About Laura Good

PhD Student, Science Education Free Choice Learning

Last week, Dr. Rowe and I visited Portland Art Museum to help assist with a recruitment push for participants in their Conversations About Art evaluation and I noticed all of the education staff involved have very different styles of how they recruited visitors to participate in the project. Styles ranged from the apologetic (e.g. “do you mind if I interrupt you to help us”), to incentive-focused (e.g. “get free tickets!) to experiential (e.g. “participating will be fun and informative!”)

This got me thinking a lot about  the significance of people skills and a researcher’s recruitment style in educational studies this week. How does the style in which you get participants involved influence a) how many participants you actually recruit, and b) the quality of the participation (i.e. do they just go through the motions to get the freebie incentive?) Thinking back to prior studies of FCL alum here from OSU, I realized that nearly all the researchers I knew had a different approach to recruitment, be it in person, on the phone or via email, and that in fact it is a learned skill that we don’t often talk too much about.

I’ve been grateful for my success at recruiting both docents and visitors for my research on docent-visitor interactions, which is mostly the result of taking the “help a graduate student complete their research” approach – one that I borrowed from interacting with prior Marine Resource Management colleagues of mine, Abby Nickels and Alicia Christensen during their masters research on marine education activities. Such an approach won’t be much help in the future once I finally get out of grad school, so the question to consider is what factors make for successful participant recruitment? It seems the common denominator is people skills, and by people skills I mean the ability to engage a potential recruit on a level that removes skepticism around being commandeered off the street.  You have to be not only trustworthy, but also approachable. I’ve definitely noticed with my own work that on off days where I’m tired and have trouble maintaining a smiley face for long periods of time at the HMSC entrance, recruitment seems harder. All those younger years spent in customer service jobs and learning how to deal with the public in general seem so much more worthwhile!

So fellow researchers and evaluators, my question for you is what are your strategies for recruiting participants? Do you agree people skills are an important underlying factor? Do you over/under estimate your own personal influence on participant recruitment?




In the last couple of weeks Katie and I have been testing some options for capturing better quality visitor conversation for the camera system using external mics.

As Katie mentioned last month, each camera’s built-in microphones are proving to be a little unfruitful in capturing good quality audio for the eventual voice recognition system in “hot-spot” areas such as the touch tanks and front desk. As a result, we purchased some pre-amplified omni-directional microphones and set about testing their placement and audio quality in these areas. This has been no easy process, as the temporary wiring we put in place to hook the mics to the cameras is  not as aesthetically pleasing in a public setting as one might hope, and we discovered that the fake touch tank rocks are duct-tape’s arch enemy. Plus the mics have been put through their paces through various visitor kicks, bumps and water splashes.

As well as the issue of keeping the mics in place, testing has also meant a steep learning curve about mic level adjustment. When we initially wired them up, I adjusted each mic (via a mixer) one by one to reduce “crackly” noises and distortion during loud conversations. However, I later realized the adjustment overlooked necessary camera audio setup changes, and gain adjustments, affecting just how close a visitor has to get to one of the mics to actually hear them, particularly over the constant noise of running water around tanks.

So today I am embarking on a technical adventure. Wearing wireless headphones and brandishing a flathead screwdriver, I am going to reset all the relevant cameras’ audio settings to a zero gain, adjust the mic levels for mic balance (there are multiple mics per camera) rather than crackly noises, and adjust the gain until the sample audio I pull from the camera system comes out cleaner. I’m not expecting to output audio with the clarity of a seastar squeak, but I will attempt to get output that allows us to capture focal areas of clear conversation, even with the quietest of visitors. Avast me hearties, I be a sound buccaneer!

Well the data collection for my research has been underway for nearly 2 months now, how time flies! For those of you new to this project, my research centers on documenting the practice of science center docents as they interact with visitors. Data collection includes video observations of voluntary docents at HMSC using “visitor-mounted” looxcie cameras, as well as pre- and post-observation interviews with those participating docents.

