ASTC 2014: Field trip to Raleigh

Last month I attended ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers), which was a great opportunity to hear about work in other science centers, visit a new museum, and meet some of the researchers that I often cite in my work!  This year the conference was held in Raleigh, North Carolina — a new state to visit!  Oregon State University had great representation as two of my colleagues, Laia and Jenny, presented their analysis of science communication in natural history museum exhibits.  Dr. John Falk and Dr. Lynn Dierking presenting in research and evaluation sessions.

Dr. Hayat Sindi started off the conference with an inspirational keynote speech.  Born in Saudi Arabia, she followed her interests in science to become the first female from the Gulf to earn a PhD in biotechnology.  She is a co-founder of Diagnostics for All which designs and creates medical diagnostic tools that can be used in areas that may not have the medical infrastructure.  She spoke of science heroes and how we continue to look to the past, which is dominated by white males.  She challenged us to continue to work and inspire young people to look for the heroes of today, many that are female, who are doing powerful things to advance our knowledge in the science field.

One of the more memorable sessions I attended focused on the premise of designing flow experiences and balancing sensory stimulation in the physical spaces of science centers.  As I am still learning about the design of the physical space, at times it seems that science centers and museums try to put so much into a room without considering how overwhelming it could be for the visitor.  With the advancement of technology and digital media interactives, this is creating more stimulation as the visitor tries to navigate and determine where to focus their attention.  Beth Redmond-Jones of the San Diego Natural History Museum spoke about her daughter who has autism.  She showed an interview of her daughter describing what an experience at a museum space is like for her.  For a few minutes the audience had the opportunity to “feel” what it is like to have the sensory overload.  The fluorescent lights of the room were put to the highest level, we had to move in our seats to that we were very close to our neighbors, and they played a recording from a museum lobby that had competing noises of conversations, babies crying, and sounds from exhibits.  This immersion technique was effective to prove a point to the audience.  From this there was discussion on how to make the space more inclusive for those with differences in sensory reception, incorporating spaces that are quiet, and training staff how to effectively engage with these visitors.

As a first time attendee to this conference, I was trying to soak it all in…the Exhibition Hall, the networking, the city surrounding the conference, and a cool museum — the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  They have some amazing exhibits that incorporate technology.  There was a microbiology lab that allows for formal or informal exploration of DNA which I would have loved when I was in middle school.  The museum also made use of several touch screens in different sizes to present science content.  It was interesting to see their showcase of technology alongside their traditional dioramas and natural history exhibits.  So much potential for learning research with technology as well!  I could have spent several more days in Raleigh, but since I am in the midst of Fall Quarter with a busy course load, I’ll just have to make plans to visit again someday.  Check out #ASTC2014 to see tweets about the conference.

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