I am so excited to write this blog today and talk about a groundbreaking event Cyberlab is hosting this week. Believe it or not, it all started with my fascination for a reality TV show called project runway, where fashion designers are thrown into a fast paced design competition through a series of timed challenges. I asked myself the question “can we do something similar and fun involving research challenges that can jump start the use of Cyberlab tools as an open source and create a community of users?” Well it turns out I asked that question out loud and the Cyberlab team’s answer was a big fat YES!

We brought six informal learning researchers/evaluators from various institutions here in the US and in Brazil as participants. They will work in teams in a set of four timed data collection challenges designed to be fun and fast paced and to break into our Cyberlab system for creative and innovative use. We also invited a panel of judges to help them through the challenges and evaluate their performance. We are hoping to promote lots of collaboration among the participants, to generate future projects including Cyberlab tools and to start a community of users that can really change the ways we do informal learning research.

This will be either an epic fail or a wonderful success. Either way we are committed to have fun this week, to share the capacity we have built for Cyberlab use and to learn a ton with these brave researchers who accepted to go on this adventure with us. We are making it work! Doing it fast! And having fun along the way.

Check our website for more detailed information: http://oregonseagrantcybelaboratory.evolero.com/ignite-research-challenge/

If you are around and curious, come check out the participants’ final presentation on Friday, Aug 28th at the Hatfield Marine Science Center Auditorium. We will be starting at 9:30 am and wrapping a week of challenges and fun discoveries. Help us ignite Cyberlab research and change the way we do informal learning research!

Since I am interested in the Maker Movement, I have been focusing on the “DIY, Maker, Hacker” strand at the SXSWedu 2015 conference. It is exciting to see so many innovative programs and projects happening all around the country, and around the world. However, today I came face to face with one of my own hypocrisies. While I have been involved with this movement for the last four years, presenting on the topic at conferences, even being a Maker at the MakerFaire in San Mateo two years in a row, as well as local mini-MakerFaires, I tend to avoid a whole slew of Making experiences. I do describe myself as a crafter, I have been knitting at most sessions I attended this week. However, I have yet to solder anything, connect any circuits, or program even simple projects. But the fates were conspiring against me today. My first glimpse of this was the session, “Maker Mash-up”, where the tables were full of a variety of hands-on projects. After the twenty minute intro, we were invited to explore. I watched someone try to figure out Makey-Makey for a few minutes, and then made my escape.

Fortunately there was another talk from this strand right next door called “DIY Tech: Creativity Through Transformed Teaching”. It sounded safe. Yet, after about twenty minutes in this session they asked us to make a musical instrument using a plastic cup, paper clip, and length of jewellery wire. There were some parameters, but not knowing much about music, I wasn’t sure what they meant, but since I had already run away from one session, I figured I might as well give this one a go. So, I made something that produced a song. I was feeling pretty good about that until we got the next assignment to choose a song from a list and play it using our instrument in front of the group. At that point, I made for the door again.

I peeked back into my first room and as the numbers had lessened, I felt a bit more courage and thought that I should really get over my resistance and try something new. I went to an empty table that had an iPad with Scratch Jr. loaded. Since this program is designed for 5-7 year olds, it felt like a safe place to start. I did play around with it for ten or so minutes until I understood most of what it is capable of, and then progressed on to the Makey-Makey Scratch spot. I didn’t really know what I was doing with the Makey-Makey part, but I was emboldened to play with the Scratch program a bit, and made some more progress. Since there was still time left, I thought I would give one more tool a try and messed around with a programmable robot bee shaped thing. It was cute, and through trial and error I discovered a few things. Once someone else showed me how to “reset”, I even had some fun with it.

Then it was time for my next session, “Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning”. After an intro to the speakers and their work, we were given the challenge to build a functional chair out of cardboard and brads. Each group was to have a few “doers” and a few “observers”. When we went around the group to say what role we wanted, I admitted that I tend to prefer the observer role in these types of activities, but that today it seemed the universe wanted me to engage in some “doing”, do I helped build the chair. And, it was fun. I enjoyed the teamwork and the way we easily negotiated the design and the roles –and at the end of twenty (!) minutes, we did have a chair that could support weight. While it was more of a stool than a chair- we met the parameters of the challenge.

Furthermore, I had met the challenge for me- to break out of my comfort zone and do some making! Watch out- you might soon see me with a soldering iron in my hand and then there will be no stopping me!

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!


RedPop2014 RedPop2014_2

“Hands-On Science Museums and Their Visitors” is the topic of a two-day conference coming up September in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cyberlab will represent Hatfield Science Center/Oregon State University and will join other Science communication professionals from  Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom to engage in dialogue about visitor meaning making, basically the kind of conversation we are very enthusiastic about engaging in and promoting, especially in such a multicultural setting.

Luisa Massarani, who was a Cyberscholar this Summer and who is the Director of the RedPop, the Network for Science Communication for Latin America and the Caribbean, organized this event to discuss strategies Museums around the world employ not only to investigate learning but also how a diverse public construct meaning from their visits. Although a bit intimidated I will admit, I am supper excited to participate in this event because it strikes me as a place where paradigmatic shifts in learning research are possible and in fact welcome, as a place where we can make room to discuss strategies to capture and analyze meaning making, to look at visitors from their perspectives, to go beyond the traditional measures of learning outcomes in research, to really give our visitors a voice we can dialogue with in the academic written world.

We talk about this need for a new culture of learning in our Free-Choice Lab meetings, Luisa talked about that in her seminar presentation as a Cyberscholar and the need to understand “provocation” and build provocative exhibits. Shawn and I talked about this in an article just published in the NAI Magazine “Legacy”, which led us to an invitation to expand this thinking through a series of articles for the InterpNews Magazine next year. As these kinds of dialogues spread and increase (as it seems to be happening in my opinion), this discussion becomes highly related to current dialogues on learning research methods and applications in the world of practice. I have been recently involved with the new “Methods” Research Interest Group of NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) and the current development of a broad scope dialogue on learning research that seems to be heading in the direction of valuing these paradigmatic discussions and the need to change.

Even though we are all trying to do this kind of more inclusive, learner-based research in our work, we need to see ourselves as important voices in the larger network of discussions, and commit to speak our mind in fruitful and inclusive ways.  Meetings like this really allow us to reflect on how we are trying to do that in the context not just of our own lab and cohort here, but in the larger international context as well. It also gives us a chance to make things real, to move from discussion to actual application invigorated by the good work of others and motivated by our own growth and learning as professionals in the field.

To learn more about RedPop visit the following pages:



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!












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”!