Let there be Communication!!

Today I had the opportunity to do an “outreach about outreach” activity with a group of undergraduate Sea Grant Scholars. They are going to be volunteering at a local annual festival called Da Vinci Days, which celebrates art and science in honor of Leonardo da Vinci. After a brief presentation and chat session, we did the ever-popular ice melting in fresh and salt water, complete with food dye (my fingers are lovely green now). They seemed to receive it well, if a bit quietly. My past experience working with STEM undergraduates was very similar – they rather passively take in the information about communication.

Personally I think that all science undergraduates should have training in science communication, and more than just a workshop or two. There’s no way to stress how important it is to be able to converse about the work being done with more than just other scientists. Heck, there are even communication barriers between the sciences. Public perception of scientists remains remarkably static, and in large part I think it’s the lack of communication ability on the part of the scientists that supports this stagnation. And science supports the habit of poor communication skills within itself by not assigning it any importance, as reflected in its lack in the formal education process of science. There needs to be a greater push to support communication within science, since collaboration is the wave of the future, and with non-scientists to help change the public perception (misperception) of scientists.


Bottom of the bear-infested mountain?

Good news!!! My IRB was finally approved!  Yesssss!  I have several phone interviews scheduled, which is SO EXCITING.  I really enjoyed my practice interviews and look forward to talking with COASST volunteers.  It feels really good to get my project moving… but I can’t help thinking about all the hard work that’s left to go!

I find it difficult to think of my masters thesis as simply one product that comes out of my graduate education.  Sometimes it seems like a giant solitary mountain, filled with large predatory mammals (sorry Smokey, I hate bears!).  Now that my IRB has finally been approved, it is daunting to think I’m still at the base of this monolithic monster.  On the other hand, I don’t think I could ever get tired of thinking about people’s perceptions of science, and the appropriate role of science in society.  My research questions continue to fascinate me, which is a good sign.

And I have done a lot of work preparing and writing, which I hope will make things go smoothly and quickly.

Check out and test the H1 Zoom digital audio recorder…. check.

Test the backup voice recorder app on my phone…. check.

Review interview questions…. check.

Look over transcripts of practice interviews…. check.

Guess I’m ready!  Wish me luck!

Katie


Do you even lift?

Consider the following scenario.

You go to your gym, where membership is free. You start lifting, and you gradually work your way up to 100 pounds.

Then, one day, you come in to find that the next available weight increment is 300 pounds. You can’t work up to it from where you are, BUT—for a mere $5—you can actually have 10 pounds temporarily removed from your usual 100. In return, the chalkboard on the wall will announce that you, [Your Name Here], have lifted 300 pounds. Insert another $5 to repeat the process and mark yourself down for 350 pounds, etc. What will this do to your muscle tone and progress as a lifter?

This is sort of how popular “free-to-play” games work, and virtual economist Ramin Shokrizade outlines their tactics in a Machiavelli-style indictment-as-instruction-guide here.

In traditional non-monetary games, we put skill in to get more skill out. When we gamble, we put money in and hope to get more money out (Pro Tip: We usually don’t). In a free-to-play game, we generally don’t ever expect to get money out, and money is used as an input in place of skill—or to “supplement” skill. Less skill in means less skill out—less learning. And these games are extremely popular and profitable.

So here’s my question: What are players getting out of these games? Discuss.


Explaining Free Choice Learning to the Relatives …..

Free Choice Learning – this is a term that I found myself using a lot the last few weeks while back east attending various family events. Many family members know and follow what I do with my research, career and schooling, however many do not and it seems like every few hours or days I was explaining my work to various people. Some met me with great enthusiasm, so with the oddest look followed by – really studying how and why people learn – they just do. Very interesting. As a personal study, I then followed up with the question that so many of us in the field us – well – What is your hobby? What are you an expert in? The initial resistance to answer and the always – Im not an expert in anything followed, but after a few minutes of conversation, fruitful discussion followed. For example a family friend has always taken photographs at all events, often following around and waiting for that candid shot. Over the years, the amazing photographs taken by this individual bring both pleasure and art to the family. This is not this person’s job; however, they can tell you almost anything about photography, even information about photography greats if you will. Even with this, this person would not accept that they were an expert in this area. In the end he agreed to think about it and have another conversation with me the net time we get together.

Another example is my aunt. She is 83 years old and one of the most amazing land scape artists and gardeners I know. She can look at an area, walk around it, touch the soil between her fingers and design a beautiful relaxing garden. She knows what to plant in relation to the soil and sun and can bring almost anything back to life when most people would through the plant in the compost. She does all this without chemicals and any schooling. Her trade was business. As a child growing up, I loved working with her in her gardens. When talking to her, she will admit she knows a couple of things about gardening, but as she has not schooling, she can’t be an expert. I told her that my schooling says different, and yes you can be an expert.

This area of free choice learning is one that interests me greatly, but still is not the norm for people to understand or see how the concept is used in their own lives. As programs and research in the filed continue to grow, maybe one day when I am at a family event and I say I work in the field of science education, free choice learning, I will not have to give an explanation …..


Science Communication Skills – Do all scientists need them?

