Last week I traveled to Annapolis to present on research taking place in the Cyberlab at the National Marine Educators Association’s annual conference. It was a great opportunity to meet and network with other professionals and educators that focus on the marine and aquatic environment. Attendees come from both the formal and informal education field, but also staff members of state, federal, and non-profit environmental organizations. The schedule was filled with workshops, informative sessions, local tourist activities, and social events. Highlights of the trip included a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, as well as a chance to learn about oysters while sailing on a skipjack boat on the Chesapeake Bay. I also had a chance to walk around downtown Annapolis and see some of the historic buildings that were present at the time our country was established.
I presented early in the conference and I was pleased with the attendance to my session. Several people spoke to me afterwards and expressed their interested in human learning in an aquarium setting and what that means for the visitor experience. There was also a strong interest in the types of technology we were using to study behaviors and learning, as well as the touch-surface exhibits we have installed as part of the NSF grant. As we are still in the process of recruiting Cyber Scholars, I hope that future collaborations come from the interest expressed at the conference.
A recurring theme during the week was the current state of the ocean and climate change. I attended the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) introductory workshop prior to hear about the strategies they recommend when engaging the public at science centers and informal institutions on the topic of climate change. There was a great basic introduction to climate change, ocean acidification, and other environmental impacts of a changing climate. As one of the partners of this program is the Frameworks Institute, which has done research on the public perceptions of climate change, there was a focus on framing and considerations for conversational tone while interacting with visitors. We also had discussions on the incorporation of cultural ideals and values when presenting and interpreting a complex science topic. Throughout the day, we had several group discussions and brainstormed community based solutions to a global issue. As educators, it is now time to have the confidence to share our knowledge of how the planet is changing, and facilitate that spark of awareness with those we engage with.
The Keynote Presenter was Dr. Edith Widder, Deep-Sea Explorer and Conservationist, and CEO, Sr. Scientist and Co-Founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association. As an expert in bioluminescence and methods of deep sea exploration, she shared inspiring words with regards to the continued exploration of our ocean. There is so much that we do not know about our own planet and our marine environment, she encouraged us to keep working hard at educating others and keeping youth engaged in the marine sciences. Dr. Widder also shared some incredible footage of giant squid that live in the deep. These creatures were captured on tape, being attracted to powerful lights that acted as a “bait” symbolizing the same bioluminescent patterns that their prey express. Her talk made me want my own submersible to explore the deep!
I really appreciated the opportunity to attend this conference on behalf of the Cyberlab and interact with enthusiastic and determined educators. There are so many that are passionate about the ocean and excited to engage others in learning about the aquatic environment. Next year the annual conference is in the “other” Newport…Rhode Island. I hope to make it to this conference and share the results from my Master’s research in the Cyberlab, which will begin this week!