How do we get signs in front of visitors so they will actually read them? Think about how many signs at the front door of your favorite establishment you walk past without reading. How many street signs, billboards, and on-vehicle ads pass through our vision barely a blur? While exhibit designers spend many an hour toiling away to create the perfect signs to offer visitors some background and possible ways to interact with objects, many visitors gloss right over them, preferring to just start interacting or looking in their own way. This may be a fine alternative use for most cases, but in the case of our video research and the associated informed consent that our subjects need to offer, signs at the front door are going to be our best bet to inform visitors but not unduly interrupt their experience, or make museum entry and additional unreasonable burden for visitors or staff. Plus, the video recording is not optional at this point for folks who visit; you can visit and be recorded, or you can’t visit.

Thankfully, we have the benefit of the Exploratorium and other museums who have done video research in certain exhibits and have tested signs at their entrances and the percentage of visitors who subsequently know they’re being recorded for research. Two studies by the Exploratorium staff showed that their signs at entrances to specifically cordoned-off areas stating that videotaping for research was in progress were effective at informing 99% of visitors to the exhibit areas that a) videotaping was happening and b) it was for research. One interesting point is that their testing of the signs themselves and the language on them revealed that the camera icon needed to be rather old-school/highly professional looking to distinguish itself from the average visitor making home movies while visiting a museum and be clearly associated with official research purposes.

Source: via Free-Choice on Pinterest

Never mind the cameras we’re actually using look more like surveillance cameras.


So our strategy, crafted with our Institutional Review Board, is several-fold. Signs at the front entrance (and the back entrance, for staff and volunteers, and other HMSC visitors who might be touring the entire research facility for other reasons and popping in to the VC) will feature the large research camera and a few, hopefully succinct and clear words about the reasons we’re doing research, and where to get more information. We also have smaller signs on some of the cameras themselves with a short blurb about the fact that it’s there for research purposes. Next, we’re making handouts for people that will explain in more detail what our research is about and how the videos help us with that work. We’ll also put that information on our web site, and add the address of the video research information to our rack cards and other promotional material we send around town and Oregon. Of course, our staff and volunteers are also being included in the process so they are well-equipped to answer visitor questions.

Then there’s the thorny issue of students. University students who are over 18 who are visiting as part of a required class will have to individually consent due to federal FERPA regulations. We’re working with the IRB to make this as seamless a process as possible. We’ll be contacting local school superintendents to let them know about the research and let them inform parents of any class that will be attending on a field trip. These students on class field trips will be assumed to have parental consent by virtue of having signed school permission slips to attend Hatfield.

Hopefully this will all work. The Exploratorium’s work showed that even most people who didn’t realize they were being recorded were not bothered much by the recording, and even fewer would have avoided the area if they’d actually known before hand. As always, though, it will be a work-in-progress as we get visitor and volunteer feedback and move forward with the research.

Gutwill, J. (2003). “Gaining visitor consent for research II: Improving the posted-sign method.” Curator
46(2): 228-235

Gutwill, J. (2002). “Gaining visitor consent for research: Testing the posted-sign method.” Curator 45(3): 232-238.

Pulling it all together and making sense of things proves one of the hardest tasks for Julie:

“I can’t believe this summer is about over.  I only have 3 days left at Hatfield.  Those 3 days will be filled with frantic work getting the rest of my exhibit proposal pulled together as well as my Sea Grant portfolio and presentation done for Friday.  I go home Saturday morning and I haven’t even figured out when I’m going to pack.  Eek.

But back to the point at hand.  Doing social science has been such a fun experience.  I really loved talking to people to get their feedback and opinions on Climate Change and the exhibit.  I’m so excited for this exhibit.  I want it to be fantastic and I’ve been working very hard on it.  I am stoked to visit next summer to see it in the flesh!

