My original thesis question was: Does participating in a citizen science program give volunteers a greater understanding of the Nature of Science?  Searching the current literature, I realized most authors assumed that understanding the nature and process of science is actually useful to non-scientists.  Considering the lack of empirical data to support this assumption, it was not something I was willing to adopt uncritically.  Instead, I began “unpacking the lines” leading up to my original question, untangling the messy web all the way back to fundamental questions around science and science education.   What is the value of science?  What is the ultimate goal of science education?  Asking these questions, it’s hard not to feel like Derek Zoolander staring into a puddle (“Who am I?”), but I think they are essential for every scientist and science educator to consider.  Many of the questions I posed are ultimately unknowable, at least by me, but the process of asking them, writing about them, and discussing them with peers, professors, family, and friends has been what I consider the most valuable part of my education.

Below are several questions I’m exploring in developing the theoretical framework for my thesis.

Science Literacy

  • What is the ultimate goal of science education? What learning outcomes best support that goal?
  • As an educator, does having a clear idea of how I expect people to actually use scientific knowledge in daily life change how I frame the learning experience?
  • What is the relationship between scientific literacy and participating in scientific research?

Nature of Science (NOS)

  • When is it important for non-scientists to understand how science works as a discipline, as opposed to understanding how a particular natural phenomenon works?
  • Is inquiry-based or experiential education simply an effective and engaging approach to science education, or does it give students a deeper understanding of the nature and process of science? If students do learn more about how science works, how will they use that knowledge in the future?  How important is explicit NOS instruction?

Citizen Science (CS)

  • How do participant motivations and outcomes of CS programs differ from other informal science ed programs?  From project- and inquiry-based learning, or experiential education?
  • What science literacy goals are supported by the different models of CS projects?

Science and Democracy

  • What science knowledge do people need in order to function in a modern democratic society?  Are there any aspects of science literacy that all groups of people should know, regardless of who they are, where they live, and what their interests are?
  • What does it mean to be an “informed citizen”?

Perspectives on “doing science” and “definition of science”

  • What are all the definitions of science under which different groups of people operate?  What is the minimum threshold of engagement for someone to be “doing science”?
  • What learning outcomes are supported by “doing science”?  Why do many educators prefer that their students “do science” instead of watch a demonstration?

History of Science, Professionalization of Science, and the Novice / Expert demarcation

  • Can you do science unintentionally?  Who do you think was the first scientist?  Can you do science on a desert island?
  • At what point of being involved in science-related activities do non-experts begin to feel they are “doing science”?  What’s the difference between doing science, doing something scientifically, and doing something expertly?
  • How does the history of science and the professionalization of science over the past couple centuries influence our current definition of science?

Normative Science

  • If I was working as a scientist, what would I want my relationship with advocacy to be?  If I was working as an educator, what would I want my relationship with advocacy to be?
  • What are the special roles in society that scientists and educators have?  Are there rules each should follow in communicating science?
  • Do scientists or educators ever receive explicit instruction about how to handle their civic responsibilities as professionals?  What is lost by not asking yourself: How do my underlying values get incorporated into my science? Into how I communicate science?

We’re ready for round 2 of camera placement, having met with Lab advisor Sigrid Norris on Monday. We’ll go back to focusing on the wave- and touch-tank areas and getting full coverage of interactions. Basically, our first test left us spread too thin to really capture what’s going on, and our programmer said face detection and recognition is not robust enough to be able to track visitors through the whole center  yet anyway. Though now of course we’re running out of ethernet ports in the front half of the Visitor Center for those extra cameras.

One thing we had been noticing with the cameras was a lot of footage of “backs and butts” as people walk away from one camera or are facing a different exhibit. Sigrid’s take on this is that it is actually valuable data, capturing multimodal communication modes of posture and foot and body position. This is especially true for peripheral participants, such as group members who are watching more than driving the activity, or other visitors learning how to use exhibits by watching those who are there first.

We did figure out the network issue that was causing the video stoppage/skipping. The cameras had been set up all on the same server and assumed to share the load between the two servers for the system, but they needed to be set up on both servers in order to make the load sharing work. This requires some one-time administrative configuration work on the back end, but the client (what the researchers using the system see) still displays all camera feeds regardless of what server is driving which camera at any given time. So now it’s all hunky dory.

The wave tanks are also getting some redesigns after all the work and testing over the summer. The shore tank wave maker (the “actuator”) won’t be made of aluminum (too soft), and will have hydraulic braking to slow the handle as it reaches the end points. The wave energy tank buoys are getting finished, then that tank will be sealed and used to show electricity generation in houses and buildings set on top. We’ll also get new tables for all three tanks which will lack middle legs and give us probably a bit more space to work with for the final footprint. We’ll get the flooring replaced with wet lab flooring to prevent slip hazards and encourage drainage.

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.

Since getting back from England last weekend (and Shawn, Katie and I’s presentation at the 6-ICOM conference), it’s been an exciting  week for me thesis-wise. I began “real” (i.e. non-pilot) data collection in the form of initial interviews with HMSC docents. Rebecca Schiewe, HMSC’s Volunteer Coordinator, has also been kindly helping me collect visitor survey data.

If you’re not familiar, my PhD research centers on documenting the practice of science center docents as they interact with visitors. I am interested in the practice and professional development of informal educators, and my research looks to unpack the interpretive strategies docents undertake to communicate and engage the public with science. My work involves interviewing docents about their practice, observing docents interacting with the public using “visitor-mounted” looxcie cameras, conducting post-observation interviews to allow docents to reflect on those observations and a final focus group interview to gain the larger docent community perspective on observations.

