Cyberlab Adventures in Brazil (Part I)

Welcoming sun, great food, and warm people came to greet us upon our arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For me, it is always so good to be home, and this time home at the “wonderful City” to learn about the advancements in science communication taking place in Brazil and Latin America in general. Make no assumptions, this was not a “have fun in the sun” trip, although I would have liked to have spent some time at a tropical beach where swimming is the main activity. Instead, as hard workers and, let’s be honest, good museum nerds, we got to visit Museums and work on strategic evaluation and research planning around some exhibits.

Our first activity involved a whole day visit to the “Museu Ciencia e Vida” (Museum of Science and life) to see and discuss an exhibit called “Forest of Senses”. Luisa Massarani, a former Cyberscholar and Director of Red-Pop UNESCO (Network for the popularization of science and technology in Latin America and the Carebean) is a part of the team in charge of evaluation and research on children’s experience in the exhibit. After a 4 hour meeting, we discussed and finalized the whole research plan and stages of analyses. It felt very rewarding to be recognized as researchers with valuable expertise and to contribute to cutting edge learning research in the Brazilian landscape. Forest of Senses is a great exhibit designed to work as a game activity  for younger kids (5-8 years of age) to explore the Brazilian forest habitats and, through using their senses, be provoked and able to explore the ideas around biodiversity, invasive species and wildlife traffic (which is a big problem in Brazil). When we walked through the exhibit to see the initial camera installation and testing through the system package we arranged for them to become a “node” of  Cyberlab, it was like reliving the past when Cyberlab started, amidst tons of duck tape and creative solutions for IT problems. As we move forward in this collaboration, it will be interesting to share the process, findings and cultural clashes in the use of cutting edge technology.

To finalize this part I in the summary of our trip, we spent our last 2 days in Rio participating at the RedPop Event organized by Luisa Massarani, with the goal to discuss the science communication scenario in Latin America, where Brazil holds 260 of the total 490 science museums established. It was a great event, I even got to be interviewed by a science journalist for the first time (way to practice my communicating skills). It seems to me Latin America has come long ways not only in the effort of establishing science museums but in the reflection on evaluation and research practices to attend the cultural use of these places. From this event, we came out with fresh ideas on methods for learning research, with many bridges to collaboration in interdisciplinary projects including touch-tank research in Brazilian aquariums, and with a amazing contact list with the names of great science communication researchers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It was also very professionally rewarding to receive recognition for the cutting edge work being developed at Cyberlab and seeing its potential to really materialize and spread. Stay tune for more!

IMG_20140914_130320_257RedPop2014_3

RedPop2014RedPop2014_2


Cyberlab joins Latin America Discussion on Visitor Meaning Making

“Hands-On Science Museums and Their Visitors” is the topic of a two-day conference coming up September in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Cyberlab will represent Hatfield Science Center/Oregon State University and will join other Science communication professionals from  Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom to engage in dialogue about visitor meaning making, basically the kind of conversation we are very enthusiastic about engaging in and promoting, especially in such a multicultural setting.

Luisa Massarani, who was a Cyberscholar this Summer and who is the Director of the RedPop, the Network for Science Communication for Latin America and the Caribbean, organized this event to discuss strategies Museums around the world employ not only to investigate learning but also how a diverse public construct meaning from their visits. Although a bit intimidated I will admit, I am supper excited to participate in this event because it strikes me as a place where paradigmatic shifts in learning research are possible and in fact welcome, as a place where we can make room to discuss strategies to capture and analyze meaning making, to look at visitors from their perspectives, to go beyond the traditional measures of learning outcomes in research, to really give our visitors a voice we can dialogue with in the academic written world.

We talk about this need for a new culture of learning in our Free-Choice Lab meetings, Luisa talked about that in her seminar presentation as a Cyberscholar and the need to understand “provocation” and build provocative exhibits. Shawn and I talked about this in an article just published in the NAI Magazine “Legacy”, which led us to an invitation to expand this thinking through a series of articles for the InterpNews Magazine next year. As these kinds of dialogues spread and increase (as it seems to be happening in my opinion), this discussion becomes highly related to current dialogues on learning research methods and applications in the world of practice. I have been recently involved with the new “Methods” Research Interest Group of NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) and the current development of a broad scope dialogue on learning research that seems to be heading in the direction of valuing these paradigmatic discussions and the need to change.

