“Rapid prototyping” or “additive manufacturing” are both terms associated with the process of 3D printing (using digital models to fabricate tree-dimensional objects, printed one layer at a time). This piece of technology proved to be the solution for one of the most difficult cyberlab’s challenges: finding perfect mounts and housing for cameras installed on the exhibit floor that can be practical, durable, flexible and aesthetically pleasing.

We struggled with somewhat problematic alternatives for quite sometime, being saved by 3D technology as an effective and cheaper alternative than contracting with big exhibit development companies to create prototypes and models to customize mounts and housings for cameras to be placed throughout the visitor center. After a few attempts to find 3D printing contractors in Oregon that could do the job at a reasonable price and fast pace (believe me! that was quite an interesting task), we found Donald Heer at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at OSU. Donald has been superb in working with us to make “our dreams” come true in time for a very busy summer, packed with ongoing research projects and scheduled cyberscholars who will be collecting data through the camera system.

Below are photos of the camera mount and housing prototype for the octopus tank. While the final product will be painted and look polished, the photos show how the 3D model works. It is really quite amazing to be able to have a customized product that fills all needs for the assigned exhibit.

3D Mount OctoTank3    3D Mount OctoTank4

3D Mount OctoTank5 3D Mount OctoTank10

Cyberlab was created under the premises of effective technology use to improve research on learning. It could not be any different that most of the solutions for our challenges are found within cutting edge technologies as well, and that we learn along the way. Sometimes it feels surreal we can do all of this, and that within the course of a very short time we can transform ideas into real products that work.

In her last blog post, Jen Wyld encouraged us to find our voices. If I have learned something working at Cyberlab is to find my voice, trust and try new ideas. Knowing the great job you all do within the Free-Choice Learning Program, I encourage you to trust your ideas even if they seem surreal, give them a voice and roll with them, because they are most likely doomed to succeed, especially when you find the right team players.

If you are interested in learning more about 3D printing or even try to print some projects of your own, enter the library 3D printer website and have fun testing your ideas!  http://guides.library.oregonstate.edu/3dprinting

This past week I had a chance to attend NOAA’s Science on a Sphere workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The workshop was held at the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) which is located along the shores of the Mississippi River.  It was great to see a new science museum and learn about data visualizations presented via 3-D spherical displays.  The network of institutions meets annually to discuss use of (now) 100 installations of the sphere around the world and learn from each other.  The setup for this display includes up to four projectors placed around a six-foot sphere at 90-degree angles.  Images wrap around the sphere based on the alignment of the projectors and represent data on various Earth system processes, such as atmospheric storms, sea surface temperature, seafloor mapping, as well as processes occurring on other planets in the solar system.  An app on the iPad helps to “drive” the exhibit, so facilitators can select a playlist of what they want to run on the sphere.  I had never seen this display before so it is amazing to see all that has been created for public viewing.  There are some videos online of it in action!












The theme of the workshop was “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” or the informal term used to designate the period on our planet where human activity can have a global impact on system functions.  Approximately 95 participants were in attendance discussing methods of presenting datasets to different audiences, maximizing use of available content, and showcasing custom content used at their respective sites.  NOAA staff also described new features that could be incorporated to the exhibit.   The three-day experience was full of working groups, plenary sessions, and inspiring keynote speakers.  FCL lab alum Katie Stofer was in attendance and presented some of her research and recommendations on the use of color related to data visualizations on the sphere.  Celeste (Science Education PhD student) and I represented the Cyberlab, sharing information about current work in the lab and the potential for Cyber Scholars to collaborate and access the tools we are installing in an effort to study informal science learning.  We showed the video produced for Oregon Sea Grant that explained the technology we are using and how that will connect to visitor research.  I fielded several questions throughout the rest of the workshop with regards to the projects we are working on.  Many participants expressed fascination with the setup and proposed use for research and some of them may pursue the opportunity to be a Cyber Scholar.

In addition to discussions about the sphere, there was a focus on communicating climate change to various audiences and what to keep in mind with regards to cognitive reception and emotion.  We discussed the power of cultural models, framing, and connecting with values instead of a “doomsday” message that can so quickly turn people off.  One strategy I found interesting was that instead of using the concept promoting individual action, was instead to discuss collective community action starting with people directly connected to you.  What can family, friends, and neighbors do to promote change and choices that can have a more measureable impact?  There was also the discussion on use of common symbols and metaphors to explain the abstract concepts of climate change.  Julie Sweetland of the FrameWorks Institute showed research on use of a metaphor that described climate as a system, similar to the human circulation system.  The ocean acted like the heart within the system, pumping or transferring heat around the world.  Just like a human cannot live without a healthy heart, the Earth cannot live without a healthy ocean as it has an influence on the rest of the system.  Julie showed footage of focus groups that had participants explaining the metaphor to other group members…meaning-making in action!