“Visitor-eye view using the looxcies”

My current focus is getting the video observations of  each of the 10 participating docents collected. In order to conduct a post observation interview (which asks docents to reflect on their practice), I need to get about 10-15 minutes of video data of each of the docents interacting with the public. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you can’t guarantee a recruited family will interact with a recruited docent,  and an actual interaction will likely only last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, it takes a fair few families wearing cameras to get what you need. However, I’m finding this process really enjoyable both in getting to know the docents and meeting visitors.

When I first started this project I was worried that visitors would be a little repelled about the idea of having their whole visit recorded. What I’m actually finding is that either a) they want to help the poor grad student complete her thesis, b) they think the cameras are fun and “want a go” or c) they totally want one of the HMSC tote bags being used as an incentive (what can I say, everyone loves free stuff right?!) The enthusiasm for the cameras has gone as far as one gentleman running up to a docent, jumping up and down and shouting “I’m wearing a camera, I’m wearing a camera!” Additionally, and for those star trek fans out there, a number of visitors and colleagues alike have remarked how much wearing a looxcie makes a person look like a borg (i.e. cyborg), particularly with that red light thing…

Now how, may you ask, does that not influence those lovely naturalistic interactions you’re supposed to be observing? Well, as many of us qualitative researchers know, that unless you hide the fact you are observing a person (an element our IRB process is not particularly fond of) you can never truly remove that influence, but you can assume that if particular practices are observed often enough, they are part of the landscape you are observing. The influence of the cameras may alter how naturalistic that interaction may be, but that interaction is still a reflection of social behaviors taking place. People do not completely change their personality and ways of life simply because a camera is around; more likely any behavior changes may simply be over- or under-exaggerated normative actions. And I am finding patterns, lots of patterns, in the discourse and action taking place between docents and visitors.

However, I am paying attention to how visitors and docents react to the cameras. When filtering the footage for interactions, I look out for any discourse that indicates camera influence is an issue. As examples, the docent in the “jumping man” footage reacts surprised to the man’s sudden shouting, open’s his eyes wide and nervously laughs – to which I noted on the video that the interaction from then on may irregular. In one clip I have a docent talking non-stop about waves seemingly without taking a breath for nearly 8 minutes – to which I noted seemed unnatural in comparison to their other shorter dialogue events. Another clip has a docent bursting out laughing at a visitor wearing one of the looxices attached to his baseball cap using a special clip I have (not something I expected!) – to which I noted would have likely made the ability for the visitor to forget about the looxcie less possible.

All in all, however, most visitors remark they actually forget they are wearing the camera as they visit goes on, simply because they are distracted by their actual visit. This makes me happy, as the purpose of incorporating the looxcies was to reduce the influence of being videod as a whole. Visitors forget to a point where, during pilots, one man actually walked into the bathroom wearing his looxcie, and recorded some footage I wasn’t exactly intending to observe… suffice to say, I instantly deleted that video and and updated my recruitment spiel to include a reminder not to take the cameras in to the bathroom. Social science never ceases to surprise me!

Last weekend a number of us headed off to the Oregon coast for the FCL annual retreat. This year it was at William H. Tugman state park near Winchester Bay, OR. As true Oregonians, we stayed in yurts and ran our activities outdoors. Although a little chilly (hey, it IS the Oregon coast!), the weather was beautiful and good times were had by all.


The FCL retreat is a student-led professional development opportunity involving a number of grad student and social-centered activities. It’s also an opportunity for us to get to know each other a little better, and enjoy some hang-out time for community-building across the FCL-related programs at OSU.  Over 20 people attended this year, including Dr. Rowe, Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking, as well as partners, dogs and babies, which made for an academic as well as all-round family atmosphere! The annual retreat was started last year at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in Alsea, OR, and we are hoping it will become a tradition for years to come.


Activities were centered on a variety of topics, and included

  • Team building
  • Grant writing
  • Sensory drawing
  • Principles of interpretation
  • Working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations
  • Irish dancing
  • Night hiking
  • Yoga
  • Health

Plus, a couple of extra fun campfires and lots of eating! A big thank you to everyone who helped organize and/or participated in the retreat. Some the highlights included creating interpretive sculptures with modeling clay, watching everyone try to dance in unison during Irish dancing whilst falling over their own feet, and learning some crazy new things we never knew about each other in Dr. Dierking’s icebreaker game. We also discovered Laia is amazing at cooking chili over a fire, and Dr. Rowe makes a mean burger!