Even though we are all trying to do this kind of more inclusive, learner-based research in our work, we need to see ourselves as important voices in the larger network of discussions, and commit to speak our mind in fruitful and inclusive ways.  Meetings like this really allow us to reflect on how we are trying to do that in the context not just of our own lab and cohort here, but in the larger international context as well. It also gives us a chance to make things real, to move from discussion to actual application invigorated by the good work of others and motivated by our own growth and learning as professionals in the field.

To learn more about RedPop visit the following pages:

http://www.redpop.org/redpopasp/paginas/InfoPrensaDetalle.asp?SitioID=1&InfoPrensaId=90

http://www.redpop.org/redpopasp/paginas/pagina.asp?PaginaID=3


Being a scholar at Cyberlab: views from a Brazilian (By Luisa Massarani)

Luisa Massarani is our guest blogger today. She was one of our cyberscholars, visiting Hatfield and Cyberlab from June 29th through July 4th, to learn our tools and resources in order to collaborate with us from the Brazilian Institution she works for, the Museum of Life (Museu da Vida), FIOCRUZ Foundation. Luisa is also the director of RedPOP-Unesco, the Network for Popularizing Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe
Luisa Massrani and Shawn Rowe

Over the last decade, Brazil has been systematically investing in public engagement in science and technology (S&T), both in pratical activity and in research. As someone who works in the field, I don’t need to be persuaded how much it is important to invest in it. In fact, other countries around the globe have been much more aware of the importance of supporting public engagement in S&T.

However, less effort has been put into understading the meaning different publics make of the public engagement in S&T actitivies – a challenge faced not only in Brazil but also around the globe. In my view, understanding the audiences is, in fact, the main question mark we face in science communication.

This was the main motivation that made our research group at the Museum of Life – a hands on science center in Rio de Janeiro, linked to the research institution Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – focus our attention to audience studies. Latin America has good scientific production in audience studies – mainly in soap operas. Very little, however, has been produced in science communication.

Luisa, Shawn and Jenny
Luisa, Shawn and Jenny

In 2009, we succeed in having a grant for designing a study on audiences and science coverage in TV news as result of a collaboration among 10 countries in “Ibero America” (Latin America plus Portugal and Spain). Since then, we began applying the methodologies we used for that study in the context of a science exhibition. In particular, we were very excited to understand further science exhibitions and 5-8 years old kids – which is a wonderful age for engagement in science due to their natural curiosity about the world around them. Furthermore, there is a substantial gap of literature focusing on this issue.

We feel that further methodologies are necessary for understanding in fact the meaning the kids make of the exhibitions.Thus, since the very begining, the connection with Cyberlab has been very exciting, due to the opportunity for opening new intellectual doors for us. Visiting Cyberlab in person during the week of June 30th was not only very useful and important from the point of view of developing new and more robust methodologies but extremely inspiring for new research and collaboration ideas.

I go back home prepared to start phase 1 of collecting data of the exhibition entitled Forest of Senses, which aims to foster curiosity of kids toward the Brazilian biodiversity. We will implement the methodology we designed together with the Cyberlab team, including installing the equipment that will allow us to transmit to Newport in real time what we will be observing in Brazil. We hope to, very soon, have results to share with all of you!


If you can make me question my beliefs, you may be on to something

I want to write about Science Pub again this month, but this time I am going to focus on my own experience as a learner.  I don’t attend these events every month, but as a person interested in science literacy, I feel like I should go more often.  I happened to be free again for the April one, so decided to go. The topic was also one of personal interest to me- “Finding Our Way Through the Controversy over Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The good, the bad, and the righteous.”  Before we start, I will own up to my own biases, I am, in general, opposed to most things like GMO’s. Now, some of this is a knee jerk, liberal, environmentalist bias- I will be honest.  However, I was not really sure what the talk would cover, besides the title, and I thought I would be open minded and listen to what the speaker had to say. I have not done extensive research on this topic, and my information all comes from popular press type media- magazines, newspapers, attending local events about food issues, and such, so I thought, as a person who identifies as educated and rational, I should hear more from someone who actually does research in this field.  One more disclaimer though- the talk was being given in Eugene, Oregon, at a local, independent venue that hosts lots of music, dance, and benefit types of events, as well as the monthly Science Pub, so I did assume that it would at least be a balanced discussion.  However, as we were finding seats, my partner did say that he was surprised I wanted to come as I would probably just hear a lot of things that made me mad. Hmm….

