Harrison used an interesting choice of phrase in his last post: “time-tested.” I was just thinking as I watched the video they produced, including Bill’s dissection, that I don’t know what we’ve done to rigorously evaluate our live programming at Hatfield. But it is just this sort of “time-tested” program that our research initiatives are truly trying to sort out and put to the test. Time has proven its popularity, data is necessary to prove its worth as a learning tool. A very quick survey of the research literature doesn’t turn up much, though some science theater programming was the subject of older studies. Live tours are another related program that could be ripe for investigation.

We all know, as humans who recognize emotions in others, how much visitors enjoy these sorts of programs and science shows of all types. However, we don’t always apply standards to our observations, such as measuring specific variables to answer specific questions. We have a general sense of “positive affect” in our visitors, but we don’t have any data in the form of examples of quotes or interviews with visitors to back up our thoughts. Yet.

A good example of another need for this was in a recent dissertation defense here at OSU. Nancy Staus’ research looked at learning from a live program, and she interviewed visitors after watching a program at a science center. She found, however, that the presenter of the program had a lot of influence on the learning simply by the way they presented the program: visitors recalled more topics and more facts about each topic when the presentation was more interactive than scripted. She wasn’t initially interested in differences of this sort, but because she’d collected this sort of data on the presentations, she was able to locate a probable cause for a discrepancy she noted. So while this wasn’t the focus of her research (she was actually interested in the role of emotion in mediating learning), it pointed to the need for data to not only back up claims, but also to lead to explanations for surprising results and open areas for further study.

That’s what we’re working for: that rigorously examining these and all sorts of other learning opportunities becomes an integral part of the “time-honored tradition.”

Day 2’s sessions ended up focusing on the Communication side of Education/Outreach/Scientific Workforce, and I think that framing it that way drew a bigger audience. One presentation on how to create a video was very similar to Ari Daniel Shapiro’s Education talk on producing radio programs or podcasts the day before, with how-to’s, but the audience was much bigger. Is it that “education” and “outreach” are scarier terms than “communicating”? If so, we educators need to think about how to make education more “do-able” for scientists if we want them to do the education to at least some extent, rather than leaving it all to education professionals.


We wonder, however, why education and communication are separated? Perhaps we have slightly different goals, but perhaps not: communication may have a specific outcome in mind, such as motivating people to think a certain way or do a certain thing, where education might more broadly want learners to understand how science works.


One afternoon talk pointed out that between science and communication, at least, it depends on your audience. For example, scientists focus on what we don’t know, whereas policymakers need to know what science does know. So in communicating and educating, we have to decide whether we’re trying to convey what science is and how it works, or whether we’re trying to convey where science is at the moment.


Throughout the week COSEE is hosting a series on how to do education/communication of your science. These lunch workshops that have had about 100 participants, or roughly 2 percent of the conference attendees. Again, by a show of hands on Tuesday, many of those, however, were graduate students.


Last night there was a panel discussion on Bridging the Cultural Gap between Scientists and the Public. I overheard one scientist at the COSEE exhibitor booth pooh-pooh the need for him to attend the panel, as he basically said he knew there was a gap but that it was the public’s problem. COSEE staff made a valiant effort to convince him that he was actually a vital part of bridging the gap, but regardless, there was still a relatively small audience for the program. However, attendees seemed to skew a little bit more toward the early- to mid-career scientists than the other education sessions (perhaps because the grad students had all run off to get beer). We had mixed feelings about the presentation because we walked away a bit more confused about what we could do. The researchers on communication and communicators on the panel offered us ideas about what the communication breakdown was, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss many practical ideas.


The basic premises were that it’s not a problem of literacy, but of people tending to affiliate with groups and basically only attend to information that those groups agree with, in order to maintain that affiliation. The other presentation highlighted peculiarities of the journalistic process that complicated the communication picture, such as editors who focus on minor details to up the drama factor and sell their products. So on the one hand, we need to remove the threat that holding a position on a subject would automatically mean you’d no longer be part of a group that’s important to you, that is, we have to change the “meaning” that accompanies the facts. How to do this, however, is what remains for us to figure out.





Okay, so I started things off as a bit of a downer. Considering this is only the third Oceans conference to include education strands, it’s great that it’s being supported.


However, I wonder if a large scientific conference is the best place to sell outreach to scientists for a number of reasons. For one thing, the education research sessions basically competed with the scientific sessions, almost as if it was a parallel conference, scheduled at the same time so one physically could not attend both. Shawn noted that the evening and lunch workshops on outreach are often well attended, for example (at least by graduate students), but that doesn’t get our research out there.