Check out our photos here. You will also find them on our facebook page.



Since getting back from England last weekend (and Shawn, Katie and I’s presentation at the 6-ICOM conference), it’s been an exciting  week for me thesis-wise. I began “real” (i.e. non-pilot) data collection in the form of initial interviews with HMSC docents. Rebecca Schiewe, HMSC’s Volunteer Coordinator, has also been kindly helping me collect visitor survey data.

If you’re not familiar, my PhD research centers on documenting the practice of science center docents as they interact with visitors. I am interested in the practice and professional development of informal educators, and my research looks to unpack the interpretive strategies docents undertake to communicate and engage the public with science. My work involves interviewing docents about their practice, observing docents interacting with the public using “visitor-mounted” looxcie cameras, conducting post-observation interviews to allow docents to reflect on those observations and a final focus group interview to gain the larger docent community perspective on observations.

So far in this initial stage I have had very positive recruitment results with the docents at HMSC, and wonderful conversations about practice with participants. Even though I’ve have had plenty of prior experience conducting interviews during former research positions, I’ve discovered this week that interviewing really is my favorite form of qualitative data collection. As many of my colleagues know, I’m a talker, and therefore there’s something fantastic about getting to have rich and interesting conversations to collect data for my thesis. I’m sure when I hit transcription and analysis time I will change my tune a litte, but the participants are so passionate about what they do, it’s catching!

What I’m learning so far is that interviewing, of course, is a serious art. There are so many personal, social and physical factors (FCL dimensions anyone?!) you have to consider in the process in order to not only help your participants feel at ease, but gain naturalistic data, as Katie blogged about recently. I’m working very hard to help my participants feel comfortable throughout the process – for example using scheduling that suits them, paying attention to the interview space (e.g. light, temperature, presence of windows, comfort of seating) and, during the interviewing, asking questions and probing for more detail in the most fluid and natural way that I can. In terms of questioning, my biggest challenge in the past has been asking a question that may have already been answered in a prior question’s response, simply because I felt I had to stick to the question order. This time around however, I am concentrating on adjusting question order based on the direction of the conversation, and asking for elaboration relative to prior responses. Talk about improving your listening skills, but you really cannot help but become a better listener as an interviewer! I’m looking forward to more interviews this week and next, and feel great about finally getting on that thesis train. Next stop: Observation-ville!


So last week I posted about the evaluation project underway at Portland Art Museum (PAM) and wanted to give a few more details about how we are using the looxcie cameras.


Looxcies are basically bluetooth headsets, just like the ones regularly seen used with cell phones, but with a built in camera. I am currently using them as part of my research emcompassing docent-visitor interactions, and decided to use them as a data collection tool because of their ability to generate a good quality “visitor-eye-view” of the museum experience. I personally feel their potential as a research/evaluation tool in informal settings are endless, and had some wonderful conversations with other education professionals at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Anchorage, AK recently about where some other possibilities could lie – including as part of professional development practice for educators and exhibit development.

At PAM, the looxices will be used to capture that view when visitors interact with exhibition pieces, specifically those related to their Museum Stories and Conversation About Art video-based programs. Here, fitting visitors with looxcies will enable us to capture the interactions and conversations visitors have about the art on display as they visit the museum. The video data gained here can then be analyzed for repeating themes around what and how visitors talk about art in the museum setting.

During our meeting with Jess Park and Ally Schultz at PAM, we created some test footage to help with training other museum staff for the evaluation procedures. In the clip below, Jess and Ally are looking at and discussing some sculpture pieces, and were both wearing looxcies to give them a sense of how they feel to the user. This particular clip is from Ally’s perspective, and you’ll notice even Shawn and I have a go a butting in and talking about art with them!

What’s exciting about working with the looxcies, and with video observations in general, is how much detail you can capture about the visitor experience, down to what they are specifically looking at, how long they look at it, and even if they nod their head in agreement with the person they are conversing with. Multimodal discourse eat your heart out!