One thing that I find really challenging about doing this kind of research though, is pulling together the data and putting it into a readable format for something like my End of Summer Final Presentation on Friday!  The big survey I did, for instance, was 16 questions and the data collected is very qualitative and doesn’t fit neatly into a table on a power point slide.  So I have to determine which things to pull out to show and exactly how to do it.  I feel confident that I’ll get it down, it’s just going to perhaps rob me of some sleep the next couple days.

Today (Tuesday) I finally got to do something that I should’ve done long ago.  Mark took me into the “spy room” as some call it and showed me all the awesome video footage being recorded in the visitor center.  It’s really incredible!  I was able to download a few videos of myself interpreting at the touch tank which Mark suggested would be a good addition to my portfolio.  Now I feel like a real member of the Free Choice Learning crew.”

This summer has given me a wealth of experiences that will really benefit my future…I can’t wait to see what that future holds.

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.

After talking to a developer, I’m switching to a turn-based format for Deme. I probably should have done this to begin with, and my reasons for not doing so earlier owe a lot to my own misconceptions about myself.

I don’t think of myself as a turn-based game fan. When I find out a computer game is turn-based, I tend to stop reading the description and look for something else. Somehow, this notion of myself as a real-time game guy persists despite my whelming affection for several turn-based games. These include computer games and tabletop games alike. Of course, many tabletop games are inherently turn-based.

The new concept I’m pursuing is fairly simple, drawing mechanical inspiration from games like Battle for Wesnoth and Heroscape. These games, likewise, are derived from other systems (turn-based tabletop strategy games, in general, have an interesting genealogy that includes H.G. Wells). One benefit of a turn-based system is ease of balancing and modification. Real-time games require finer simulation, which means more complexity. I want people to be able to modify Deme in the future, so this process should be as painless as possible. Initial development will also be much faster and simpler.

Another big bonus is the ease with which the game can be prototyped and balanced on pen and paper. I have hauled out my 20-sided die for this purpose, just in case. Fortunately, HMSC is a pretty good place to find nerds, ecologists, biologists, computer geeks and gamers. I only learned recently that my minor advisor is an Age of Empires fan. At some point I may have to pit him against my wife, whose historic conquests in that game’s campaign mode have filled many a night with the din of clashing steel.

Meanwhile, I have rejoined the husbandry team. I’ve switched gears a couple of times to focus on one area of my career or another, so it’s interesting to walk between worlds. I find I miss the FCL Lab when I’m working on aquarium systems, but I miss the animals when I work on interpretation and design. I think—or rather, I hope—this is a good thing. I want to do everything. I find it very motivating, but it could become paralyzing without the proper focus.

Our Summer Scholars’ time is drawing to a close at the end of the month, so we’re hearing some final words, at least for the moment, from some of them, starting with Diana:

“These past weeks have been filled with things that I never thought would happen and have surprised me in the most spectacular ways.  First, I went on vacation to Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA which was a memorable experience.  I was able to see behind the scenes tanks and animals at the Vancouver Aquarium and even got to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s works in person as well as King Tutankhamen’s burial chamber items.  This vacation was a nice break from the craziness of the visitor’s center and refreshed me for another few weeks as an education intern.  The moment I returned many volunteers and other workers at Hatfield were asking about my vacation.  Even this little thing made me feel fully welcomed into the Hatfield family.  One of the first things that occurred when I returned was that many unannounced summer camps came into the visitor’s center which is always an experience.  Yet, one of the most progressive things I did was creating new signs for me shoreline erosion tank.  This time one of my mentors Mark Farley and I created 2 different signs compared to one long sign.  One sign said “The Erosion Problem” with photos of me showing how to use the paddle to create waves and see the erosion of the sand.  The second sign said “The Erosion Solution” and gave the visitors a chance to try 1 of 3 different protective strategies for beach/shoreline erosion.  These new larger signs seem to be working well for now.  I can already see a difference in the behavior of children and families when they come to wave tank; instead of sand castle building, they actually read the sings and follow the directions.