We did have some time to explore the museum on our own, which I was very excited about.  SMM has several incredible exhibits, some permanent, and others that are on display for a limited period of time.  The temporary exhibition is Ultimate Dinosaurs, and there were many reconstructions of the beasts on display.  There is an interactive Cell Lab, where visitors don lab coats and goggles and can look at their own cheek cells under the microscope and explore the properties of blood.  There was also space to tinker with electronics, build and create objects that would fly in a wind tunnel, and a “Collectors’ Corner” where naturalists can earn points to trade for artifacts like agates and small fossils.  It seemed as if the museum was always busy with families and school groups.  An outdoor exhibit known as the Big Back Yard was a combination of watershed education and a mini-golf putting course.  Obstacles included river deltas, mountain ranges, and other natural elements to symbolize the many aspects of the watershed.  Signage and information surrounded the holes describing the value of rain gardens and how impervious surfaces affect water runoff.  I felt like a kid again as I moved about the museum — it was a lot of fun.

lights     dino     tinkering


As I was traveling back to Oregon, I reflected on the concepts I keep encountering in the world of informal learning research.  So often the topic of communication, cultural tools such as language, interpretation, and meaning-making come up again and again.  There are challenges in conveying complex data on a sphere and trying to understand how it might be interpreted by the viewer.  What impact does it have on a personal level as well as a social level?  So many research questions can extend out of this.  As researchers we are also trying to make meaning and interpret the data we collect, then we communicate or share that with others.  Ah, the meta level…

In mid-July I will be representing the Cyberlab again at the National Marine Educators annual meeting.  Hooray for field trips!


Well, I tried to post this as a response to Jen Wyld’s post on her recent Science Pub experience,

but the blog’s comments section isn’t working for me at the moment. So, I’m back to make an unscheduled guest post. I guess that means I should make it a little more substantial than it was. Here’s the original comment text:

“Hi Jen, I’m hoping to get more into research around these types of events. We recently had a forum for the students in the College of Agriculture around GMOs, too, and I heard many of the same arguments for (suppressing bad genes, golden rice) and then a little bit of advocacy at the end for GMOs.

The interesting thing I’ve learned lately is that GMOs aren’t really a big risk in the public’s mind, according to Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project:

At the very least, it’s not a left-right split like some contorversial issues (climate change) are.

Anyway, I have a question about the event itself; was there facilitated discussion amongst the attendees, or was it more of a “lecture in public” with traditional Q&A? The ones here in Gainesville are super popular with a certain crowd; the RSVP list fills fast and often with the same folks regularly!”


Blog readers may know I’m now at the University of Florida building my research program around science communication and public engagement with science. The ideas of risk perception and cultural cognition are ones I’ve been exploring lately as I get to expand beyond my dissertation work. Dan Kahan has recently made a couple of really important methodological points for those of us working in these areas, which I think also point to the importance of the work the Free-Choice Learning Lab does in particular with users in the real world:

1. Trust but verify, aka check your assumptions – the example of GMOs is an important lesson about transfer; just because we think that GMOs are a controversial issue, doing real work with real people shows their ideas may not stack up to media hype:


2. Just out: we need to get out of the lab and study real people, getting empirical data about the models we’ve developed of how communication happens:


I’ve been enjoying the positive reception I have been getting about my work from my new colleagues. Here’s to even more work with real people, messy and frustrating as it may be. Case in point: when you plan data collection on the one day the museum doesn’t have an event and you can get your schedule and your volunteer researchers’ schedules to match, then show up to campus only to find out a) your men’s basketball team is playing in the Sweet Sixteen at noon, b) there is another event at the Stadium as you start your drive to the museum on the other side of campus, c) there is a softball game just across the street from the museum, and d) there is also an event at the Performing Arts Center RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the museum. We couldn’t even park ourselves, let alone leave space for our potential research participants. Sheesh.


