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!

IMG_20140914_130320_257RedPop2014_3

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:

http://www.redpop.org/redpopasp/paginas/InfoPrensaDetalle.asp?SitioID=1&InfoPrensaId=90

http://www.redpop.org/redpopasp/paginas/pagina.asp?PaginaID=3

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!

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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.