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.


Luisa Massarani is our guest blogger today. She was one of our cyberscholars, visiting Hatfield and Cyberlab from June 29th through July 4th, to learn our tools and resources in order to collaborate with us from the Brazilian Institution she works for, the Museum of Life (Museu da Vida), FIOCRUZ Foundation. Luisa is also the director of RedPOP-Unesco, the Network for Popularizing Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe
Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe

Over the last decade, Brazil has been systematically investing in public engagement in science and technology (S&T), both in pratical activity and in research. As someone who works in the field, I don’t need to be persuaded how much it is important to invest in it. In fact, other countries around the globe have been much more aware of the importance of supporting public engagement in S&T.

However, less effort has been put into understading the meaning different publics make of the public engagement in S&T actitivies – a challenge faced not only in Brazil but also around the globe. In my view, understanding the audiences is, in fact, the main question mark we face in science communication.

This was the main motivation that made our research group at the Museum of Life – a hands on science center in Rio de Janeiro, linked to the research institution Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – focus our attention to audience studies. Latin America has good scientific production in audience studies – mainly in soap operas. Very little, however, has been produced in science communication.

Luisa, Shawn and Jenny
Luisa, Shawn and Jenny

In 2009, we succeed in having a grant for designing a study on audiences and science coverage in TV news as result of a collaboration among 10 countries in “Ibero America” (Latin America plus Portugal and Spain). Since then, we began applying the methodologies we used for that study in the context of a science exhibition. In particular, we were very excited to understand further science exhibitions and 5-8 years old kids – which is a wonderful age for engagement in science due to their natural curiosity about the world around them. Furthermore, there is a substantial gap of literature focusing on this issue.

We feel that further methodologies are necessary for understanding in fact the meaning the kids make of the exhibitions.Thus, since the very begining, the connection with Cyberlab has been very exciting, due to the opportunity for opening new intellectual doors for us. Visiting Cyberlab in person during the week of June 30th was not only very useful and important from the point of view of developing new and more robust methodologies but extremely inspiring for new research and collaboration ideas.

I go back home prepared to start phase 1 of collecting data of the exhibition entitled Forest of Senses, which aims to foster curiosity of kids toward the Brazilian biodiversity. We will implement the methodology we designed together with the Cyberlab team, including installing the equipment that will allow us to transmit to Newport in real time what we will be observing in Brazil. We hope to, very soon, have results to share with all of you!

“Rapid prototyping” or “additive manufacturing” are both terms associated with the process of 3D printing (using digital models to fabricate tree-dimensional objects, printed one layer at a time). This piece of technology proved to be the solution for one of the most difficult cyberlab’s challenges: finding perfect mounts and housing for cameras installed on the exhibit floor that can be practical, durable, flexible and aesthetically pleasing.

We struggled with somewhat problematic alternatives for quite sometime, being saved by 3D technology as an effective and cheaper alternative than contracting with big exhibit development companies to create prototypes and models to customize mounts and housings for cameras to be placed throughout the visitor center. After a few attempts to find 3D printing contractors in Oregon that could do the job at a reasonable price and fast pace (believe me! that was quite an interesting task), we found Donald Heer at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at OSU. Donald has been superb in working with us to make “our dreams” come true in time for a very busy summer, packed with ongoing research projects and scheduled cyberscholars who will be collecting data through the camera system.

Below are photos of the camera mount and housing prototype for the octopus tank. While the final product will be painted and look polished, the photos show how the 3D model works. It is really quite amazing to be able to have a customized product that fills all needs for the assigned exhibit.

3D Mount OctoTank3    3D Mount OctoTank4

3D Mount OctoTank5 3D Mount OctoTank10

Cyberlab was created under the premises of effective technology use to improve research on learning. It could not be any different that most of the solutions for our challenges are found within cutting edge technologies as well, and that we learn along the way. Sometimes it feels surreal we can do all of this, and that within the course of a very short time we can transform ideas into real products that work.

In her last blog post, Jen Wyld encouraged us to find our voices. If I have learned something working at Cyberlab is to find my voice, trust and try new ideas. Knowing the great job you all do within the Free-Choice Learning Program, I encourage you to trust your ideas even if they seem surreal, give them a voice and roll with them, because they are most likely doomed to succeed, especially when you find the right team players.

