Last weekend there was a wonderful free choice learning event at Lincoln City Oregon – The Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition.  It was so much fun to watch and perform the role of judge.  This is an event that is sponsored by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center and numerous local and national sponsors.  The most interesting thing to me is the level of excitement that surrounds these events from all involved.  However today I am going to write about one particular participant from last Saturday’s event.  This particular sophomore chaired his team for the Rovers portion of the competition which meant they were competing at the level to win the only slot to move forward to the international competition and prize money to help offset costs.  This particular participant had a serious of events on Saturday that would make any person, young or old most likely walk away from the competition.  In my mind his actions truly embodied what it means to be a good sport, but the aspects of free choice learning. 

First of all during the debriefing it was clear that another team his team was competing against had not brought all their materials nor had they read the rules.  I instantly offered to share his supplies and the printed out materials with them which he was not required to do.  When the head judge said he did nto have to do that, the instructions were clear online, he said it is all for learning and fun isn’t it – I’m I allowed to share.  We said sure.  Next thing, his team members did not show up.  This meant that he was instantly disqualified if he did not have at least one more person with him “on deck” for the trails and for the competition.  He enlisted the help of one of his family members.  The judges told him that he still mostly would not advance as the team had changed from the date of submission.  He said ok, but can I still go through the event.  Yes was the answer.  Next his ROV did not meet specs.  He was given 20 minutes to alter it – he did it passed.  He proceeded with the trails and placed higher then I actually thought his ROV could achieve.  Impressive driving for the limited machine.  However this is not all, he watched other competitors, cheered the younger competitors on.  Walked around and read the various posters that other teams produced and encouraged the other teams throughout the event.  When chatting with him, he remarked about how much fun this was and how much he was learning.  All on his own choice!  He didn’t win, he didn’t make the paper, but his actions stood out enough that he was voted to receive a Spirit Award that he did not know even existed.  Congratulations – “Abandoned Ship”

OK… I owe you all an update from my very productive Brazilian trip and conference presentations. All in all things went really well. All of my 4 presentations were  very well attended and people were not just amazed by the research potential of the Cyberlab but also excited about the possibilities of my research in Brazil. I spent just as much time answering questions as I spent actually presenting, which I think is a good indicator (and yes I answered lots of questions about “IRB” related stuff although not actually called RIB in Brazil).

I was extremely impressed with the level of research being done there. While doing literature reviews here I had a very hard time finding stuff online and having access to citations I knew existed. There is a serious problem of visibility for Brazilian publications not only outside the country’s realm but also within the national research groups doing this kind of research. Therefore, I had a very erroneous idea about the status of museum learning research in Brazilian settings. I really thought they were further behind than they really are. This first international workshop of research in museum education in Sao Paulo was not only crucial for me to be able to network and get involved with the group of museum learning researchers in Brazil but, more importantly,  it gave me a clear understanding of the historical development of museum studies in Brazil, their advancements, challenges and needs for future research (which will immensely influence decisions on my research questions).

Overall,  the status of current museum learning debate is very similar to what we experience here in the US. The same kinds of challenges were put into perspective during the event. There were robust discussions about the definition of learning, the learning theories influencing frameworks for research, where many people referred to the contextual model of learning and YES our  well debated “Vygotsky” came to surface in one of the sessions I participated – THANKS SHAWN for theory meetings! The role of the museum as a “non-formal” setting (as they called instead of informal) and the role of its educators was also largely debated. It was brought up the need for more partnerships between formal and “non-formal” institutions, form more research to identify Brazilian museum common and uncommon audiences and develop strategies to bring scarce audiences such as general family groups to the museum floor.

They also want to shy away from research that only incorporate cognitive aspects of learning to also include affective, aesthetic and other important aspects of cultural and social upbringing, which lead to conversations about the need for more studies on mediation processes and tools, reflecting on practice and inclusion research. I would say “inclusion” is the hot topic at the moment and I may even infer that they have done much more in terms of inclusion research and action than the US has. I was very impressed with the level of knowledge  and experience coming from all participating groups which composed a very diverse audience by the way. Participants included college professors and researchers, graduate students, museum administrators, staff and educators, school teachers, journalists involved with science communication, social inclusion related professionals and so on.

