Writing your dissertation seems like the perfect time to learn new software, no? As Laura mentioned, she’s starting to use NVivo for her analysis, and I’m doing the same. It’s a new program for our lab, but already it looks very powerful, combining multiple types of data within the same project. For me, that’s audio, video, and transcripts of course, but I’m also finding that I will be able to link the imagery that I used probably to particular parts of the transcript. That means that I will likely be able to connect those easily in the actual dissertation write up. For me, that could prove incredibly useful as I have so many images that are virtually the same, yet subtlely different, what with the topic and level of scaffolding varying just slightly. I don’t think describing the “levels” of scaffolding in words will be quite the same. It may mean a lot of color images for my dissertation printing, though. Hm, another thing to figure out!

I’m also diving into using the new eyetracking tools, which are also powerful for that analysis, but still tricky in terms of managing licenses across computers when I’m trying to collect data in one place and analyze it in another. We’re certainly epitomizing free-choice learning in that sense, learning in an on-demand fashion to use tools that we want to learn about in order to accomplish specific tasks. One could just wish we had had real data to use these tools with before (or money to purchase them – NVivo and StudioCode, another powerful coding tool for on-the-fly video coding, are not cheap). Between that and the IRB process, I’m realizing this dissertation process is even more broadly about all the associated stuff that comes with doing research (not to mention budgeting, scheduling, grant proposing …) than it is about even the final project and particular findings themselves. I’m sure someone told me this in the beginning, but it’s one of those you don’t believe it until you see it sorts of things.

What “else” have you learned through your research process?

When thinking about creating outreach for a public audience, who should the target audience be? What types of questions can you ask yourself to help determine this information? If is ok to knowingly exclude certain age groups when you are designing an outreach activity? What setting is best for my outreach setting? How many entry or exist points should my activity have? Should there be a take-away thing or just a take-away message? How long should the outreach activity run? How long will people stay once my activity is completed? What types of materials are ok to use with a public audience? For example is there anything I should avoid like peanuts? Am I allowed to touch the people doing the activity to help them put something on to complete the activity? What types of things need to be watched in between each activity to avoid spreading germs? How much information should I “give away” about the topic being presented? What type of questions should I ask the participants in regards to the activity or information around the activity? How much assumed knowledge can I assume the audience has about the topic? Where do I find this information out? What are some creditable resources for creating research based educational activities?

These are some of the questions that I was asked today during a Pre-college Program outreach meeting by another graduate student who works with me on OSU’s Bioenergy Program. Part of our output for this grant is to create and deliver outreach activities around Bioenergy. We plan on utilizing the connections among SMILE, Pre-college Programs and Hatfield Marine Science Center since there are already outreach opportunities that exist within these structures. As we were meeting, it dawned on me that someone who has not ever been asked to create an outreach activity as part of their job may see this task as overwhelming. As we worked through the questions, activities and specific audience needs of the scheduled upcoming outreach, it was both rewarding and refreshing to hear the ideas and thoughts of someone new to the field of outreach.

What are some questions you have when creating outreach? What are some suggestions about creating outreach to the general public verse middle school students verse high school students? Do you have any good resources you can share? What are your thoughts?

One of the great things about being in graduate school is the variety of experiences that are available in the competition for funding. Each one offers unique opportunities for growth and learning, but some are certainly more challenging than others. I’m currently working on a project that utilizes my skills in web design, but the requirements of the project are beyond what I was formerly able to perform. The past few weeks have been full of learning and expanding and lots of trial and error. I finally found a few useful printed books (especially the Drupal Bible) and with their help I’ve been more successful in building the website with the functionality I envisioned. There is still quite a ways to go, and it would be easier if I had direct access to the servers, but I’m still proud of the work I’ve been able to do and look forward to adding “web development” to my Curriculum Vitae.

(Since the website is still under quite a bit of construction, I have chosen not to release the URL at this point.)

… is what we’ll be doing starting this fall as a group of advisees of Dr. Rowe. As a couple of us near defense time (we hope), it seemed a good time to start a regular discussion of the theories and frameworks most pertinent to what we all do. There are a lot of them; as much as we share interest in science education, we have a lot of different ideas about how to do it for the array of audiences and venues we’re concerned with as well. So expect more along those lines coming up in the blog.

For now, here’s a video of Dr. Rowe introducing his own framework, which of course informs the entire lab agenda:

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.

Harrison used an interesting choice of phrase in his last post: “time-tested.” I was just thinking as I watched the video they produced, including Bill’s dissection, that I don’t know what we’ve done to rigorously evaluate our live programming at Hatfield. But it is just this sort of “time-tested” program that our research initiatives are truly trying to sort out and put to the test. Time has proven its popularity, data is necessary to prove its worth as a learning tool. A very quick survey of the research literature doesn’t turn up much, though some science theater programming was the subject of older studies. Live tours are another related program that could be ripe for investigation.

We all know, as humans who recognize emotions in others, how much visitors enjoy these sorts of programs and science shows of all types. However, we don’t always apply standards to our observations, such as measuring specific variables to answer specific questions. We have a general sense of “positive affect” in our visitors, but we don’t have any data in the form of examples of quotes or interviews with visitors to back up our thoughts. Yet.

A good example of another need for this was in a recent dissertation defense here at OSU. Nancy Staus’ research looked at learning from a live program, and she interviewed visitors after watching a program at a science center. She found, however, that the presenter of the program had a lot of influence on the learning simply by the way they presented the program: visitors recalled more topics and more facts about each topic when the presentation was more interactive than scripted. She wasn’t initially interested in differences of this sort, but because she’d collected this sort of data on the presentations, she was able to locate a probable cause for a discrepancy she noted. So while this wasn’t the focus of her research (she was actually interested in the role of emotion in mediating learning), it pointed to the need for data to not only back up claims, but also to lead to explanations for surprising results and open areas for further study.

That’s what we’re working for: that rigorously examining these and all sorts of other learning opportunities becomes an integral part of the “time-honored tradition.”