If you are interested in learning more about 3D printing or even try to print some projects of your own, enter the library 3D printer website and have fun testing your ideas!

Last week I wrote about Bakhtin’s idea that in order to put together a real, full research account, the researcher point of view has to be put in dialogue with the point of view of the participant in research.  Neither point of view is complete in and of itself.  The question I raised was how do we make sure and include the voices of research subjects in our work such that they are co-researchers with us and help create those fuller research accounts of experience.  One of the primary tools for engaging in shared research used in professional development of educators is video.  When we video our practice as educators and (re)view it with others, we create the possibility of real dialogue among multiple points of view.  My own experience working with classroom teachers and museum educators, floor staff, and volunteer interpreters using video to reflect on experience has convinced me that neither my outsider observations nor their reflective writing have been sufficient to create real dialogic relationships where we become co-researchers.  In some cases, overarching cultural and social narratives about teachers and learners inevitably drown out the details of their experiences as they experienced them. In other cases, the details of those experiences defy categorization and reflection.

As one example, in one project to develop a professional learning community among veteran K-10 teachers, observations showed very little evidence of student led inquiry, but teacher narratives about their teaching reported detailed regular use of student-centered science inquiry techniques as part of their normal routines.  Having teachers observe each other using a researcher-generated rubric did little to change their assertions about their teaching even though they were directly contradicted by the observational evidence.  Similarly, in multiple projects with museum educators, those educators report a basic belief that visitors do not read labels.  Putting these educators in the position of researchers observing visitors generated copious examples of visitors reading labels, yet educator narratives about visitors consistently fail to include that reading. The data and observations simply don’t stick and are overwhelmed by other kinds of details or by larger-scale institutional narratives about visitor behavior.

In both instances, we eventually turned to video as a way of creating what we hoped would be shared texts for analysis and reflection.  Yet, the existence of video itself as a shared text is also not enough to form the grounds for researchers and participants to become co-researchers.  Watching video and talking about it, even using a rubric to analyze it definitely helps educators be more reflective about their experiences and to put them in larger contexts than the overarching narratives we tend to fall back on.  But there still seems to be a missing step.

For Bakhtin the missing step seems to engaging in co-authorship to create some kind of new text or new representation of or about that experience.  When we watch video and reflect on it with each other, educators and researchers both come away with a stronger shared sense of what’s happening, but in the absence of creating some kind of new shared text or representation, we don’t have the opportunity for truly developing as co-researchers.  Are there places and projects beyond video that we can do on the museum floor that will help visitors (re)create, write about, or otherwise represent their experiences with us as co-authors?

I’m feeling my way around.  The path branches out in several directions.  I explore one avenue hunting for clues that may have the insight I need, and then I try another route.   This is not a distracted wandering but a focused drive seeking creative possibilities.  In my search I encounter more questions.  Channeling my inner detective, I analyze methodologies and interview subject matter experts.   I turn concepts inside out and backwards.  Maybe if I think about them from a different angle, I will see details that I did not notice before?  There are moments of exhilaration, exasperation, and fascination.  The answers will not come to me on a silver platter.  I have to be patient with what develops while keeping the end goal in mind.  Thus the creative process of a project unfolds.

While working in the cyberlab I have been reflecting on the process of a project.  Our team has a goal in mind – to create a customizable research platform that will provide a setting for researchers to investigate free-choice learning, human and computer interaction, or sociology principles (to name a few).  We have many tools and resources to use, but more pieces are needed to reach our destination.  Seeking out advisors for assistance, their insight inspires more questions and new routes.  My personal comfort zone prefers this to be orderly and structured, but this confining mindset is breaking down, forcing me to question my grip on a pre-determined map.  Instead of traveling on a firm road, I am moving along a fluid river.  The comfort zone begins to stretch.

I am reminded of the idea to embrace the journey, whether it is related to a project for the cyberlab, graduate school, or life in general!  There is beauty in the iteration, the failed attempts, and the pieces that finally connect together.  The creative process requires patience and time.  Keep driving to design, refine, and reflect.  Great inventions and innovations require passion, persistence, and alterations.  All of this builds to learning and growth.  With this in mind, I am off to navigate the wild river.

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!