Question: should we make available some of the HMSC VC footage for viewing to anyone who wants to see it? I was thinking the other day about what footage we could share with the field at large, as sharing is part of our mandate in the grant. Would it be helpful, for instance, to be able to see what goes on in our center, and maybe play around with viewing our visitors if you were considering either:

a) being a visiting scholar and seeing what we can offer

b) installing such cameras in your center

c) just seeing what goes on in a science center?

Obviously this brings up ethical questions, but for example, the Milestone Systems folks who made the iPad app for their surveillance system do put the footage from their cameras inside and outside their office building out there for anyone with the app to access. Do they have signs telling people walking up to, or in and around, their building that that’s the case? I would guess not.

I don’t mean that we should share audio, just video, but our visitors will already presumably know they are being recorded. What other considerations come up if we share the live footage? Others won’t be able to record or download footage through the app.

What would your visitors think?

Right now, we can set up profiles for an unlimited number of people who contact us to access the footage with a username and password, but I’m talking about putting it out there for anyone to find. What are the advantages, other than being able to circumvent contacting us for the login info? Other possible disadvantages: bandwidth problems, as we’ve already been experiencing.

So, chew over this food for thought on this Christmas eve, and let us know what you think.

I want to talk today about what many of us here have alluded to in other posts: the approval (and beyond) process of conducting ethical human research. What grew out of really really unethical primarily medical research on humans many years ago now has evolved into something that can take up a great deal of your research time, especially on a large, long-duration grant such as ours. Many people (including me, until recently) thought of this process as primarily something to be done up-front: get approval, then sort of forgotten about except for the actual gaining of consent as you go and unless you significantly change your research questions or process. Wrong! It’s a much more constant, living thing.

We at the Visitor Center have several things that make us a weird case for our Institutional Review Board office at the university. First, even though it is generally educational research that we do, as part of the Science and Mathematics Education program, our research sites (the Visitor Center and other community-based locations) are not typically “approved educational research settings” such as classrooms. Classrooms have been so frequently used over the years that they have a more streamlined approval process unless you’re introducing a radically different type of experiment. Second, we’re a place where we have several types of visitor populations: the general public, OSU student groups, and K-12 school and camp groups, who each have different levels of privacy expectations, requirements for attending (public: none, OSU school groups: may be part of a grade), and thus different levels and forms of obtaining consent to do research required. Plus, we’re trying to video record our entire population, so getting signatures from 150,000+ visitors per year just isn’t feasible. However, some of the research we’re doing will be our typical video recording that is more in-depth than just the anonymized overall timing and tracking and visitor recognition from exhibit to exhibit.

What this means is a whole stack of IRB protocols that someone has to manage. At current count, I am managing four: one for my thesis, one for eyetracking in the Visitor Center for looking at posters and such, one for a side project involving concept mapping, and one for the general overarching video recording for the VC. The first three have been approved and the last one is in the middle of several rounds of negotiation on signage, etc., as I’ve mentioned before. Next up we need to write a protocol for the wave tank video reflections, and one for groundtruthing the video-recording-to-automatic-timing-tracking-and-face-recognition data collection. In the meantime, the concept mapping protocol has been open for a year and needs to be closed. My thesis protocol has bee approved nearly as long, went through several deviations in which I did things out of order or without getting updated approval from IRB, and now itself soon needs to be renewed. Plus, we already have revisions to the video recording protocol staff once the original approval happens. Thank goodness the eyetracking protocol is already in place and in a sweet spot time-wise (not needing renewal very soon), as we have to collect some data around eyetracking and our Magic Planet for an upcoming conference, though I did have to check it thoroughly to make sure what we want to do in this case falls under what’s been approved.

On the positive side, though, we have a fabulous IRB office that is willing to work with us as we break new ground in visitor research. Among them, us, and the OSU legal team we are crafting a strategy that we hope will be useful to other informal learning institutions as they proceed with their own research. Without their cooperation, though, very little of our grand plan would be able to be realized. Funders are starting to realize this, too, and before they make a final award for a grant they require proof that you’ve discussed the basics of your project at least with your IRB office and they’re on board.

