So last week I posted about the evaluation project underway at Portland Art Museum (PAM) and wanted to give a few more details about how we are using the looxcie cameras.


Looxcies are basically bluetooth headsets, just like the ones regularly seen used with cell phones, but with a built in camera. I am currently using them as part of my research emcompassing docent-visitor interactions, and decided to use them as a data collection tool because of their ability to generate a good quality “visitor-eye-view” of the museum experience. I personally feel their potential as a research/evaluation tool in informal settings are endless, and had some wonderful conversations with other education professionals at the National Marine Educators Association conference in Anchorage, AK recently about where some other possibilities could lie – including as part of professional development practice for educators and exhibit development.

At PAM, the looxices will be used to capture that view when visitors interact with exhibition pieces, specifically those related to their Museum Stories and Conversation About Art video-based programs. Here, fitting visitors with looxcies will enable us to capture the interactions and conversations visitors have about the art on display as they visit the museum. The video data gained here can then be analyzed for repeating themes around what and how visitors talk about art in the museum setting.

During our meeting with Jess Park and Ally Schultz at PAM, we created some test footage to help with training other museum staff for the evaluation procedures. In the clip below, Jess and Ally are looking at and discussing some sculpture pieces, and were both wearing looxcies to give them a sense of how they feel to the user. This particular clip is from Ally’s perspective, and you’ll notice even Shawn and I have a go a butting in and talking about art with them!

What’s exciting about working with the looxcies, and with video observations in general, is how much detail you can capture about the visitor experience, down to what they are specifically looking at, how long they look at it, and even if they nod their head in agreement with the person they are conversing with. Multimodal discourse eat your heart out!


Thursday, I had scheduled 3 faculty interviews, including two back-to-back. I do not recommend this approach, not the least of which reason is that the first of the back-to-back ran longer than most, and I barely had time to write analytical notes to collect my thoughts before I had to make sure everything was ready for the next subject. I also didn’t take time to go to stretch my legs and body after intensely concentrating on what to ask next. If I were really pressed, I probably could have begged a moment for the bathroom once the subject arrived and was reading over the consent form, but all in all, it probably took more out of me than was necessary or maybe even wise.

That said, I did make it through, probably because I’d spent so much time preparing before the first one so I didn’t goof up. I have a checklist of things to do before, during and after the interview, and all of my questions and even example probe questions for follow-up printed out as well. I have instructions for a task that I give them explained on a third sheet, and finally, background questions on a final paper. Most of these things I didn’t realize how much I needed until after or during my pilot interviews, another endorsement for trying out your interview strategy beforehand.

Some of my recommendatiions: make sure the blinds in the room are working. I discovered one really old set that was stuck halfway open, so I called maintenance. They haven’t been fixed yet, but at least they closed them so I don’t get glare on my screen for the images I’m showing. Close the window and door, and post a sign that you’re doing an experiment and what time you’ll be done. Of course, this doesn’t  eliminate all the noise when there’s a large biology class across the hall with their doors open, but it helps a lot. Turn off your cell phone, and remind subjects to do the same. Even though it was on my list, I still forgot once yesterday and got distracted. Check the temperature of the room. Even if you don’t get sun glare, or need to worry about it, the blinds can help keep the room cool when you get intense afternoon sun. Of course, then you have to balance this with the room getting stuffy from being so closed up, again a reason that it would be nice to have some time between interviews to air things out if necessary.

Yesterday Shawn and I met with Jess Park at Portland Art Museum (PAM) about an exciting new evaluation project utilizing our looxcie cameras. We had some great conversation about how to capture visitor conversation and interactions in relation to PAM’s Museum Stories and Conversations About Art video-based program. The project will be one the first official evaluation partnerships we have developed under the flag of FCL lab!

PAM has developed these video-based experiences for visitors in order to deepen visitors’ engagement with objects, with each other, and with the museum.  Museum Stories features short video presentations of museum staff talking about specific objects in the collection that have some personal meaning for them. All videos are available on touch screen computers in one gallery of the museum, which also houses the areas where the stories are recorded as well as some of the objects from the museum featured in the stories.  These videos are also available on-line.  Conversations about Art is a series of short videos featuring conversations among experts focused on particular objects in the museum’s collection.  These are available on hand-held devices provided by the museum, as downloads to visitors’ personal hand-held devices, and on the museum website. PAM is now looking to expand the program, and wishes to document some of the predicted and unexpected impacts and outcomes of these projects for visitors. The evaluation will recruit visitors to wear the looxcie cameras during their visit to the pertinent exhibits, including that of object stories. We will likely also be interviewing some of the experts/artists involved in creating the  videos.

We spent time going over the looxcie technologies and how best to recruit visitors in the Art Museum space. We also created some test clips to help the PAM folks working on the evaluation better understand the potential of the video data collection process. I will post a follow up next week with some more details about how we’re using the looxcies.

Shawn and I come back from PAM feeling like the A-Team – we love it when an evaluation plan comes together.