The evening started out with a pretty broad overview of the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  The speaker structured it in three parts as things he felt the field had gotten right, “bad calls”, and then delved in to the more emotional aspects.  And, I did learn things.  My experience with GMO’s is on the controversial end, inserting genes that make plants able to withstand more pesticides and such, but I didn’t realize the variety of ways this technique is used.  For example, I had not heard about it being used to suppress a single gene that was already in a plant to make it more “suitable” for purpose. The example for this was how a gene in Ash trees can be suppressed to decrease the amount of lignin in the plant, so it can be used more efficiently as a biofuel source.  I could see some value in this- I know corn as a biofuel source is not sustainable, and we need other options if this more renewable energy source is going to be developed.  And then he told stories about some of the ways plants can be augmented genetically that don’t throw up as many red flags for me.  He talked about research on the East Coast to insert a gene from wheat into Chestnut trees to hopefully protect them from extinction due to the devastation caused by the blight they suffer from. The speaker stopped at this point and asked the audience how many people would support that kind of use of GMO’s and only one person raised their hand to vote “no” (I didn’t raise my hand for either, because I felt like I needed to think about it more- but I was leaning “yes” myself).  Then he talked about crops like “golden rice” where the scientists are inserting genes in staple crops often grown in developing countries that make them a richer source of beta carotene, which would have serious, positive effects on curbing blindness due to high rates of Vitamin A in these areas.

At this point, the speaker had me questioning my own black and white views on the topic, which is probably what most educators, particularly when talking about controversial issues (hey Laia!!!), hope for in their audience.

If only he had stopped there. Unfortunately, his next topic was about how is was unreasonable to expect labeling of foods around GMO, and it started to feel like he was defending the GMO industry.  He talked about how it would be an unfair burden on the companies to keep food sources separated to prevent cross-contamination, be too much work for the infrastructure of food transportation and such, and raise food prices too much for those who are already living more subsistence level. This last one felt almost like a slam on the audience, as most of us present could truthfully absorb higher food costs, if it came to that, but that our “demands” would be a hardship for others. And then he ended by showing a pair of videos. The first was of a protest in the Philippines, where a group of local people tore down the fence around a plot of “golden rice” and pulled it all up to stop the experiment. The second was of a spokesman from some rice research institute reacting to that event. And the speaker was telling us that the only reason the local people were participating in the protest was because of outside environmental groups “like GreenPeace” telling them that it was dangerous.  It may be my own biases, but it felt like propaganda!  Furthermore, it came across as possibly insulting to the local Filipinos, who may have come to their own conclusions about the matter- lots of indigenous groups around the world take on large corporations from their own beliefs and understandings of issues, and their own desire to preserve their way of life and their local environment.

Sadly, I left feeling more righteous in my beliefs than when I arrived. I did come, with what was my best attempt at an open mind. And, the speaker did have me for a while- I was willing to question some of my assumptions. I was willing to sit with some of the “grey” between the black and white I normally see.   A question from the audience might best sum up the night. A professor at the community college here asked about how, as science educators, they could educate people about these types of issues, where people tend to base their opinions and actions more on their feelings than information. And the speaker flat out said that you just can’t.  It was like he has given up even trying to have a rational dialogue with people who held different beliefs than his own.  However, I think he almost had it. If he had stopped his talk after the part about the science and research, more people would have left that night, more open minded on this topic. Remember, only one person said “no” about the Chestnuts- and this is Eugene! Yet, when he got to what felt like his own personal, political agenda, most of us went back to our corners, entrenched in our righteousness.

Yet, I am trying to hold on to what I was thinking from the first part of his talk- maybe there are some aspects of GMO’s that I am open to learning more about, and debating- and (gasp) maybe even allowing “in my backyard”.  And, from his mistake, I think I have a better understanding of how we can, as science educators, keep dialogue going. It is not hopeless!