Our FCL group has been asked to participate in the mid-summer check-in for the Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars Program. Members of our group will be giving a 2-hour seminar for the six undergraduate students participating in the program. The workshop will be about communicating sciences and outreach, and I have been helping with the planning process. Therefore, I have been thinking a lot about science communication and its often association to the “broader impact” components in research grants. What would be important to include in such a workshop to introduce the debate of science communication to these young scholars in the beginning of their careers?

If  science education needs some reform, how important is it for educators to partner with the scientists in order for such reform to occur? I think it is very important but mostly when  science outreach starts to be viewed as more than a voluntary activity with tangential benefits for scientists and has broader significance to them. Thinking interpretively, this will only be possible when outreach and science education opportunities accommodate their interests, time and talent. Sooner or later, every scientist will be required to engage in some sort of outreach, but the key here is whether the role they fall into is a role they feel comfortable with.

In their Fall 1998 newsletter of the Forum on Education of the American Physical Society, Rodger W. Bybee and Cherilynn A. Morrow (1998) talked about “Improving Science Education: The Role of Scientists” and reported on a matrix that sorts out the roles scientists could or do play in science outreach. Such roles were classified in the formal and informal educational settings and they fitted in one of three categories: Advocate, Resource, and Partner. For example, if a scientist assumes a role of advocate within an informal education setting such as a science center, he or she could perhaps participate on the board and participate in decision making. On the other hand, if a scientist choose to be a resource, he or she can review science content in exhibits or programs, give a talk at a science center, etc. As a partner, a scientist would collaborate with the creation of a exhibit or program from the get go. Here is the link for this article:

http://www.spacescience.org/education/papers/Roles_BM.pdf

This matrix on possible scientist’s role in outreach and science communication is an important resource for the proposed workshop. I think it is imperative for young scientists to understand the possibilities for involvement, the possible venues and the roles they may find themselves in someday. BUT I came to think that it is also very important that these young scientists can think about who they are and how their talents can best fit within the matrix. Are they advocates, resources or partners? regardless, they need to feel comfortable in their roles in order for them to effectively contribute to a science education reform.

As the next crop of scientists graduates from universities, what role will they see themselves playing within science outreach and communication? Do they see themselves in a outreach role at all? motivations should not only be external such as a requirement of a grant funded project but should also be internal such as relevance and usefulness within the scientist work scope and interests. Below is some more food for thought in the subject:

Thiry et al 2008

Halvesen & Tran 2011

Larsen et al 2008

MarBEF article

Thiry et al. 2008


Schools out…forever!

The semester is ending, and as I will be graduating the end of next week, it’s finally sinking in that my time in grad school is coming to a close. The final copy of my dissertation was handed in at the end of the last month, and ever since I have been considering what types of publications I would like to work on while transitioning back in the real world.

Deciding on publications is really more tricky than it seems. I’m trying to find opportunities that reflect my approach as both a researcher and an educator. Of course, my choices will be job dependent (a matter I am still diligently working on) due to time and project constraints, however I have been thinking about writing articles that both highlight the theory I generated around docents in science museum settings, and are able to communicate the practical implications for the field. Myself and Michelle are considering an article together that links our two pieces of work (mine on existing docent practice, hers on training methods), and myself and Susan on interpretation in museums. Both will be equally interesting to pursue. I’d particularly like to write something that is useful to informal science education settings, in terms of docent preparation and interpretive strategies in museum, as I am an advocate for promoting the visibility of free choice learning research to those that develop programming in the field. Just like scientist engagement in education and outreach is an important part of science education, as researchers we are also part of a community that should attempt to engage the free choice learning field in educational research. Outreach works both ways.

What’s interesting about this process is trying to work out which journals are also most fruitful to pursue. I was encouraged by both my committee to attempt to publish in the Journal of Interpretation (National Association for Interpretation), but I have also been thinking about Current (National Marine Educators Association), American Educational Research Journal (American Educational Research Association) and Visitor Studies (Visitor Studies Association), but there are a lot more to consider. It’s a little overwhelming, but also exciting. For me, this is where the rubber hits the road – the avenues where the outcomes of my work can become part of the larger free choice learning community.


Tank Wrangling

Wrangling these wave tanks really is a full time job, but we have making progress with our next round of prototyping this week.

The tsunami tank has had an interface face lift with updated kiosk software, and the technical issues we were having with the wave makers locking up seem to have been subdued (fingers crossed).

We were having issues with visitors throwing lego for building their tsunami-resilient structures all over the place, so I moved the lego storage actually on to the tank using clip-on cups.

I also decided to start using plastic sign holders to prototype signage actually on the tank. This way, I can switch out sign versions easily and more frequently if I need to. These are just simple slanted sign holders I clipped in to the edge of the tank table.

We also moved our prototype wave buoy closer to the wave energy tank, and Allison is in the process of making up some labels for it.

Right now I am working on overarching signs to tie the three tanks together, and create a more holistic wave laboratory exhibit. Here is the plan I have so far to help us work toward this.

There is lots to do this summer, but it’s great to get moving on our plans. The exhibit has become very popular in the visitor center, so I’m interested to see how the visitors and staff react to it as we prototype more of the signage pieces