It was an incredibly rich and eye-opening experience for me, putting interdisciplinary initiatives into perspective and raising the issue to everyone participating that more conferences, workshops, and other events as such are in great need for the museum learning research community in Brazil, in order for them to develop better ways of communicating, exchanging efforts and making research results and methodologies available and visible to all community.

I was able to meet my co-advisor and network with many other international and national professionals and graduate students in the field, some who are excited to cooperate with my research and work as mediators when I am not physically there. I am now part of the “GEENF”  – the translation of the acronym stands for “Non-Formal Education and Science Divulgation Research Group”. It was created in 2002 and it is associated with the Science and Math Education Department at the University  of Sao Paulo (USP), partnering with many museums and research institutions, National and International. Here is a link for more information in you wish to adventure into portuguese –

It was just great for me to realize I can have a job back home when I graduate, specially when they need many more trained, knowledgable and experienced professionals in the field doing research, partnering with international institutions for cross-cultural research and replication of methodologies applied elsewhere and use of state-of- the-art technology.  Creating a partnership between Hatfield and my research site (as off now the Ubatuba Aquarium in Sao Paulo) is not too far in the horizon for me anymore and, if it gets out of paper successfully,  it has the potential to bring great benefits to both sides involved. I will be applying for some grants here soon, wish me luck!


Do visitors use STEM reasoning when describing their work in a build-and-test exhibit? This is one of the first research questions we’re investigating as part of the Cyberlab grant, besides whether or not we can make this technology integration work. As with many other parts of this grant, we’re designing the exhibit around the ability to ask and answer this question, so Laura and I are working on designing a video reflection booth for visitors to tell us about what happened to the structures they build and knock down in the tsunami tank. Using footage from the overhead camera, visitors will be able to review what happens, and hopefully tell us about why they created what they did, whether or not they expected it to survive or fail, and how the actual result fit or didn’t match what they hoped for.

We have a couple of video review and share your thoughts examples we drew from; The Utah Museum of Natural History has an earthquake shake table where you build and test a structure and then can review footage of it going through the simulated quake. The California Science Center’s traveling exhibit Goosebumps: the Science of Fear also allows visitors to view video of expressions of fear from themselves and other visitors filmed while they are “falling”. However, we want to take these a step farther and add the visitor reflection piece, and then allow visitors to choose to share their reflections with other visitors as well.

As often happens, we find ourselves with a lot of creative ways to implement this, and ideas for layer upon layer of interactivity that may ultimately complicate things, so we have to rein our ideas in a bit to start with a (relatively) simple interaction to see if the opportunity to reflect is fundamentally appealing to visitors. Especially when one of our options is around $12K – no need to go spending money without some basic questions answered. Will visitors be too shy to record anything, too unclear about the instructions to record anything meaningful, or just interested in mooning/flipping off/making silly faces at the camera? Will they be too protective of their thoughts to share them with researchers? Will they remain at the build-and-test part forever and be uninterested in even viewing the replay of what happened to their structures? Avoiding getting ahead of ourselves and designing something fancy before we’ve answered these basic questions is what makes prototyping so valuable. So our original design will need some testing with probably a simple camera setup and some mockups of how the program will work for visitors to give us feedback before we go any farther with the guts of the software design. And then eventually, we might have an exhibit that allows us to investigate our ultimate research question.

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.



Sorry I missed posting on Friday; I’ve been frantically trying to get ready for my two upcoming conferences, as well as collecting some data last-minute (yay) with some subjects that let’s just say treated scheduling a bit flexibly. My schedule of deadlines in this last week has been:

Aug 14 Geological Society of America abstract deadline – they have a session on eyetracking in the geoscience education section. Digital posters, which means we can show real eyetracking data. Good folks for me to meet in particular.

