A reader just asked about our post from nearly a year ago that suggested we’ll start a “jargon board” to define terms that we discuss here on the blog. Where is it?, the reader wanted to know. Well, like many big ideas, sometimes they get dropped in the everyday what’s in front of our faces fire to put out. But astute readers hold us accountable, and for that, we thank you.

So, let’s start that board as a series of posts with the Category: Jargon. With that, let me start with accountability, then. Often, we hear about “being accountable to stakeholders.” Setting aside stakeholders for the moment, what does it mean to “be held accountable”? It can come in various forms,  but most often seems to be providing proof of some sort that you did what you said you would do. TA few weeks ago, for example, a reader asked for the location of the board that we said we would start, and it turns out, we couldn’t provide it (until now). For other times, it may be paying a bill (think of the looming U.S. debt ceiling crisis, in which we are being held accountable for paying bills), or it may be simply providing something (a “deliverable”) on schedule, as when I have to submit my defended and corrected thesis by a particular date in order to graduate this spring, or when you have to turn in a paper to a professor by a certain time in order to get full credit.

In the research world, we are often asked to provide progress reports on a yearly basis to our funders.  Those people or groups to whom we are beholden are one form of stakeholders. They could be the ones holding the purse strings or the ones we’ve committed to delivering an exhibit or evaluation report to as a contractor, making our client the stakeholder. This blog, actually, is the outreach we told the National Science Foundation we’d do to other stakeholders: students, and outreach and research professionals, and serves also as the proof of such outreach. In this case, those stakeholders don’t have any financial interest, but they do want to know what it is we find out, and how we find it out, so we are held accountable via this blog for those two purposes.

All too often accountability is only seen in terms of the consequences of failing to provide proof.

But, I feel like that’s really just scratching the surface of who we’re accountable to, though it gets a lot more murky just how we prove ourselves to those other stakeholders. In fact, even identifying stakeholders thoroughly and completely is a form of proof that often, stakeholders don’t hold us to unless we make a grievous error. As a research assistant, I have obligations to complete the tasks I’m assigned, making me accountable to the project, which is in turn accountable to the funder, which is in turn, accountable to the taxpayers, of which I am one. As part of OSU, we have obligations to perform professionally, and as part of the HMSC Visitor Center, we have obligations to our audience. The network becomes well-entangled very quickly, in fact. Or maybe it’s more like a cross between a Venn diagram and the Russian nesting dolls? In any case, pretty hard to get a handle on. How do you account for your stakeholders, in order to hold yourself or be held accountable? And what other jargon would you like to see discussed here?

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?

OSU ran three outreach activities at the 46th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and we took the chance to evaluate the Wave Lab’s Mini-Flume wave tank activity, a related but different activity to the wave tanks in the HMSC Visitor Center.

Three activities were selected by the Smithsonian Folklife committee to best represent the diversity of research conducted at OSU, as well as the University’s commitment to sustainable solutions and family education: Tech Wizards, Surimi School, and the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Lab’s Mini-Flume activity. Tech Wizards was set up in the Family Activities area of Folklife, and Surimi School and the Mini-Flume activity shared a tent in the Sustainable Solutions area.

Given the anticipated number of visitors to the festival, and my presence as the project research assistant, we decided it would be a great opportunity to see how well people thought the activity worked, what they might learn, and what they liked or didn’t – core questions in an evaluation. The activity was led by Alicia Lyman-Holt, EOT director at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Lab, and I developed and spearheaded the evaluation. To make the activity and evaluation happen, we also brought four undergraduate volunteers from OSU and two from Howard University in D.C, plus both the OSU Alumni Association and the festival supplied volunteers on an as-needed basis. We also wanted to try out data collection using iPads and survey software we’re working with in the FCL Lab.

Due to the sheer numbers of people we thought would be there, as well as the divided attentions of everyone, we decided to go with a straightforward survey. We ended up only collecting a small number of what we anticipated due to extreme heat, personnel, and divided attention of visitors – after they spent a lot of time with the activity, they weren’t always interested in sticking around even for a short survey.

