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.


“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 returned a few purchased Cyberlab cameras back to the store.  Some were already taken off the exhibits and a couple others were just removed from the computer kiosks at the wave laboratory. Apparently they were not working well as images were coming through very blurry.

I wonder how much of the problem had to do with visitor interactions…WAIT…everything at a visitor center has to do with visitor interactions doesn’t it? The shape of the little camera stroked me as very inviting of the oily digits exploring the visitor center everyday. We all know visitors love to push buttons, so what happens when a camera placed at eye level at a computer kiosk looks like a button? … CORRECT, it gets pushed and pushed many times, and the finger oils get transferred to the lenses (that is a possibility). I can only imagine the puzzled looks of visitors waiting for something to happen, what would the “button” activate?

It didn’t activate anything but a little frustration on our prototyping side as we continue to seek optimal interfaces to obtain great quality video for our learning research goals while maintaining the aesthetically pleasing characteristic of the exhibits. Jenny East, Megan Kleibacker, Mark Farley and I walked around the visitor center to evaluate how many more cameras we need to buy and install keeping the old, new and oncoming exhibits in mind. How many more and what type of cameras to buy depended on the possible locations for hook ups, the surfaces available for mounting and the angles we need to capture images from.  Below is a VC camera map and a screen capture of the camera overview to give a better idea.

HMSC VC Camera Map

Screen Shot

While this is all a challenge to figure out, a bigger challenge is to find and/or create mounting mechanisms that are safe and look good. Camera encasing systems that minimize visitor touch and avoid any physical contact with the lenses. These will probably have to be custom built to fit every particular mounting location, at least that would be ideal.  But how do we make it functional? how do we make it blend within the exhibits and be aesthetically pleasing at the same time? It may seem easy to think about but not so easy to accomplish, at least not if you don’t have all the money in the world, and certainly not at the push of a button.

Nevertheless, with “patience in the process” as Jenny talked about in her blog last week, as well as practicing some “hard thinking” as Shawn discussed a few blogs ago, we will keep evolving through our camera set up, pushing all of the buttons technology allows us to push while working collaboratively to optimize the ways in which we can collect good data in the saga of understanding what really pushes the visitors’ curiosity buttons… towards ocean sciences.

This past week at HMSC, we have been getting back to my old favorite – exhibit design and prototyping. Katie and I have been planning the prototype of the video booth that will go in to the new wave tank area, which is intended to capture visitor reflections when they test out their wave-resilient lego structures in the large tsunami tank.




The idea behind the booth is visitors will build and test their lego structures in the tank, and then have the chance to review footage of their “crash” via an overhead camera above the tsunami tank. The video booth will encourage visitors to reflect on their footage and video record their response. Eventually, the reflections we capture will be used to research how visitors reflect on design and test activities in an ocean engineering context.

Depending on the application interface that is being designed for us to run the video review and record capabilities, the prototype will start simple with a touchscreen device behind a curtained booth. We are hoping that “curtaining” the booth will give it an element of mystery for visitors, and hence a hook to use the exhibit – inspired by our lab group’s visit to the Science Factory last summer, where we played for a long time in a darkened booth that allowed us to explore photosensitive materials.

With the help of Becca and Susan’s interpretive expertise, myself and Allison are also in the process of working on some signage to help visitors explore how different construction materials will affect their lego structure wave-resilience. Mark had the idea to weaken different color legos to represent different materials resistant to wave impact, an idea which Harrison began experimenting with last spring. In this way, the weakened legos are models of different construction materials and, in essence, are weakened using a drilling tool so they have less “cling” to the base plate their fixed to during tank testing. Some are heavily weakened to represent wood, some only moderately to represent concrete, and some not at all to represent steel. The idea is to encourage visitors to experiment with differing “materials” and to generate hypotheses about material effect on design as they build and test their structures.

I love exhibit prototyping, so these tasks have been very enjoyable for me so far! I’ll post some pictures once these get out on the floor.


With all the new wave exhibit work, visitor center maintenance, server changes and audio testing that has been going on in the last few months, Mark, Katie and I realized that the Milestone system that runs the cameras and stores the video data is in need of a little TLC.

Next week we will be relabeling cameras, tidying up the camera “views” (customized display of the different camera views), and checking the servers. We’ve also been having a few problems with exporting video using a codec that allows the video to be played on other media players outside the Milestone client, so we’re going to attempt to solve that issue too. Basically we have a bit of camera housekeeping to attend to – but a good tidy up and reorganize is always a positive way to start the new year me thinks!

Before the holidays, Mark had also asked me to try out the newly released Axis network covert camera – which although video only, is much smaller and discreet than our dome counterparts, and may be more useful for establishment angles, i.e. camera views that establish a wider view of an area (such as a birds eye view), and don’t necessarily require audio. With the updated wave tanks going in, I temporarily installed one on one of the wave kiosks to test view and video quality. During the camera housekeeping, I’m going to take a closer look at its performance to determine whether we will obtain and install more. They may end up replacing some of the dome cameras so we can free those up for views that require closer angles and more detailed views/audio.

Source: via Free-Choice on Pinterest


As I gear up for Deme‘s first play tests, I find it useful (if intimidating) to look past the initial design phase to what its future might hold. If I choose to publish Deme as a boxed-and-ready board game, I’ll have in mind Ben Kuchera’s recent piece for the Penny Arcade Report. Kuchera interviewed James Mathe of Minion Games about the realities of using Kickstarter to fund a board game.

“Mathe said that his fulfillment company stated that out of 80 new products in 2012, only 22 of them sold over 500 units at retail. That’s a sobering look at the reality of the board game business, and it’s a business with a heavy cost in terms of production and shipping. In contrast, Mathe gets production quotes assuming runs of 1,500 to 2,000 copies of each game. ‘You’re not going to sell more then [sic] that on Kickstarter and through distribution unless you have a real hit of a game,’ he explained. ‘Which is rare, though everyone thinks their game is great.'”

Publication and distribution issues are still a way off for me. Still, they will be waiting as soon as I feel that Deme is ready for release. Should I go digital? Should I release Deme strictly as a rule set? Should I maintain a stock of pre-fab game sets for demos? The sooner I get people around the table, the sooner I’ll know.