Aug 15 NARST 2013 proposal – I ended up skipping this; it will just be too much too close to when I’m trying to defend, plus I didn’t have a great proposal to go along with this year’s theme of inequality. Puerto Rico would have been awesome, though. I did get a proposal in in July for AERA instead, which is much closer to home in San Francisco, though even closer to my defense time!

Aug 15 final paper due for the International Science Communication Conference (JHC) – involved getting some friends to translate my abstract and keywords into French, of which I speak about 6 words, none of them “eyetracking.” Presentation was due in July.

Work on a presentation with Shawn and Laura for 6-ICOM; we have an hour and a half between us, but don’t know the audience very well, so we’re hoping our idea of about 45 minutes of presentation and 45 minutes of interactive discussion goes over with them. We’re apparently about the only research group looking at multimodal discourse in learning in museums, and science learning in particular, so we’re not sure how familiar the others will be with why we’re studying what we are, for one thing. However, we should be able to have a good discussion about methods and analysis. We’ll be using Prezi which will allow us to make a record of the discussion and then share it after the conference. Plus we edited it together, which went well except for a couple minor mishaps.

Collect two interviews, one with a subject that contacted me Thursday after having been away and I managed to squeeze the interview in on Friday, and the other with a subject that missed the first appointment.

Aug 20 (tomorrow) leave for Europe for three weeks for two conferences – 6-ICOM and JHC (plus a week of vacation in between in which I try to swing by a museum research group in Germany that’s using mobile eyetracking).

So it’s been a little crazy. I’ve been lining up more of our lab folks to post more regularly as well, so you’ll be hearing more about the variety of projects we’ve got going on.

However, stay tuned to our twitter feed @freechoicelab, as I/we will be doing my best to live tweet from both conferences. Live being 8 or 9 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast, so maybe you won’t be awake when we are, but still.

Our Free Choice Learning Lab group took our first field trip last Tuesday… Hurray!

We visited the Science Factory Children’s Museum and Exploration Dome and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, both located in Eugene, OR. This field trip and the ones yet to come are intended to get our group out and about! Outside our offices and interacting with others in the  field. The objective is getting to know our local museums, their facilities, staff and  educational programs, making connections and establishing partnerships with those institutions to crate a network supporting professional exchange and development. The Science Factory and the Museum of Art are the first two in a “Friends of the Free-Choice Learning Lab” list I am creating to support such exchange. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!  And… for all of you reading this blog, please let me know your suggestions about what kind of network I should create to better support these forming relationships, as you may know I am not technologically inclined and would appreciate some input as to what you think would be a good way to do this.

I should acknowledge the awesome people we got to talk to during this field trip. From the Science Factory, we talked to Nick Spicher (Education Director), Kim Miller (Operations Director) and Carolyn Rebbert (Executive Director). From the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and UO, many thanks to Sharon Kaplan (Museum Educator for Academic and Public Programs) and Phaedra Linvingstone (Assistant professor in Museum Studies at UO, Coordinator of the Art and Administration Graduate Program). We really appreciate your time and willingness to talk to us about your institution and educational programs and sure hope our group can collaborate with you in the future. We had an awesome time! At the Factory we literally just blended right in with the 48 children around for summer camps. We were also mesmerized at the beauty of the Museum of Art and really enjoyed our experience. Bellow are some photos of us having a really really fun but nevertheless intellectually rich time during our trip.


FCL lab group at the Science Factory.


Recyclotron Exhibit, preventing balls from ending up in the landfill


Laura and Michelle racing wheels


Optical Illusion... Laura was becoming me...


Courtyard at the Museum of Art
Shawn, Katie and Phaedra at the Museum of Art
The group at the Museum of Art Courtyard


If you want to know more about the Science Factory please visit

For Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art visit

Thank you Dr. Shawn Rowe for providing this opportunity for our lab and thanks to all that joined us and contributed to a very pleasant day OUT AND ABOUT!