This past Saturday, approximately 2,000 visitors joined in a celebration of marine science at Hatfield Marine Science Center.  There were opportunities to get behind-the-scenes tours, participate in activities in the wet labs, and interact with scientists, staff, and students from the OSU campus of Corvallis, HMSC Campus, Oregon Sea Grant, and Oregon Coast Aquarium.  Some of the state and federal agencies in attendance were  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Research, NOAA Marine Operations, United States Fish and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.  These groups shared their research and the tools they use to collect data.  It was a great opportunity for the public to hear and see some of work that takes place in the lab and along the coast.

I made a point of observing the facilitators/researchers and listening for their personal methods of communicating science.  For those presenting their work, they had to rapidly tailor their message to a diverse audience.  Interacting with young children, their parents, and grandparents, how did they capture the interest of this multi-generational group?  As each person brings with them a range of science knowledge, vocabulary, and attitudes towards science, how did the dialogue evolve between learner and facilitator?  I also watched the dynamics between group members as they stopped at stations.  If adults were with their children, what was the adult doing while the child interacted with the facilitator (whether it was a scientist, student researcher, etc.)?  Did they get impatient if their child did not answer a question right away?  Did they try to coax an answer out of them?  Did the adults get so enthusiastic they dominated the interaction?  Several questions came out of watching family groups make their way through the activities.

One station that was memorable for me was a simulation of a watershed and impacts to water quality.  Staff members from the Environmental Protection Agency of Newport used a model using several familiar items.  Two cake pans with sand were placed side-by-side.  The sand was built up to represent a shoreline and small plants were placed in the thickest section of sand.  The difference between the two was the presence of a wetland, indicated by pieces of sponge, near the shoreline.  Using food coloring, pollution was added to the model, followed by a “rainstorm”, or a spray bottle filled with water.  As the pollution moved over the surface, you could see where the wetland “sponge” soaked up the polluted water and prevented it from entering the water along shore.  The staff showed how this was similar to surface runoff and the challenges of pollutants entering waters along the Oregon Coast.  The facilitators summarized this simulation with an explanation of why wetlands are important and connected it to the simulation the visitors just witnessed.  As I moved on to other exhibits, I wondered if the concept of a wetland and its purpose had changed for these particular individuals.

Having this many visitors on site on one day, I took some time to watch behavior around the touchtable.  I looked for patterns to help refine my research questions of how people use an interactive tabletop in an informal science setting.  This setup is different from “informational kiosks” used in many museums, having a size and orientation similar to a desktop computer screen.  As the touchtable is a flat computer, the table setup itself may be attractive or inviting.  I watched as a group of five people leaned in and had at least five hands on the table simultaneously.  There were instances of users reading text out loud to others and modeling behavior of how to do a particular task on the screen.  I also noticed whether users would put one hand or two on the table and if they started with one finger or more, and did this vary by age?  I watched to see how soon someone was able to figure out what the point or goal of the software was and whether they refer to the instructions.  A few users took some time to speak about their experience using the table.  It was a helpful exercise and a reminder that there is still quite a bit to do before the summer season begins.

Marine Science Day was a great event due to the incredible work by many staff and volunteers that are connected to the HMSC community.  Looking forward to next year!

 

MSD_2014

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!

 

When you have a new idea in a field so steeped in tradition as science or education, as a newcomer, how can you encourage discussion, at the very least, while still presenting yourself as a professional member of your new field? This was at the heart of some discussion that came up this weekend after Shawn and I presented his “Better Presentations” workshop. The HMSC graduate student organization, HsO, was hosting the annual exchange with the University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology grad students, who work at the UO satellite campus in Charleston, Oregon, a ways south on the coast from Newport.

The heart of Shawn’s presentation is built around learning research that suggests better ways to build your visuals to accompany your professional presentation. For most of the audience, that was slides or posters for scientific research talks at conferences, as part of proposal defenses, or just with one’s own research group. Shawn suggests ways to break out of what has become a pretty standard default: slides crowded with bullet points, at-best illegible and at-worst incomprehensible figures, and in general, too much content crammed onto single slides and into the overall presentation.

