to net photosynthesis, a visual mapping of terms related to the oxygen cycle, and a station with a plankton sample to look at under the microscope.  We took our activity to the Visitor Center at Hatfield Marine Science Center which allowed us to test and prototype “in the wild.”  This was an incredibly helpful exercise as we found out what was confusing or needed to be refined prior to others attempting to replicate it.  The public gave us helpful feedback that allowed us to improve our work and participants were excited to help.

The COSIA course culminated with Family Ocean Science Night.  It was fun to have a variety of ages engage in all of the activities designed by students in the class.  Many of the participants were drawn to the tools like the microscope.  There is always an element of mystery as to what you will see when you look through the eyepieces.  I was especially inspired by a conversation I heard between two boys, in which one was took the role of facilitator for the activity.  He did not want to “tell” the other how to get to the answer, but was ready help if there were any questions.  Hooray for our future generation of science lovers and science communicators!

On behalf of the COSIA class we are grateful to the many families that came out to participate in our Ocean Science Night!  Thank you for letting us practice our skills and for your constructive feedback!

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Today I passed my finals. I now have my M.S. in Free-Choice Learning Science Education.

I want to thank everyone who made this possible—my friends, my colleagues, my family, my research participants and you. Yes, you! Frankly, I’m still processing this. I have much to do yet.

First off, I’m releasing Deme v. 1.1, as of today under the GNU Free Documentation License. You can share, modify and expand the rule system freely, as long as you retain my Creator’s Note regarding its intent. It’s not done—it may never be “done” in the traditional sense. I want you to take it, break it, fix it, shrink it, expand it, apply it, learn with it, teach with it and—most importantly—share what you do with others.

This is, I like to think, the start of the story. Let’s write it together. To get started, I’ll provide the current iteration of the rule system here as a new post in a few minutes.

Have fun.

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!

 

And the Cyberlab is again “going abroad”….Field trip to Brazil anyone?

I will be presenting about my proposed research and the work of cyberlab at a LOICZ (Land-Ocean interaction at the Coastal Zone) Symposium in Rio next week. LOICZ is a core project of the international Biosphere-Geosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). The goal of LOICZ is to contribute to science development towards understanding the earth’s systems in order to inform and contribute to sustainable practices and educate the public about the world’s coastal zones.

As one of 8 young Brazilian social and natural scientists funded to participate, I will have the great opportunity to share my research project and the work of cyberlab,  to gain insights onto their global research program as it relates to the themes of the “Future Earth” Programme and contribute to discussions with the LOICZ Steering Committee. The Future Earth themes are:

1.Dynamic Planet: Observing, explaining, understanding, and projecting earth, environmental, and societal system trends, drivers and processes and their interactions as well as anticipating global thresholds and risks.

2.Global development: Knowledge for the pressing needs of humanity for sustainable, secure and fair stewardship of food, water, biodiversity, energy, materials and other ecosystem functions and services.

3.Transformation towards Sustainability: Understanding transformation processes and options, assessing how these relate to human values and behaviour, emerging technologies and social and economic development pathways, and evaluating strategies for governing and managing the global environment across sectors and scales.

Can you think of links/ associations between their themes and the various research works taking place within the lab?  The event funders agreed the work we do fits right within their mission and they are very excited to learn more about the potential for an interdisciplinary  research platform that the cyberlab represents. I have to say,  I was happy to see they are not only valuing the inputs of students/young scientists within their large discussions and initiatives for the Future Earth Programme, but also the inputs of social scientists and learning researchers as ourselves. I am very happy to be a part of this.

If you want to learn more about LOICZ visit   http://www.loicz.org/about_us/index.html.en  

Stay tuned for twitter posts from Brazil!

Susan