I want to write about Science Pub again this month, but this time I am going to focus on my own experience as a learner.  I don’t attend these events every month, but as a person interested in science literacy, I feel like I should go more often.  I happened to be free again for the April one, so decided to go. The topic was also one of personal interest to me- “Finding Our Way Through the Controversy over Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The good, the bad, and the righteous.”  Before we start, I will own up to my own biases, I am, in general, opposed to most things like GMO’s. Now, some of this is a knee jerk, liberal, environmentalist bias- I will be honest.  However, I was not really sure what the talk would cover, besides the title, and I thought I would be open minded and listen to what the speaker had to say. I have not done extensive research on this topic, and my information all comes from popular press type media- magazines, newspapers, attending local events about food issues, and such, so I thought, as a person who identifies as educated and rational, I should hear more from someone who actually does research in this field.  One more disclaimer though- the talk was being given in Eugene, Oregon, at a local, independent venue that hosts lots of music, dance, and benefit types of events, as well as the monthly Science Pub, so I did assume that it would at least be a balanced discussion.  However, as we were finding seats, my partner did say that he was surprised I wanted to come as I would probably just hear a lot of things that made me mad. Hmm….

The evening started out with a pretty broad overview of the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  The speaker structured it in three parts as things he felt the field had gotten right, “bad calls”, and then delved in to the more emotional aspects.  And, I did learn things.  My experience with GMO’s is on the controversial end, inserting genes that make plants able to withstand more pesticides and such, but I didn’t realize the variety of ways this technique is used.  For example, I had not heard about it being used to suppress a single gene that was already in a plant to make it more “suitable” for purpose. The example for this was how a gene in Ash trees can be suppressed to decrease the amount of lignin in the plant, so it can be used more efficiently as a biofuel source.  I could see some value in this- I know corn as a biofuel source is not sustainable, and we need other options if this more renewable energy source is going to be developed.  And then he told stories about some of the ways plants can be augmented genetically that don’t throw up as many red flags for me.  He talked about research on the East Coast to insert a gene from wheat into Chestnut trees to hopefully protect them from extinction due to the devastation caused by the blight they suffer from. The speaker stopped at this point and asked the audience how many people would support that kind of use of GMO’s and only one person raised their hand to vote “no” (I didn’t raise my hand for either, because I felt like I needed to think about it more- but I was leaning “yes” myself).  Then he talked about crops like “golden rice” where the scientists are inserting genes in staple crops often grown in developing countries that make them a richer source of beta carotene, which would have serious, positive effects on curbing blindness due to high rates of Vitamin A in these areas.

At this point, the speaker had me questioning my own black and white views on the topic, which is probably what most educators, particularly when talking about controversial issues (hey Laia!!!), hope for in their audience.

If only he had stopped there. Unfortunately, his next topic was about how is was unreasonable to expect labeling of foods around GMO, and it started to feel like he was defending the GMO industry.  He talked about how it would be an unfair burden on the companies to keep food sources separated to prevent cross-contamination, be too much work for the infrastructure of food transportation and such, and raise food prices too much for those who are already living more subsistence level. This last one felt almost like a slam on the audience, as most of us present could truthfully absorb higher food costs, if it came to that, but that our “demands” would be a hardship for others. And then he ended by showing a pair of videos. The first was of a protest in the Philippines, where a group of local people tore down the fence around a plot of “golden rice” and pulled it all up to stop the experiment. The second was of a spokesman from some rice research institute reacting to that event. And the speaker was telling us that the only reason the local people were participating in the protest was because of outside environmental groups “like GreenPeace” telling them that it was dangerous.  It may be my own biases, but it felt like propaganda!  Furthermore, it came across as possibly insulting to the local Filipinos, who may have come to their own conclusions about the matter- lots of indigenous groups around the world take on large corporations from their own beliefs and understandings of issues, and their own desire to preserve their way of life and their local environment.

Sadly, I left feeling more righteous in my beliefs than when I arrived. I did come, with what was my best attempt at an open mind. And, the speaker did have me for a while- I was willing to question some of my assumptions. I was willing to sit with some of the “grey” between the black and white I normally see.   A question from the audience might best sum up the night. A professor at the community college here asked about how, as science educators, they could educate people about these types of issues, where people tend to base their opinions and actions more on their feelings than information. And the speaker flat out said that you just can’t.  It was like he has given up even trying to have a rational dialogue with people who held different beliefs than his own.  However, I think he almost had it. If he had stopped his talk after the part about the science and research, more people would have left that night, more open minded on this topic. Remember, only one person said “no” about the Chestnuts- and this is Eugene! Yet, when he got to what felt like his own personal, political agenda, most of us went back to our corners, entrenched in our righteousness.

Yet, I am trying to hold on to what I was thinking from the first part of his talk- maybe there are some aspects of GMO’s that I am open to learning more about, and debating- and (gasp) maybe even allowing “in my backyard”.  And, from his mistake, I think I have a better understanding of how we can, as science educators, keep dialogue going. It is not hopeless!