Just a few short updates:

  • We now have a full 25 cameras in the front half of the Visitor’s Center, which gives us pretty great coverage of these areas. Both wide establishment shots and close-up interaction angles cover the touch tanks, wave tanks (still not quite fully open to the public) and a few freshwater creatures tanks that are more traditional tanks where visitors simply observe the animals.
  • Laura got a spiffy new EcoSmart pen that syncs audio with written notes taken on special (now printable from your printer) paper. She showed us how it translates into several languages, lets you play a piano after you’ve drawn the right pattern on the paper, and displays what you’ve written on its digital screen, performing pretty slick handwriting analysis in the process.
  • Katie ran the lab’s first two eyetracking experimental subjects yesterday, one expert and one novice pilot (not quite from the exact study population, but approximately). Not only did the system work (whew!), we’ve even got some interesting qualitative patterns that are different between the two. This is very promising, though of course we’ll have to dig into the quantitative statistics and determine what, if any, differences in dwell times are significant.

Sometimes, it’s a lot of small steps, but altogether they make forward progress!



The pace of research often strikes me as wonky. This, I suppose, is true of a lot of fields: some days, you make a lot of progress, and some days very little. A series of very small steps eventually (you hope) lead to a conclusion worthy of sharing with your peers and advancing the field. That means a lot of days of working in the trees without being able to see the forest.

Conferences, with their presentation application deadlines, have a funny way of driving research. I applied for the International Conference on Science Communication back in March and outlined all this data I figured I’d have for my thesis by the time the conference rolls around in the first week of September. Amazingly, I’m on track to have a fairly good amount of data, despite delays due to subject recruitment and IRB approval that I’ve talked about before.

However, now I have another twist in the process. Usually, one can work on the conference presentation almost up until the very moment of the presentation, especially if you get to host the presentation slides on your own laptop. This conference, though, requires me to have my final presentation almost 7 weeks before the actual presentation date. I can only assume this is because the conference, to be held in Nancy, France, is going to be held concurrently in both French and English, and thus, the organizers need this time to be able to translate my slides into French (of which I speak not a word).

In any case, this throws a major wrench into my planned schedule! I am doing fine with the pace, and have about half of my needed faculty interviews arranged (with 25% actually completed!). This deadline this week throws me into a strange dilemma of how to present something interesting, especially the visual data from eyetracking experiments, without actually being able to show them at the conference, as far as I can tell. I figure I will have some results from my actual subjects by the time of the conference, but I don’t know which subjects I will want to choose for that part until all of the interviews have been completed. So my solution will be to run a couple of pilot subjects on just the eyetracking part, without the interview. I’ve recruited one of the folks that works closely with us to be more of an “expert” user, and a member of the science and math teacher licensure master’s program to serve as a “novice.” I’m really excited by what the interviews have revealed so far and am hopeful that the eyetracking pilots will go as well. Crossing my fingers that this will be interesting to the conference attendees, too, with whatever verbal updates I can provide to accompany my slides in September.

On this most summer of holidays, while her home state experiences powerful summer storms and heat waves, intern Diana adjusts to her summer home and job:

As a native Marylander, I have been thrown into an environment of cold northwest water and weather.  I was definitely not used to wearing pants in the summer or having my hooded sweatshirt as a necessity to my wardrobe.

The first challenge I faced was understanding how the west coast worked in terms of upwelling and the cold temperature of the water here.  Once I understood this, I could then understand why the biodiversity that lives and flourishes here can actually do so. I am still learning, and I probably always will be for at least this summer if not more, because the Oregon coast is a complex world.

The next step to fitting in here at Hatfield for the summer was to learn about the Visitor’s Center itself. I had to learn about the animals that live here, the activities and free choice learning aspects that are displayed as well as what my project for the summer here would be.  That is a frustrating task in itself. I do know a good bit about marine biology and ecology, but this place was intense. This is mainly because I have only seen a few science centers and aquariums that use the water around them as their water for the marine animals. Hatfield completely relies on the bay its saltwater wedge. If something happens to the water in the bay, then all heck breaks loose in the science center because that’s the water we use. I know it’s filtered a million times in many different ways, but sometimes things still make it through and that’s what effects the marine environment such as bacteria, invertebrates, etc.

Then, there are the surprises I have gotten while working at this job for almost 2 weeks…the Visitors.  No matter how many changes in the center, from the animals to the water quality to the behavior, the visitors still surprise me the most. Each family and person is different, from the moment they walk in the door and are asked for a donation rather than an entrance fee. Some give a little, some give and wish they could give more. There are people who are from out of town who just want to see the octopus and people from landlocked states and have never seen an estuary before. You also get visitors who know nothing about the Oregon coast or marine ecology. Then, before you know it there’s a kid who comes in and knows more about sea stars than you would ever know, no matter how much you studied. Each visitor has their own story, and that is what makes my job so exciting because not only is science ever changing, but so are the people that want to learn.