So far in this initial stage I have had very positive recruitment results with the docents at HMSC, and wonderful conversations about practice with participants. Even though I’ve have had plenty of prior experience conducting interviews during former research positions, I’ve discovered this week that interviewing really is my favorite form of qualitative data collection. As many of my colleagues know, I’m a talker, and therefore there’s something fantastic about getting to have rich and interesting conversations to collect data for my thesis. I’m sure when I hit transcription and analysis time I will change my tune a litte, but the participants are so passionate about what they do, it’s catching!

What I’m learning so far is that interviewing, of course, is a serious art. There are so many personal, social and physical factors (FCL dimensions anyone?!) you have to consider in the process in order to not only help your participants feel at ease, but gain naturalistic data, as Katie blogged about recently. I’m working very hard to help my participants feel comfortable throughout the process – for example using scheduling that suits them, paying attention to the interview space (e.g. light, temperature, presence of windows, comfort of seating) and, during the interviewing, asking questions and probing for more detail in the most fluid and natural way that I can. In terms of questioning, my biggest challenge in the past has been asking a question that may have already been answered in a prior question’s response, simply because I felt I had to stick to the question order. This time around however, I am concentrating on adjusting question order based on the direction of the conversation, and asking for elaboration relative to prior responses. Talk about improving your listening skills, but you really cannot help but become a better listener as an interviewer! I’m looking forward to more interviews this week and next, and feel great about finally getting on that thesis train. Next stop: Observation-ville!


My apologies as I was supposed to post this yesterday but with all of our Labor Day activities I forgot to publish it.

I thought I would take a break from the wave tank activities I am working on at the Hatfield Marine Science Center and write about a different but equally exciting part of my academic life. I am finally back on track with my PhD since returning from maternity leave. Hurray!

It is set, I will conduct my research in my home country – Brazil! The plan is to write my proposal in the Fall and collect data next Summer. I have been reading all the relevant literature available for Brazilian museum research and the likes. I  have a Brazilian museologist as a co-adviser, who specializes in family studies and who will help us establish a partnership among our group and their research’s group at the “Museum da Vida”, which means Museum of Life in portuguese ( Within the Brazilian context, the largest percentage of museum visitors are composed of school/academic groups and a great number of Brazilian museums are cultural/historical museums. However, I have decided to do research on a  Brazilian FCL environment focused on marine education. As of now I have a couple of options but I will likely do research at the  “Centro do Peixe-Boi” (Manatee Center) located on a Northeast island called Itamaraca in my home state of Pernambuco.

I still have not completely decided the aspects I will be looking at but quite possibly will involve the atypical groups of visitors composed of families that come to the beach and conveniently visit the center as it sits in such a prime location. It is an argument that such visitors may not even see the center as a museum, so it would be great to investigate their perceptions and how they compare it to other more “clearly” defined museums. My Fall semester will be filled with excitment as Shawn and I decide the focus of our research, which will also depends on logistics and partners we can acquire there to facilitate my research. Therefore, Shawn and I are planning a trip to Brazil soon to establish a partnership between our group and my co-adviser’s research group. We will have the chance to talk about the research we do at Hatfield to the Brazilian museum researchers, present my proposal and start networking.

I am really excited to dive into this and start contribute to a field yet to be further developed in Brazil. I am quite confident our proposal will be well received  among the local marine educator community and will open the doors to many more that maybe “YOU” can be involved with.  I will post more details about the project as we go…



Note: This will be my last post as a regular blogger, though most of you will have observed that Katie has taken over as Your Friend and Humble Narrator in recent weeks. You’ll still hear from me. I have much work to do on my project—work that will warrant intermittent updates within the physical context I am studying. Otherwise, I will be working with the animals again due to my appointment as Visitor Center aquarist.

“Who the f*** knows and who the f*** cares?”

The words were on a pin. The pin was on a boonie hat, among many other pins endorsing various causes. The boonie hat was on an old man—an Alaska Native, by my reckoning—riding the Number 3 bus through downtown Anchorage.

“Who the f*** knows and who the f*** cares?”

I thought about that pin for several minutes before I realized why. Those two questions, though glib in intent, inform much of our work. If you ask them of yourself, sincerely and urgently, you might detect some familiarity in them.

Along with several of my colleagues, I spent last week in Anchorage at the National Marine Educators Association conference. We mingled with fellow educators (formal and informal), remembered Bill Hastie (whom I never had the good fortune to meet), explored the city’s FCL facilities and shared research.

The sharing is really it, isn’t it? I think the reasons for exchanging knowledge freely and graciously are more immediate than we tend to recognize. I hear a lot of talk about protecting resources for the future and making the world a better place than it was. I think it’s simpler than that.

Our world has also faced problems. Problems and their solutions change over time. Creation and destruction are not discrete chronological points. They are continuous, ever-present processes. When we exert ourselves toward the preservation of the things that matter—to us or to someone or something else—we save the world. We’re not saving it from the past or for the future, but right in that place at that moment—not a step toward a final goal, but a valuable act in itself. That’s the way it’s done. It’s the way people have always done it, and we’ll never be finished.

“Who the f*** knows and who the f*** cares?”

Let’s find out. Go save the world today.