My dissertation is slowly rising up from the pile of raw data. After crunching survey data, working on checking transcriptions and of course working some inevitable writing this month, I’m starting the process of coding my video observations of docents interacting with visitors. I’ll be using activity theory and multimodal discourse analysis to unpack those actions, and attempt to decipher the interpretive strategies the docents use to communicate science.

This is the really interesting part for me here because I finally get the chance to break down the interpretive practice I’ve been expecting to see. However, what I’m still trying to work out at the moment is how micro-level I should go when it comes to unpacking the discourse and action I’ve observed. For example, in addition to analyzing what is said in each interaction, how much do I need to break down about how it’s said? For potential interpretative activities, where does that activity begin and end? There’s a lot of decisions to be made here, to which I need to go back to my original research questions for. I’m also in the process of recruiting a couple of additional researchers to code a sample of the data for inter-rater reliability of my analysis.

I’ve also been starting the ball rolling for some potential member check workshops with similar docent communities. The idea is to gather some feedback on my findings with these communities in a couple of months or so. I’ve been looking in to docent communities at varying aquariums in both Oregon and California.

So far so good!

Well the data collection for my research has been underway for nearly 2 months now, how time flies! For those of you new to this project, my research centers on documenting the practice of science center docents as they interact with visitors. Data collection includes video observations of voluntary docents at HMSC using “visitor-mounted” looxcie cameras, as well as pre- and post-observation interviews with those participating docents.

“Visitor-eye view using the looxcies”

My current focus is getting the video observations of  each of the 10 participating docents collected. In order to conduct a post observation interview (which asks docents to reflect on their practice), I need to get about 10-15 minutes of video data of each of the docents interacting with the public. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you can’t guarantee a recruited family will interact with a recruited docent,  and an actual interaction will likely only last from 30 seconds to a few minutes, it takes a fair few families wearing cameras to get what you need. However, I’m finding this process really enjoyable both in getting to know the docents and meeting visitors.

When I first started this project I was worried that visitors would be a little repelled about the idea of having their whole visit recorded. What I’m actually finding is that either a) they want to help the poor grad student complete her thesis, b) they think the cameras are fun and “want a go” or c) they totally want one of the HMSC tote bags being used as an incentive (what can I say, everyone loves free stuff right?!) The enthusiasm for the cameras has gone as far as one gentleman running up to a docent, jumping up and down and shouting “I’m wearing a camera, I’m wearing a camera!” Additionally, and for those star trek fans out there, a number of visitors and colleagues alike have remarked how much wearing a looxcie makes a person look like a borg (i.e. cyborg), particularly with that red light thing…

Now how, may you ask, does that not influence those lovely naturalistic interactions you’re supposed to be observing? Well, as many of us qualitative researchers know, that unless you hide the fact you are observing a person (an element our IRB process is not particularly fond of) you can never truly remove that influence, but you can assume that if particular practices are observed often enough, they are part of the landscape you are observing. The influence of the cameras may alter how naturalistic that interaction may be, but that interaction is still a reflection of social behaviors taking place. People do not completely change their personality and ways of life simply because a camera is around; more likely any behavior changes may simply be over- or under-exaggerated normative actions. And I am finding patterns, lots of patterns, in the discourse and action taking place between docents and visitors.

However, I am paying attention to how visitors and docents react to the cameras. When filtering the footage for interactions, I look out for any discourse that indicates camera influence is an issue. As examples, the docent in the “jumping man” footage reacts surprised to the man’s sudden shouting, open’s his eyes wide and nervously laughs – to which I noted on the video that the interaction from then on may irregular. In one clip I have a docent talking non-stop about waves seemingly without taking a breath for nearly 8 minutes – to which I noted seemed unnatural in comparison to their other shorter dialogue events. Another clip has a docent bursting out laughing at a visitor wearing one of the looxices attached to his baseball cap using a special clip I have (not something I expected!) – to which I noted would have likely made the ability for the visitor to forget about the looxcie less possible.

All in all, however, most visitors remark they actually forget they are wearing the camera as they visit goes on, simply because they are distracted by their actual visit. This makes me happy, as the purpose of incorporating the looxcies was to reduce the influence of being videod as a whole. Visitors forget to a point where, during pilots, one man actually walked into the bathroom wearing his looxcie, and recorded some footage I wasn’t exactly intending to observe… suffice to say, I instantly deleted that video and and updated my recruitment spiel to include a reminder not to take the cameras in to the bathroom. Social science never ceases to surprise me!

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.

