About Laia Robichaux

PhD student with a background in marine biology (BS) and science education (MS). Research focus on science communication in museums and science centers, with a focus on socially controversial science, meaning making, and identity negotiation among adult visitors. Alter-Ego: Photographer

One of the great things about being in graduate school is the variety of experiences that are available in the competition for funding. Each one offers unique opportunities for growth and learning, but some are certainly more challenging than others. I’m currently working on a project that utilizes my skills in web design, but the requirements of the project are beyond what I was formerly able to perform. The past few weeks have been full of learning and expanding and lots of trial and error. I finally found a few useful printed books (especially the Drupal Bible) and with their help I’ve been more successful in building the website with the functionality I envisioned. There is still quite a ways to go, and it would be easier if I had direct access to the servers, but I’m still proud of the work I’ve been able to do and look forward to adding “web development” to my Curriculum Vitae.

(Since the website is still under quite a bit of construction, I have chosen not to release the URL at this point.)

I’ve wrapped up my work with the NEES REU program, and as my final assignment I wrote a report on the Folklife Festival evaluation. I didn’t have time to do an in depth analysis, but I did enough to report that the activity was overwhelmingly fun, and that people felt like it was worth their time (despite the incredible heat). Based on anecdotal evidence from previous activities with the mini-flume, we weren’t exactly surprised by these results, but confirmation is always nice.

What was surprising showed up in the demographic information. We had the expected breakdown of men and women, race/ethnicity, and even age. But when I tallied highest education level, half of the participants reported having at least a master’s degree. Now I have questions about how and why we got this interesting demographic breakdown. Is the activity more appealing to this demographic? Was the Festival what was more appealing and we just caught the demographic?

Or was there something in my recruitment method that would have resulted in this odd sampling?

Folklife only counted visitors so I don’t have access to the demographics of the larger population, so for now I have no way of answering these questions, but I will keep it in mind as I do more in depth analysis on the Folklife data.

OSU ran three outreach activities at the 46th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and we took the chance to evaluate the Wave Lab’s Mini-Flume wave tank activity, a related but different activity to the wave tanks in the HMSC Visitor Center.

Three activities were selected by the Smithsonian Folklife committee to best represent the diversity of research conducted at OSU, as well as the University’s commitment to sustainable solutions and family education: Tech Wizards, Surimi School, and the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Lab’s Mini-Flume activity. Tech Wizards was set up in the Family Activities area of Folklife, and Surimi School and the Mini-Flume activity shared a tent in the Sustainable Solutions area.

Given the anticipated number of visitors to the festival, and my presence as the project research assistant, we decided it would be a great opportunity to see how well people thought the activity worked, what they might learn, and what they liked or didn’t – core questions in an evaluation. The activity was led by Alicia Lyman-Holt, EOT director at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Lab, and I developed and spearheaded the evaluation. To make the activity and evaluation happen, we also brought four undergraduate volunteers from OSU and two from Howard University in D.C, plus both the OSU Alumni Association and the festival supplied volunteers on an as-needed basis. We also wanted to try out data collection using iPads and survey software we’re working with in the FCL Lab.

Due to the sheer numbers of people we thought would be there, as well as the divided attentions of everyone, we decided to go with a straightforward survey. We ended up only collecting a small number of what we anticipated due to extreme heat, personnel, and divided attention of visitors – after they spent a lot of time with the activity, they weren’t always interested in sticking around even for a short survey.

I’m currently working on data analysis. Stay tuned for more information on the evaluation, the process, and to learn how we did on the other side of the continent.