Free-Choice Learning Lab Research and cutting-edge technology used will be disseminated Internationally! Brazil here we go to Rio!

Shawn and I have been confirmed to participate at the First International Workshop  on Museum Learning Research, which will take place in Brazil this coming December. We will be participating in round tables about visitor learning research, discussing methodologies and presenting our various research tracks, especially in regards to Hatfield Marine Science Center. We will have the opportunity to share the Cyber lab activities with museum researchers around the world and a bigger population of  Brazilian researchers. This will be a great opportunity to get ourselves known within international scope and to jumpstart my research in Brazil, as well as our partnership with my co-adviser’s “Life Museum”, as a place for professional development exchange and cross-cultural comparison of methodologies used.

We will present the work you have been doing with Shawn (giving the credit you deserve) and the ideas for my research project on family learning in Brazilian Museums. This will be a great opportunity for me to network and narrow down the focus of my research as to what is actually doable within the Brazilian context and with the partners I will be able to get involved with. Generally, we will focus on new methodologies available with the Cyber Lab technological tools and, this way, create opportunities for methodologies to be replicated cross-culturally. They are very interested in what we do, and if we are successful in creating such partnerships, your work at the lab will contribute to the developing field of visitor-focused research in Brazil.

We will keep you updated of what goes on. In addition to post the experience here upon our return. We will probably post and live twit while there to share our immediate impressions and issues raised.

That is it for now. I am so happy to go back home (and I have never been in Rio). I am even happier to go back for this purpose, as I truly want to contribute to this research field in Brazil. Hope I will!


I have been shuffling through data from the Exploratorium’s scientist-in-residence (SIR) project and I started thinking about what data (and the kinds of ways data) can or should be shared on a blog.  For now, I am going to share a few word clouds of raw data.  These do not illustrate full sentences nor can you tell which participant said what.

Each of these word clouds was based off of a survey question that I wrote and administered.

Visitors to the exhibition space were asked, upon leaving, “What would you tell a friend this space was about?”  The word cloud below contains data from the March residency, which focused on severe storm science (with scientists from NOAA’s National Severe Storm Lab).


The Exploratorium Explainers were an integral part of this project.  At the end of the second year I asked all of the Explainers, the Lead Explainers, and the Explainer managers to voluntarily complete the online survey.

Here is how Explainer managers responded to “Describe the impacts of this project on the scientists.”


While the Explainer survey was quite long and there is a lot of rich data there, I want to focus on their thoughts about the iPad.  The iPad was incorporated into the exhibition space as a mediating tool (as specified in the grant proposal).  I asked the Explainers “Where and how do you think the iPad was incorporated throughout the project?”  Their response…



So, what can we gain from word clouds?  It is certainly one way to look at raw data.  Thoughts?


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…



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.

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.