I’m currently working on data analysis. Stay tuned for more information on the evaluation, the process, and to learn how we did on the other side of the continent.

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.

Another of our interns, Julie Nance, gives us a run-down of her first week at HMSC.

We had a very busy first week at Hatfield!  It has been full of some incredible trainings.  Our first adventure was tromping around in the mud with Dr. John Chapman.  We collected mud shrimp for his research on the mud shrimp’s isopod parasite and were able to see this critter first-hand.  We then had a series of trainings on the estuary tour including a power point presentation, and going on the estuary walk with 3 different presenters so we could see different styles and create our own.  This weekend we began presenting the tours ourselves with a seasoned presenter accompanying us.

We also had the pleasure of going to the Cobblestone beach tide pools at Yaquina Head, and saw a variety of invertebrates and some fish.  We have also been taken through a tour of all the animals at the visitor center by the aquarists, and Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan taught us all about the salt water system.  Amidst all this excellent scientific information, we also learned about visitor center closing procedures, money counting, and the Ocean Quest presentation which we will begin giving to the public next week.

Brian, Nick and Diana will start doing the visitor center programming this week- specifically the estuary walk and helping out at the visitor center.  This week will also be filled with a lot of research in order to begin our projects.  If any of us appear to be missing, there’s a good chance we can be found at the library with our noses buried in the resources available to get the ball rolling on our wave and climate change projects.

Day 2’s sessions ended up focusing on the Communication side of Education/Outreach/Scientific Workforce, and I think that framing it that way drew a bigger audience. One presentation on how to create a video was very similar to Ari Daniel Shapiro’s Education talk on producing radio programs or podcasts the day before, with how-to’s, but the audience was much bigger. Is it that “education” and “outreach” are scarier terms than “communicating”? If so, we educators need to think about how to make education more “do-able” for scientists if we want them to do the education to at least some extent, rather than leaving it all to education professionals.


We wonder, however, why education and communication are separated? Perhaps we have slightly different goals, but perhaps not: communication may have a specific outcome in mind, such as motivating people to think a certain way or do a certain thing, where education might more broadly want learners to understand how science works.


One afternoon talk pointed out that between science and communication, at least, it depends on your audience. For example, scientists focus on what we don’t know, whereas policymakers need to know what science does know. So in communicating and educating, we have to decide whether we’re trying to convey what science is and how it works, or whether we’re trying to convey where science is at the moment.


Throughout the week COSEE is hosting a series on how to do education/communication of your science. These lunch workshops that have had about 100 participants, or roughly 2 percent of the conference attendees. Again, by a show of hands on Tuesday, many of those, however, were graduate students.


Last night there was a panel discussion on Bridging the Cultural Gap between Scientists and the Public. I overheard one scientist at the COSEE exhibitor booth pooh-pooh the need for him to attend the panel, as he basically said he knew there was a gap but that it was the public’s problem. COSEE staff made a valiant effort to convince him that he was actually a vital part of bridging the gap, but regardless, there was still a relatively small audience for the program. However, attendees seemed to skew a little bit more toward the early- to mid-career scientists than the other education sessions (perhaps because the grad students had all run off to get beer). We had mixed feelings about the presentation because we walked away a bit more confused about what we could do. The researchers on communication and communicators on the panel offered us ideas about what the communication breakdown was, but we didn’t get a chance to discuss many practical ideas.


The basic premises were that it’s not a problem of literacy, but of people tending to affiliate with groups and basically only attend to information that those groups agree with, in order to maintain that affiliation. The other presentation highlighted peculiarities of the journalistic process that complicated the communication picture, such as editors who focus on minor details to up the drama factor and sell their products. So on the one hand, we need to remove the threat that holding a position on a subject would automatically mean you’d no longer be part of a group that’s important to you, that is, we have to change the “meaning” that accompanies the facts. How to do this, however, is what remains for us to figure out.