PS- and if you remember my blog post from last month- I will say that a lot more women participated in the Q & A this time, although it seemed like most had points to make based on their own beliefs than questions about the science. More data needed to understand this! I guess I will have to go again next month…


Mining Nuggets of Collaboration

Shawn and I will be going to the National Association for Interpretation Workshop this week in Reno, Nevada. We will be talking to interpreters about bridging the gaps between Free-Choice Learning research and Interpretive practice, “mining the nuggets” for cross-communication and visibility among professionals in both worlds, discussing potential benefits from interdisciplinary use of concepts, principles and research findings towards the shared goal among both communities of practice.

Museums are informal education settings where Free-Choice Learning (FCL) takes place and where educators and practitioners are also interpreters. FCL in such settings draws from strong learning theories and their contextual application, targeting audiences such as museum educators, evaluation staff, exhibit designers, program developers, volunteer personnel and volunteer managers. These are also the targeted practitioners mediating learning in museums through use of interpretive tools, principles and resources.

Given the complimentary nature of practice in both FCL and Interpretation fields, understanding cross-disciplinary potential and dissemination are ways to create collaborative resources and further the research and understanding of how learning takes place in museums, how the theoretical discourses relate to/build upon interpretive principles and use of interpretive tools. This confluence can have meaningful implications on interpretive program design and implementation in museum settings and others alike, as to promote valuable learning experiences for visitors.

This is what we will be brainstorming at the workshop. So bloggers please respond with any insights you may have on possible collaboration avenues and links you consider important to be made here.

Thanks!


Identity, community and the new year

Maybe I’ve been around universities too long, but fall always seems like New Year’s to me.  Part of it, of course, is the excitement of a new school year – new classes, new students and colleagues, new projects.  Classes start this week in Corvallis, and I’m gearing up to teach a class I’ve taught many times before – Communicating Ocean Sciences with Informal Audiences.  If you are not familiar with the class, check out the website here.  One of the reasons I love teaching this class is because even though I was involved from the get go in helping imagine and design it, it seems new every time I teach it.  Part of it is that constant tweaking that comes with reflecting on what we like and don’t like about our teaching.  But the COSIA class also seems to be a great palate for thinking about and working on a whole variety of themes and ideas and topics that emerge in informal science education and free-choice learning work.  The twin themes that are running through my head as I develop the class this year are identity and community.

We just learned last week that we were awarded a new NSF AISL grant called COASSTal Communities of Science. The project partners the FCL Lab with University of Washington researchers Julia Parrish and Jane Dolliver who run a very successful and impressive citizen science project, COASST, that spans beaches from Alaska through Northern California.  With this new grant, COASST is responding to volunteers, communities they serve, and national calls for citizen scientists to address the issue of marine debris in the Pacific Northwest.  COASST will be developing new protocols and modules for monitoring marine debris that should bring to that realm the same level of rigor and engagement that their current program has been recognized for.  I’m excited because our role in this project is to carry out research on recruitment and retention of citizen scientists in both COASST’s traditional programming as well as the new marine debris modules.  We’ll be looking at a host of factors that affect both, trying to understand the complex relationships among personal, social, cultural and ecological factors supporting the program.  I’m even more excited because we have developed an Activity Theory framework for the qualitative and quantitative parts of the study and will be looking explicitly at COASST as a community (or communities) of practice.  We’ll be researching participants’ identities vis-à-vis the science they are involved in and how those identities develop and change over time.

This research focus on communities of practice and identity change will inevitably shape the look and feel of the COSIA class this fall as well.  At the most basic level, we’ll all be working in the class to develop a short-term community of practice around communicating ocean sciences.  But at the larger level, the class itself is designed to help scientists and educators in graduate school at OSU develop identities as people who are comfortable and expert not only in their science, but also expert at communicating it.  For many folks who take the class this means changing their understanding of a whole variety of things – from the nature of science to the nature of teaching and learning.  We are encouraging them to do nothing less than become a different kind of person—and they are learning that when we ask people to learn about OUR science, we may be asking them to become different kinds of people – the kind of people who care about and want to be involved in science.  And that’s identity change at work.  Once you recognize that, models of communication based on experts getting knowledge out to publics just don’t hold any water anymore.  Communication is about shifting and shaping identities as much as about shaping knowledge.  That means that the stakes are always higher than you think and that even the simple act of facilitating a density activity at a local museum might be about negotiating identity as much as having fun with water!


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.


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


Interviewee selection criteria

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