The students were eager to hear about the research foundations of his suggestions, but then raised a concern: how far could they go in pushing the envelope without jeopardizing their entry into the field? That is, if they used a Prezi instead of a PowerPoint, would they be dismissed as using a stunt and their research work overlooked, perhaps in front of influential members of their discipline? Or, if they don’t put every step of their methodology on their poster and a potential employer comes by when they aren’t there, how will that employer know how innovative their work is?

Personally, my reaction was to think: do you want to work with these people if that’s their stance? However, I’m in the enviable position of having seen my results work – I have a job offer that really values the sort of maverick thinking (at least to some traditional science educators) that our free-choice/informal approach offers. In retrospect, that’s how I view the lack of response I got from numerous other places I applied to – I wouldn’t have wanted to work with them anyway if they didn’t value what I could bring to the table. I might have thought quite differently if I were still searching for a position at this point.

For the grad student, especially, it struck me that it’s a tough row to hoe. On the one hand, you’re new to the field, eager, and probably brimming with new ideas. On the other, you have to carefully fit those ideas into the traditional structure in order to secure funding and professional advancement. However, how do you compromise without compromising too far and losing that part of you which, as a researcher, tells you to look at the research for guidance?

It occurred to me that I will have to deal with this as I go into my new position which relies on grant funding after the first year. I am thinking about what my research agenda will be, ideally, and how I may or may not have to bend that based on what funding is available. One of my main sources of funding will likely be through helping scientists do their broader impacts and outreach projects, and building my research into those. How able I am to pick and choose projects to fit my agenda as well as theirs remains to be seen, but this conversation brought me around to thinking about that reality.

As Shawn emphasized in the beginning of the talk, the best outreach (and honestly, probably the best project in any discipline, be it science, or business, or government assistance) is designed with the goals and outcomes in mind first, then picking the tools and manner of achieving those goals only afterwards. We sometimes lament the amazing number of very traditional outreach programs that center around a classroom visit, for example, and wonder if we can ever convince the scientists we partner with that there are new, research-based ways of doing things (see Laura’s post on the problems some of our potential partners have with our ways of doing research). I will be fortunate, indeed, if I find partners for funding that believe the same, or at least are willing to listen to what may be a new idea, at least about outreach.

How much progress have I made on my thesis in the last month? Since last I posted about my thesis, I have completed the majority of my interviews. Out of 30 I need, I have all but four completed, and three of the four remaining scheduled. Out of about 20 eyetracking sessions, I have completed all but about 7, with probably 3 of the remaining scheduled. I also presented some preliminary findings around the eye-tracking at the Geological Society of America conference in a digital poster session. Whew!

It’s a little strange to have set a desired number of interviews at the beginning and feel like I have to fulfill that and only that number, rather than soliciting from a wide population and getting as many as I could past a minimum. Now, if I were to get a flood of applicants for the “last” novice interview spot, I might want to risk overscheduling to compensate for no-shows (which, as you know, have plagued me). On the other hand, I risk having to cancel if I got an “extra” subject scheduled, which I suppose is not a big deal, but for some reason I would feel weird canceling on a volunteer – would it put them off from volunteering for research in the future??

Next up is processing all the recordings, backing them up, and then getting them transcribed. I’ll need to create a rubric to score the informational answers as something along the lines of 100% correct, partially correct, or not at all correct. Then it will be coding, finding patterns in the data and categorizing those patterns, and asking someone to serve as a fellow coder to verify my codebook and coding once I’ve made a pass through all of the interviews. Then I’ll have to decide if the same coding will apply equally to the questions I asked during the eyetracking portion, since I didn’t dig as deeply to root out understanding completely as I did in the clinical interviews, but I still asked them to justify their answers with “how do you know” questions.

We’ll see how far I get this month.