The Japanese dock on Agate Beach has been the leading topic of conversation in town since it washed ashore some days ago. Lots of people have gone down to the beach to visit it, and for different reasons. At least one left flowers. Many took note of the exotic creatures that rode the battered hulk across the Pacific. Some tore off pieces as souvenirs (and some of these were caught and turned back by state police).

The potentially invasive species have now been removed from the dock, and a trans-Pacific conversation is underway to determine exactly what to do with it. Should it be taken apart as scrap? Should it be converted into a memorial for those lost to the tsunami that displaced it? Should it be left where the sea saw fit to release it?

That dock carried more than sea stars and barnacles from its home. What meanings did it bring with it, and to whom do they belong?


Rejection. It’s an inevitable part of recruiting human subjects to fill out your survey or try out your exhibit prototype. It’s also hard not to take it personally, but visitors have often paid to attend your venue today and may or may not be willing to sacrifice some of their leisure time to improve your exhibit.


[Full disclosure: this blog post is 745 words long and will take you approximately 5-10 minutes to read. You might get tired as you read it, or feel your eyes strain from reading on the computer screen, but we won’t inject you with any medications. You might learn something, but we can’t pay you.]


First, you have to decide beforehand which visitors you’re going to ask – is it every third visitor? What if they’re in a group? Which direction will they approach from? Then you have to get their attention. You’re standing there in your uniform, and they may not make eye contact, figuring you’re just there to answer questions. Sometimes rejection is as simple as a visitor not meeting your eye or not stopping when you greet them.

You don’t want to interrupt them while they’re looking at an exhibit, but they may turn and go a different direction before you get a chance to invite them to help you. How far do you chase them once you’ve identified them as your target group? What if they’re going to the restrooms, or leaving the museum from there? When I was asking people to complete surveys about our global data display exhibit, they were basically on their way out the door of the Visitor Center, and I was standing in their way.


If you get their attention, then you have to explain the study and not scare them off by making it sound like a test, with right or wrong answers, even when you have right and wrong answers. You also have to make sure that you don’t take too much of their time.


Then there are the visitors who leave in the middle of the experiment, deciding they didn’t know what they were getting into, or being drawn away by another group member.


Oh, you’re still there? This isn’t too long? It’s not lunchtime, planetarium show time or time to leave for the day? I’ll continue.


If you have an IRB or other informed consent document, this can be another hurdle. If you’re not careful about what you emphasize, visitors could focus on the “Risks” section that you must tell them about. In exhibit evaluation and research, this is often only fatigue or discomfort when someone feels they don’t know the right answer (despite assurances that no one is judging them). But of course, you have to be thorough and make sure they do understand the risks and benefits, who will see the information they give and how it will be used. Luckily, we don’t often need to collect personal information, even signatures, if we’re not using audio or video recording.


Then there is the problem of children. We want to assess the visit with the true types of groups that we see, that is, mostly families or mixed adult-child groups. However, anyone under 18 needs to have consent given by a parent. Unfortunately, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, sister or brother doesn’t count, so you have to throw out those groups as well. Even if a parent is present, you have to make sure that you can explain the research to the youngest visitor you have permission to study (usually about 8 years old) and even worse, explain the assent process to him or her without scaring them off. As our IRB office puts it, consent is a process, a conversation, not just a form.


So who knows if we’re really truly getting a representative sample of our visitors? That’s definitely a question about sampling theory. Luckily for us at Hatfield, we’re working with our campus IRB office to try and create less-restrictive consent situations, as when we don’t have to get a signed consent form if that’s the only identifying information we ask visitors to provide. Maybe we’ll be able to craft a situation where over-18 family members will be able to provide consent for their younger relatives if a parent didn’t travel with them that day. Luckily, as this progresses, you’ll be able to follow it on our blog.


Wow, you’ve read this far? Thank you so much, and enjoy the rest of your visit.



I found this interesting New Scientist piece the other day:
As these sorts of technologies become more common and affordable, what does this mean for interactive exhibits and remote visitor observation? Are people more comfortable with the notion of being “watched” by cameras today than they were 10 years ago?