(Yes, your host is a child of the 80’s and “The Facts of Life”)

Diana is learning the back and forth, up and down, of life as an interpreter and exhibit developer at the VC:

“Over the past couple of weeks, some interesting things have happened at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.  Not only have people been rude, but they have also been spectacular.  My faith in the human race is always moving back and forth like a wave.  First of all, there is my erosion wave tank.  We have had some great success and devastation in the wave erosion tank.  The wave tank was first somewhat of a chaos area with children walking on the edges of the prototype wooden table, sand volcanoes in the middle of the tank, and water everywhere you can think of around the tank area. Then we made a beach erosion challenge, with signs that gave very simple directions on what visitors were challenged to do. That made a significant difference between the actions taken around the tank area.  We saw a significant increase in families using the wave tank area as opposed to children creating sandcastles on their own as well as an increase in people reading the signs and trying to do the beach erosion challenge instead of just creating waves.  While the increase was promising, I still saw some problems.

One of the main problems of the wave tank that all of us in the VC are seeing is that the water needs to be changed constantly. I have changed the water about 3 times a week and each time there is something new in the water.  I have found potato chips, granola bars, and hair in the wave tank.  A spring broke on the wave creator, and the aluminum is oxidizing from the fresh water, which will lead to more problems later on.  Yet, out of all of these the ongoing problem that is really hard to find a solution for is the amount of water on the floor.  This problem has not only seemed to stump me, but my coworkers and advisors as well.

Out of all of these problems that my project has had, many amazing things have happened as well.  I have had some spectacular conversations with visitors.  This older couple one day came on my estuary tour and first asked some highly intelligent questions that tested my knowledge to the limit.  Then, once the tour was over, I was able to have them stay until closing with our eye level tank feeding, ocean quest and exhibits in general.  They would call me and McKenzie out by name just to ask us questions.  The older man told me he had no previous knowledge about marine science or biology for that matter, so he had many questions.  Oh he did and we had plenty of answers.  The visitors who are rude sometimes make me very upset, but then there are people like this older couple for example and most children, especially the ones that ask tons questions, that make my job totally worth it!”

As Susan posted, several of the students working with Shawn and on various projects related to the lab took a field trip to a couple of other local museums. It’s something a lot of us in the field seem to do (or at least, that’s my impression), as museums seem to vary so much from community to community, even when they’re all science centers or all art museums, etc. There’s always something innovative going on (usually to manage tight budgets), and it’s really valuable especially to get to talk to other professionals at their home sites. I’ve visited large-city museums that were traditionally curatorial re-vamp their spaces a few at a time and create entirely new full-time programming to work in the new century (the Science Museum of London and its attached Dana Centre), and small-town places with hands-on versions of history and science rolled into one (the Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, Arkansas has a great crawl-through cave exhibit “Underground Arkansas” alongside a good deal of Smithsonian Institution offerings). Each time I go, I see a bit of the familiar and a bit of the unique and local flair.

For instance, at the Science Factory, we found that a staff of 10 (not all full-time) plus a handful of contractors put on 9 weeks of sold-out summer camps a year, serving about 300 kids, even though their overall annual visitation is only about 37,000. For comparison, Hatfield gets 150,000 visitors, not including school groups, each year, and I don’t think we put on that many weeks of camp! In addition, as the building is in Alton Baker park, literally in the shadow of the U of O football stadium, the museum closes on game days due to the sheer traffic tangle. However, they turn around and sell tailgating parking and throw in membership as part of the package, raising a good deal of revenue when they might otherwise be losing money. To top it all off, they manage to rotate their exhibition about 3 times a year.

The Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum had its own issues; since they’re located on the main campus, parking is always a snag. And prior to a recent renovation, the building was so imposing and so not-well-marked that people actually had to ask if they were allowed to enter (our Physical Dimensions of FCL online class explores entrance spaces as an assignment). Now they have thriving adult programs as well as a full complement of tour groups. They are of such a size that they are rotating exhibitry nearly constantly, based not only on special long-term touring shows but also on the needs of professors who may change out a few pieces for a class.

This last part led me to ask about their volunteers who lead tours and how they keep up with all the changes. Just like the volunteers at Hatfield, the JSMA volunteers (“experience interpreters” rather than docents) have to be prepared for anything, since they aren’t always aware even when they start a tour what they may encounter. But their volunteers also undergo extensive training, spending about 4 hours a month in training on top of volunteering up to 3 days a month. Not only do they get updates on content of exhibits, but they also spend a lot of time practicing interaction techniques, which I witnessed as Sharon led a group around before we sat down with her. She had a camp group of maybe six 8-year-olds and had stopped them in front of a piece. She asked the group, “Do you think the building here was built fast or slow?” When two of the group had different answers, she asked them to justify their answers. I moved on before I heard how well they complied, but she certainly had the attention and participation of most of the group (ok, one of them was over on a nearby cushioned bench making face-down “bench angels”). Sharon told us that this was a concerted effort made over the past several years to encourage interpreters to go beyond simply delivering information.

What other places have you visited, and how are they making things work in creative ways? The Museum 2.0 blog is a great example of organizational change over the past year at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art.