Katie Woollven tells us about how she’s learning more about getting everyone DOING science research, aka Citizen Science or Public Participation in Science Research:

“I’ve been interested in Citizen Science research since I began my grad program, so I was really excited to attend the Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) conference Aug 4-5 in Portland. The speakers were great, and it was nice to see how my questions about citizen science fit with the current research in this field.

Although public participation has always been important to science throughout history and is NOT new, the field of research on citizen science IS relatively new, and is somewhat disjointed. Researchers in this field lack a common language (prime example: should we call it PPSR? or citizen science?), which makes it difficult to stay abreast of the latest research. There have been calls for a national PPSR organization, one of the conference goals was to get feedback from people in the field about what they would want that organization to do.

One of my favorite talks was from Heidi Ballard of UC Davis, who is interested in all the possible individual, programmatic, and especially community-level outcomes of PPSR projects. She asked questions about the degree and quality of participation, such as: Who participates in these projects, and in what parts of the scientific process? Whose interests are being served, and to what end? Who makes the decisions, and who has the power?

Another interesting part of Heidi’s talk was when she touched on the relative strengths of the 3 models of PPSR projects. Citizen science projects can be divided into 3 categories (see the 2009 CAISE report): contributory (generally designed by scientists, and participants collect data), collaborative (also designed by scientists, but participants may be involved in project design, data analysis, or communicating results), and co-created (designed by scientists and participants, and some participants are involved in all steps of the scientific process). I found this part fascinating, because I think learning from the strengths of all 3 models can make any program more successful. And of course, learning about different citizen science projects during the poster sessions was really exciting! Below are a few of my favorites.

PolarTREC- K-12 teachers go on a 2-6 week science research expedition in a polar region, and then share the experience with their classroom. I think this is really interesting because of the motivational aspect of kids participating in (and according to Sarah Crowley, even improving) authentic scientific research.

Port Townsend Marine Science Center Plastics Project- Volunteers sample beaches for micro-plastics around the US Salish Sea. I’ve heard a lot about this center, and the strength of their volunteer base is amazing.

Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences- I really want to visit this museum! Visitors can engage in the scientific process on the museum floor, in one case by making observations on video feed from a field station.”

Conference talks, poster abstracts, and videos

Katie Woollven is in the Marine Resource Management program, focusing on Marine Education.

ed. note – apologies for the sporadic postings these last few days. Katie Stofer has been out of town, and things weren’t quite as well set up for other lab members to start posting themselves.

Ok, I guess I am following suit and forgot to post on Friday! I don’t have quite as good of an excuse as Katie. Instead of prepping for conferences I was recovering from a vacation.

I thought it might be nice to provide an update about the Exploratorium project, where NOAA scientists are embedded on the museum floor with the Explainers (Exploratorium front-line staff consisting of young adults). I have collected so much data for this project I am beginning to feel overwhelmed.

Here’s the data that I have collected:
- Formal Interviews with each of the four groups of scientists, both before and after their experience.
- Informal interviews with all of the scientists. These were done in the time walking back to the hotel or when grabbing lunch. Both great times to collect data!
- Interviews with the two Explainer managers plus a survey with open- and closed-ended questions at the end of year 2.
- Interviews with each of the lead Explainers, 8 total. Also, lead Explainers during year 2 completed a survey with open- and closed-ended questions.
- Pre- mid- and post- data for what Explainers think atmospheric sciences is and what atmospheric scientists do. This was not done during the first year topic of ocean sciences.
- I also provided an optional survey for all Explainers so they could share their thoughts and opinions about the project. This provided a reflection opportunity for the Explainers that were not lead Explainers during the project.
- Visitor surveys about their experience in the scientists’ installation. During year 2 these were collected in both paper form and using survey software on the iPad.
- Field notes during meetings and time on the museum floor. During year 2 the field notes were taken on the iPad using survey software.
- And lastly…personal daily reflections.

So the question is “now what?” This data provides opportunities for triangulation but where does one start? I’m spending my final month of summer trying to figure that out.

Hopefully my next blog post will showcase my progress and some findings.