The visitor’s center also had some crazy moments.  We had Micro A and Micro B tanks overflow into the VC overnight and leave a lake in the surrounding area an inch deep.  That lake was an interesting mess to clean, but created a wonderful learning moment.  I was able to watch the aquarists and learn how to put on new filter bags as well as rework the tanks.  I was challenged to follow the pipes and figure out where the water went such as the outflow and inflow pipes.  Other crazy moments that occurred were people trying to put their whole hand inside of anemones or trying to crawl inside of the touch tank to touch the different fish.  While all of this was going on I also got to have some spectacular moments in the VC.

These spectacular moments occurred when the Aquarists took me under their wing and showed me some impressive things.  First, I got to see a fish necropsy which was highly informative and taught me new dissections skills.  I was also taught how to kill invasive coral apitasia with lemon juice.  I was able to inject a few micrometers of lemon juice into each invasive apitasia, which kills it almost instantaneously.  The apitasia tries as a defensive mechanism to spit its own guts out, but the lemon juice is too acidic.  I also learned through this process how to siphon a tank and change out the water while balancing the acidity in the water with baking soda, thus making the seawater more neutral.  Yet, the most spectacular thing I learned with the aquarists was how to feed all the animals in the Hatfield Marine Science Center.  I learned how and what to feed each animal except the octopus in the visitor’s center, which took a long time but was completely worth it.  The amount of knowledge I learned during that time was amazing and I will not forget anytime soon.  This entire summer has been a learning experience, but definitely a fun one that I shall remember for the rest of my life.”


Summer Sea Grant Scholar Julie catches us up on her prototyping for the climate change exhibit:

“Would you like to take a survey?”  Yes, I have said that very phrase or a variation of it many times this week.  I have talked to more than 50 people and received some good feedback for my exhibit.  I also began working on my exhibit proposal and visuals to go along with it.  This is so fun!  I love that I get to create this, and my proposal will be used to pitch the plan to whatever company they get to make the exhibit program.  How sweet is that?

So, the plan is to have a big multi-touch table – here is what it looks like, from the ideum website:


You can’t see very well from that picture but people can grab photos or videos or other digital objects, resize and move them around and place them wherever they want using swipe, pinch, and other gestures as with tablets and multitouch smartphones.  It allows multiple users to surround the table as well and work together or independently. This is a video showing this table tested here at Hatfield- it has a lot of narration about Free Choice Learning, and you can see the table in action a little bit.

People will be able to learn about climate change and then create their own “story” about what they think is important about climate change or global warming.  My concept of the interface for this has gone through a metamorphosis.  Here are the various transformations the interface has gone through:

Stage 1: My initial messy drawing to get my thoughts on paper and make sure I was on the same page with the exhibit team.  At this point I thought we would just have a simple touch screen kiosk.


Stage 2: Mock-up made by Allison the graphic designer, using stage 1 as a guide.  I showed this to people as I interviewed them so they’d have an idea of what the heck I was talking about.


Stage 3: My own digital version I’m currently working on, now more in sync with the touch table.  The final version will go into my exhibit proposal.


Here’s what it looks like with a folder opened – upon touching a file, an animation would show the file opening and spilling the contents on the workspace to end up kind of like this:


This is a very exciting project to work on, and I’m glad to get to use and hone my skills in creativity, organization, and attention to detail.  This exhibit proposal will certainly need a lot of all 3 of those things.  It’s also very interesting to interview people- I find my preconceptions dashed often, which is very refreshing.  And it’s great to be able to tailor the exhibit to several different audiences, in hopes that the message will be well received by all, no matter where they currently stand in relation to the issue of climate change/ global warming.  Talking with folks helps me know for sure what kind of material each group wants, so I can maximize the success of the exhibit with that group.  I can’t wait to see this thing in the flesh – I have already decided I will have to take a vacation out here next summer just to check it out!