I’ve been looking in to technologies that help observe a free choice learning experience from the learner perspective. My research interests center on interactions between learners and informal educators, and so I wanted a technology that helped record interactions from the learner perspective, but were as least obtrusive on that interaction as possible.

Originally I was interested in using handheld technologies (such as smartphones) for this task. Here the idea was to have the learner wear a handheld on a lanyard which would automatically tag and record their interactions with informal educators via QR codes or augmented reality symbols. However, this proved more complicated than originally thought (and produced somewhat dodgy video recordings!), so we looked for a simpler approach.

I am currently exploring how Bluetooth headsets can help this process. The “looxcie” is basically a Bluetooth headset equipped with a camera, which can be paired to a handheld device for recording or work independently. Harrison is expertly modeling this device in the photos. I am in the process of starting to pilot this technology in the visitor center, and have spent some time with the volunteer interpreters at HMSC demonstrating how this might be used for my research. Maureen and Becca helped me produce a test video at the octopus tank (link below).




Thanks to a very generous Informal Science Education grant from the National Science Foundation, the Free-Choice Learning Laboratory will soon be experimenting with some very promising emergent technologies. These technologies—soon to be integrated into our research space here at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center (HMSCVC)—include facial recognition, eye-tracking and augmented reality systems. RFID cards will allow visitors to opt out of these measures. We’re also looking to collaborate with outside researchers through our visiting scholars program.

To make use of these potent data collection tools, we will establish three new exhibits as research platforms:

1. Interactive climate change exhibit: This exhibit will ask visitors to share their own experiences and knowledge. The data collected by the exhibit can then be used to study cultural cognition and the underlying values of visitors.

2. Wave tank and engineering challenge exhibit: The hands-on, interactive wave tank will let visitors explore wave energy, marine structural engineering, and tsunami education. This platform allows for the study of hands-on STEM activities, as well as social dynamics of learning.

3. Remote sensing data visualization: The “Magic Planet” spherical display serves as the centerpiece of our remote sensing hall. We will redesign the 500-square-foot gallery space around the Magic Planet to update exhibit design and content, and to incorporate our new evaluation tools. This research platform allow for the study of complex visualizations, decoding meaning, and personal data narratives, including having visitors collect, analyze and visualize their own remotely sensed data.

A lot of preparation is underway, specifically around building the wave tank exhibit. We are also starting to explore a number of tools that will be used in the lab. Laura Dover has been exploring the potential ‘subject eye view’ of a head-mounted Looxcie camcorder—”the Borg camera,” as we have come to know it. We’ll post more about this as Laura’s work progresses, but she has already “assimilated” some volunteers, whom she put to work trying out the camera. The results are promising.

On a related note, the new OctoCam went online this week after our last camera succumbed to a year in seawater. The streaming underwater Octocam gets an overage of 12,000 viewers a day from all over the world. Ursula, our resident E. dofleini, responded in her usual manner by stuffing it into her mouth and trying to destroy it. She has not succeeded. A large octopus—by nature immensely strong and irrepressibly curious—is a good durability test for submersible equipment.

We’re also refurbishing the Magic Planet, our 3-foot spherical projection system capable of presenting global data realistically on an animated globe. The original projector has long since ceased functioning. Our tech team is installing a new projection system as well as redesigning the mounting and image centering systems. It’s quite a task! We are looking forward to installing Michael Starobin’s new movie “Loop” for our winter visitors.

In general we are evaluating our evaluation tools, drawing up plans and falling into a productive rhythm. We look forward to your feedback in the days and months to come.