For another thing, the education presentations focused a lot on specific program evaluation results, as I mentioned yesterday. In that way, they really were not speaking to scientists who were looking to get involved in outreach, at least beyond trying to make the case for it in terms of the personal fulfillment results and opportunities for increased funding. The sessions were by and large not aimed at delivering the skills to a broad audience that people could take back to whatever institution they worked with. The specificity of many projects showed more that such programs were possible and rewarding, without offering opportunities for people at other places ways to get involved. On the other hand, Ari Shapiro of Woods Hole (and often heard on NPR) gave many how-to examples for either partnering for general media publishing or do-it-yourself podcasting and multimedia presentations. The low-cost, do-it-yourself options of course appealed to the educators in the audience as well.


Nevertheless, for those of us that are going back to our institutions and hoping to help the scientists we work with there, there were several interesting findings from the sessions:


1) Scientists are still largely unaware of the work we do, especially that there is educational literature out there about what works.

2) All participants in these programs, educators, scientists, and the ostensible “audience” each play roles as both teachers/facilitators and learners at various times. Educators and public audiences both have frequent opportunities for reflecting on their experiences during programs. Most of this occurs via feedback to each other as both groups are fairly familiar with their roles in these situations. On the other hand, the scientists often lack such opportunities outside of program evaluations, to reflect on either of their roles, or even the fact that they play both of those roles during the experience. They probably also need tools to help them do that reflection.

3) There are a lot of great programs reaching maybe 50 teachers at a time. If each of those teachers reach say 200 students each per year, that’s still only 10,000 students, with perhaps a little more via “trickle down” to other teachers that the program teachers work with. In a country with maybe 100 million students, we have a lot of work to do. And we need a lot of money to do it. And we need evidence of these things working and ways to can scale them up wherever possible.

4) We have a bit of work to do even among our education community about the value of qualitative data and what it can tell you, including the fact that there are people out there that can help analyze that data if you have it.

5) We need more research that’s applicable to a lot of situations, not just evaluations of great projects.


I love being in an emerging field, but some days it’s not emerging fast enough.


No, it’s not the George Clooney movie sequel. It’s a chance for us to blog near-real-time about our experiences at getting the word out about what we do to the scientists we’re trying to work with. Several of the lab members are attending the Oceans 2012 meeting in Salt Lake City this week. The meeting is a joint offering of The Oceanography Society, Americal Geophysical Union, and the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.

The meeting is a typical science conference: many many many presentations in all sorts of subdisciplines of ocean sciences, and about one session on education, outreach, communication, evaluation, and student engagement. So, we still have an uphill battle to reach those folks who need to do “broader impacts” for their grants or just as part of the greater good. That is, like recycling, there isn’t always a personal gain, but when you consider the bigger picture, the argument is that it’s the right thing to do (thanks, Jude).

In listening to the first set of education and evlauation presentations this morning, it struck me that the evaluations almost all noted that the majority of their participants in delivering outreach were graduate students. The good news is, the graduate students were very enthusiastic about the programs and found it rewarding both by learning new ways of doing teaching and outreach and also by improving their own research at some times. This bodes well for exciting this new generation of scientists to get involved in outreach.

The bad news, though, is by and large, the practicing scientists were still missing. Are they thinking that their grad students will “take care of it” for them? Do they still find it a hassle, unrewarding, time-consuming, and an activity that basically takes away from their own research? Are they afraid of kids? Have they tried it and had a bad response (probably because they got little guidance on how to do it in the first place)? This is a large cadre of professionals that we can’t afford to ignore, no matter how excited the next generation is. We can’t let them, or ourselves as outreach and education professionals and researchers, cop out.

So, the question remains, how do we reach this population? I’m hoping to talk up our program and work as the week progresses, but this venue is challenging, to say the least, with only a few general mixers and the sheer number of simultaneous presentations.

Dare we hope in 2014 for a plenary talk about education and outreach for *all* scientists? Or educational presentations that aren’t competing with the scientific ones? Or scientists that start to attend education and outreach conferences? A woman can dream …

The inflatable basking shark exhibits atypical feeding behavior.

Today was Homeschool Day in the Visitor Center.  This event gives our education staff an opportunity to work with children and families from a wide variety of learning backgrounds.  It’s also a lot of fun.  This time around, visitors were greeted by a life-size, inflatable basking shark.  As busy as it was, this Homeschool Day went smoother than the last, which was interrupted by a tsunami evacuation.

The new and improved Octocam is almost here!  We’ve been struggling with our underwater octopus webcam for some time, mostly due to the effects of seawater exposure.  We’re going ahead with our plan to install a camera outside the tank, and we’ve already ordered the camera.  That should mean just a couple of weeks until the Octocam is better than ever.

When the previous Octocam was in place, Ursula liked to sleep nestled between the tank wall and the back of the camera.  She held the flexible hose containing the camera’s network and power cables against her forehead like a teddy bear—sometimes pulling the camera slightly out of position in the process.  This was great for visitors, but not so great for our viewers at home.  The new camera will have a pan-tilt-zoom function, so we should be able to see Ursula in some out-of-the-way places.  Stay tuned!