About Michelle

I am a PhD candidate in Environmental Sciences at Oregon State University, focusing on research in informal education settings. I regularly post about my experiences as an external evaluator for museums and a local school district as well as stories or ideas that catch my attention. Research for my doctorate focuses on how aquarium staff and volunteer environmental identities have formed over time.

I have spent 4½ days listening and learning from other environmental educators.  I am at the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) conference in Oakland, CA with two colleagues, Dan Calvert and Jen Wyld.  We have definitely taken the “divide and conquer” idea at this conference so we could experience and share as much as possible.

A few things from this week have really stood out.  While there is not a large informal education presence, this conference has offered a lot of talks that I (and hopefully some of you) have an interest in and I think a lot of them apply to informal learning.

During the Research Symposium, the presenters had us divide into groups and go out into an urban green space.  They challenged us to answer questions that were originally posed by Aldo Leopold to his students: What is happening here?  What has happened here? What should happen here?  We used these questions to think about the more-than-human world.

The actual conference opened Wednesday night with an amazing keynote by Annie Leonard, who talked about “The Story of Stuff” (www.storyofstuff.org/).  Annie was an enthusiastic presenter with so many zingers that I can’t possibly type them all out here!

On Thursday morning, Jen & I (and about 40 other conference attendees) went on an urban hike with Oakland Native American youth.  We learned about their program and the importance of outdoor experiences to their identity and sense of place.


Hector (…and if you are reading this Hector and I misspelled your name, leave a comment or email me for a correction!) was our guide and has been involved with the program for 8 years.  He took us up to Inspiration Point in Joaquin Miller Park.  We spent some time taking in the view of Oakland and then Hector shared that he comes up to this point when he feels stressed, even if it’s at midnight.  He also shared, so eloquently, that “We have to remind ourselves that we all started somewhere.  We all came from the woods.”

On Thursday we heard about how environmental education can integrate equity, inclusion, and diversity.  We also heard from three inspirational women about effective social media (maybe a discussion for another day).

Today is my last day here.  This morning I went to a panel about eating local food and partnering with farmers for education.  This was nicely followed by a visit to the Oakland Farmer’s Market!

I have been shuffling through data from the Exploratorium’s scientist-in-residence (SIR) project and I started thinking about what data (and the kinds of ways data) can or should be shared on a blog.  For now, I am going to share a few word clouds of raw data.  These do not illustrate full sentences nor can you tell which participant said what.

Each of these word clouds was based off of a survey question that I wrote and administered.

Visitors to the exhibition space were asked, upon leaving, “What would you tell a friend this space was about?”  The word cloud below contains data from the March residency, which focused on severe storm science (with scientists from NOAA’s National Severe Storm Lab).


The Exploratorium Explainers were an integral part of this project.  At the end of the second year I asked all of the Explainers, the Lead Explainers, and the Explainer managers to voluntarily complete the online survey.

Here is how Explainer managers responded to “Describe the impacts of this project on the scientists.”


While the Explainer survey was quite long and there is a lot of rich data there, I want to focus on their thoughts about the iPad.  The iPad was incorporated into the exhibition space as a mediating tool (as specified in the grant proposal).  I asked the Explainers “Where and how do you think the iPad was incorporated throughout the project?”  Their response…



So, what can we gain from word clouds?  It is certainly one way to look at raw data.  Thoughts?


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.

As part of the FCL Lab’s incorporation of the iPad as a research tool in museums, I have been one of a handful of people testing different survey software. Software I tested included PollDaddy, iSurvey, iForm, QuestionPro and TouchMetric/Surveyor. While each had their own unique set-up and offered basic affordances such as different question types and access to data, I found that QuestionPro far exceeded the others.

Here are a few things that I particularly liked about QuestionPro:
• Great customer service. I made a contact through their online chat and that person remained by contact, via email, throughout my trial. I was offered a free upgrade to the corporate edition and my free trial was extended to meet the amount of time I needed to complete a specific project.
• Diversity in question types. For my survey I used pretty basic questions (multiple choice- both select one answer and select multiple answers, comment/text boxes, matrices and scales) but noticed there were several other question options.
• Easy to set up surveys. Selecting a question type, making questions require a response, and branching all had to be done in separate pop-up boxes; however, once you got used to the system it didn’t take much time.
• Ability to jump/branch to follow a logical order. Enough said.
• Survey can be completed on the iPad app or by emailing a link to participants. The main focus of testing different software was to determine how easy it was to set up and use on an iPad. However, in my study I had participants who were easier to contact via email (i.e. museum staff). Having the capability to send those participants a link to complete the survey on their computers was easy and efficient. QuestionPro allows you to see the original email sent to participants, how many have viewed the survey, how many have completed the survey, and send reminder emails.
• Basic data analysis. I have not explored this feature in any great detail yet, but simple statistics and graphs are easily accessible.

There are few negative things to say about QuestionPro. It does take time and patience to figure out branching/skip logic and some other features, but I wouldn’t say more so than any other new program one tries to learn. Beware, however, of the preview option when editing the survey. Previewing your survey is helpful, especially if you set up branching, but QuestionPro puts all of the data from those previews into your data folder. It is easy enough to go into your data and delete those results, but I would recommend to do that before collecting data from participants. I have sent an email about this to QuestionPro.

We are half way through the severe storms scientists’ residency at the Exploratorium and all is going well. We are testing many new ideas during this residency, some of them changes based on the evaluation from the last year. The scientists and explainers are working together at exhibits in the main thoroughfare of the museum. In the space is the storm chasing vehicle, a van de Graaff generator, the tornado exhibit, and the outdoor cart (a bike designed for explainers to ride around the Palace of Fine Arts, stop anywhere, and do an activity). Visitors of all ages are engaged within the space with some of them staying for an extended time (upwards of 20-30 minutes).

One thing the explainers are working on for this project is a floor walk. A floor walk allows explainers to lead visitors around the floor and give them a more in-depth experience with exhibits around a central topic. At the end of last week, the two lead explainers (those working with the severe storms scientists) practiced their floor walk with their fellow explainers, the scientists, and me. One exhibit that we explored more deeply was the tornado. We used tinsel to see how the air is flowing and therefore forming a tornado. We also explored how bubbles would act within the exhibit (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hmscvisitorcenter/6989941183/). I learned that the Exploratorium has a room devoted to bubbles. Yes, a closet that is filled with everything bubble related. Hmmm….

There is nothing like celebrating Pi Day at the Exploratorium! The scientists’ time on the floor was cut a little short today due to Pi Day festivities, but it was fun taking it all in. The field trip explainers, who spend a lot of time working directly with the scientists on this project, put on an amazing performance of an original song, which I recorded for your viewing pleasure. Sitting in our afternoon meetings we could hear the celebration continue. There was a parade of the digits of pi that worked its way through the museum. And let’s not forget actual pie (I had a piece of strawberry pie and chicken & spinach quiche).

This was a special Pi Day celebration for the Exploratorium. A physicist at the Exploratorium founded Pi Day and it is the last year the museum will celebrate Pi Day at the Palace of Fine Arts (the museum moves to Pier 15 in 2013). More information and Pi Day activities can be found at http://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/index.html.

I need to give a shout out to the band, Buffon’s Needle, in the video.
Adam Green, keyboards
Chas Thomsen, bass
Lok Chan, guitar
Ryan Juan, drums
Khamara Pettus, lead vocals
Remaining field trip explainers, back-up vocals

And sorry for the late post, using the iPad along with editing and uploading videos is a learning experience!