PS- and if you remember my blog post from last month- I will say that a lot more women participated in the Q & A this time, although it seemed like most had points to make based on their own beliefs than questions about the science. More data needed to understand this! I guess I will have to go again next month…

As a social scientist with ADHD, or the creative mind as I like to call it, I am often captivated by the idea of distraction.  You may even say that I get distracted by thinking of distraction.  How are others distracted?  Are they distracted as often as me?  Are they distracted by things that are interesting to them or by whatever is in front of them?  These questions puzzle me because I wonder how much motivation can be seen in distraction.

As an educator of students with ADHD, I find that they are often distracted by many things.  But if they find something they are interested in, then they can focus for an unending period of time.  (I have seen non-ADHD people capable of the same thing, but somehow they are not pulled away as often from uninteresting tasks as those of us with creative minds.)  This focus can bring amazing results.  For example, I once created a diorama of a prehistoric swamp with 13 clay dinosaurs and an assortment of plants in two days.  For reference, this project was done before the creation of the internet with just encyclopedias.  Another example, a friend of mine recreated the coding for the electronic video game Pong in just three hours.  This was all done by people with creative minds.

So my question, when we get distracted, do we get distracted by something that is motivating us to learn, or by things that are just – well, distractions?  Could we use distractions as motivators to learn or they just wastes of time?

An article by Judy Lombardi (2011)* on six motivation resources noted some external factors that could be viewed as distractions.  For example, Lombardi noted that one of Lavoie’s motivational forces found in his book The Motivation Breakthrough is external recognition.  The need for this external force to help motivate the learner can be seen in all of the six motivational styles and could also be labeled as a type of distraction.

Technology has helped us all, creative minds or not, to have distracted minds.  One Carnegie Mellon research project says that distractions costs us 25 minutes to return to our original task (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/opinion/sunday/a-focus-on-distraction.html).  And with constant distractions from electronic gadgets, who knows how much work we are really getting done.  So what say you – do your distractions serve as a motivator or are they truly distractions from getting more productive work done?

*Lombardi, J.  ISSN: 8756-7555 print / 1930-8299 online

DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2011.591455

Got Motivation? Six Great Resources for Instructors at Every Level

Jose-Antonio Orosco, an associate professor of philosophy at Oregon State University, wrote an inspiring piece about Dr. King at the “Common Dreams” newscenter website (https://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/01/06-2). According to him, the Climate Justice Movement has the potential to prove King was right in believing that human beings can build the necessary insights to avoid mass destruction and develop activist resources to radically change morality as it exists in the world.

Change such morality, in order to build harmonious communities, means fighting the evil triplets Dr. King named racism, militarism and materialism. In this sense, ecology and sociology are not dissociated. They are intertwined in different forms of materialized injustice that make some people in economically fragile areas and countries more immediately vulnerable to climate change effects. What is the moral cost of climate change? That was the burning question of the “Philosophy Talk” radio program recorded live at OSU last year, where the hosts discussed the aspects related to changing our ways of life, rethinking life as we know, moving out of social/cultural inertia.

These are pragmatic challenges that have much to do with value placement, as the true costs of climate change are not just economic. Justice then is not just about mass protests in action; it is also about getting to the root of the problem as to build ethical alternatives to social and environmental issues. This morning I attended the 32nd Annual Peace Breakfast and listened to an inspiring speech by Walidah Imarisha, a professor at Portland State University’s Black Studies Department.  She talked about the MLK legacy and about a “revolution of values”, only possible when we break silence and unite in powerful voices.

Much like we have been discussing the divide between questions of science and philosophy, here too there is a divide to be bridged between environmentalism and social justice. The climate justice movement may in fact become the vehicle for dialogue and action grounded in such dialogue. Dialogicality, as we have been discussing in the work of Bakthin, is the key for meaning making.  This is a parallel a see fit here, as reflecting on moral premises for social and environmental change is a business much intertwined with meaning making. It is not only nature that needs healing, but our social and spiritual essence as well, and that requires a vibrant dialogical relationship among humans and with non-human nature.

So, in the spirit of this special day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and OSU celebratory theme “Uniting our Powerful Voices”, lets foster that dialogue and get involved. It is not about what will happen if we do get consciously involved in such dialogue, it is about what won’t happen if we don’t.  Find your call (if you haven’t already); understand your affinities as to where and how you can make meaningful contributions for a better beautiful world and for a better social world.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (Martin Luther King Jr.)


Note: There are many activities going on right now at Oregon State as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. Here is a link for the calendar of events (http://oregonstate.edu/oei/mlk-events).